Sunday, March 20, 2011

On the NWP

I joined the Capital District Writing Project in the summer of 2006. I grew curious after speaking to a CDWP member and reading about the summer institute in a flyer from our local teacher center. A summer spent writing and thinking alongside other teachers seemed like a gift. I thought about all the news-y faculty meetings, the too-short lunches and planning periods, and the disconnected professional development days that kept me from learning from other teachers and fostered a dull sense of intellectual homelessness. I applied and was accepted. I found a home. And my life has never been the same.

My teacher demonstration lesson came up early on the summer schedule. I was scared. What could I, a kindergarten teacher, share about writing instruction that a high school teacher might find valuable? I looked out at the kind faces sitting around the summer institute table. They were the intellectual heavyweights, mostly upper-level English teachers. I colored and tied shoes. The approximations I accepted as student writing were sure to elicit polite smiles and nods, but would never find their way into more serious classrooms. I was wrong.

I presented the lesson, which I titled "Writing as Noticing." The lesson invites young writers to take a walk with an empty bag, notice and collect what small artifacts they encounter while walking, and use this collection as the basis for imaginative writing. In exploring and describing the contents of their bags, the young writers have a chance to notice not only what the objects are, but what they could be. It is a chance to put something into the world that wasn't there before. During the post-lesson conversation, other teachers started talking about what this lesson might look like in their own classrooms. They saw this small contribution to our collective inquiry as valuable. Several had plans to lead their older students on a walk, clutching their own bags, and saving small bits of noticing to spark what might be possible. My knowledge and expertise had been honored in a way they had never been before. I wanted to bring that sense of respect to my students and my colleagues.

Over time, I found a whole philosophy of teaching in that noticing bag. To notice, reflect, and act as an agent of imagination and possibility are essential dispositions that NWP has helped me impart on my students and integrate into my stance as a writer and teacher-leader. They are critical not only to deep learning and student success, but to the very definition of what we call "an education" - now or at any moment.

We can name this educational moment many things: curious, strange, data-driven, or assessment-based. Above all, it is a moment of change and uncertainty that demands writing and inquiry. We don't need a rigid checklist that defines the perfect construct of "teacher effectiveness." We don't need a neat, shiny box that contains another program promising to meet all our students' needs. We don't need a starkly-lined chart of test scores that confuse assessment to inform with assessment to sort, label, and sanction. Those things will all fade away and cease to reach our students-if they ever did at all. No, what this moment demands is constant, hopeful, collaborative inquiry rooted in writing and infused with the truth that teachers teaching teachers ultimately leads to better learning for our children.

The pace of  technological, social, and economic change has grown too rapid to sell our students the snake oil of easy, comforting, and permanent answers. We need a network that creates a safe space for that acknowledgement. We need NWP. Writing ability is correlated to achievement in all other subjects. We need a network that invests in that reality. We need NWP.  The teaching profession is growing more complex, results-oriented, and driven by accountability. We need a network that provides opportunities for teacher renewal amidst all of these demands. We need NWP. The future is not a prize to be won, but a story of justice, peace, and opportunity to be written. We need a network where such writing matters. We need NWP.

Write on.

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