National Writing Project

Building New Pathways to Leadership


The National Writing Project (NWP) Building New Pathways to Leadership (BNPL) initiative is a design and dissemination effort intended to expand teacher leadership for improved literacy learning across the U.S.

BNPL supports a network of diverse local Writing Project sites in designing, testing, iterating, and disseminating new program models that expand NWP communities of practice in order to increase leadership opportunities for teachers otherwise not served by local Writing Project sites. Along with a re-engineered knowledge-base and micro-credentialing system to ensure that new teacher leaders attain NWP leadership competencies, successful models are promoted across the NWP network.


The primary emphasis of BNPL is to create a foundation for expanding access to NWP-supported leadership activities and professional learning opportunities for underserved communities of teachers by developing a new network-wide improvement infrastructure for expansion.

Building and promoting this infrastructure involves four goals:

  1. Create a new set of models for how local Writing Project sites can address the problem of expanding access to leadership in a sustainable, long-term way.
  2. Re-engineer the NWP 'knowledge-base' for leadership-development programs to support these new models.
  3. Develop a certification-style entry to NWP to allow local Writing Project sites to recognize and designate teacher-leaders beyond traditional attendance at Invitational Institutes.
  4. Manage dissemination both within NWP and to the broader field in order to promote use of the new infrastructure.


The National Writing Project (NWP) is widely acknowledged as one of the most extensive and effective of the teacher learning networks and is the only one focused on writing and creative production. Founded in 1974 at the University of California, Berkeley, it has grown to encompass nearly 200 university-based local Writing Project sites, each of which supports a community of leading teachers, K-university and across the curriculum, who work with colleagues to improve the teaching of writing across the disciplines and grade spans. Roughly 2,000 teachers join a local Writing Project site each year and become part of its growing leadership base. These teachers and their colleagues, in turn, work with an additional 100,000 teachers in various programs of professional learning.

This extraordinary enterprise spread from one site at the University of California, Berkeley to the current distributed network of 185 sites was accomplished through two significant bases of support: partnerships with host universities who found it in their interests to establish a network of strong, affiliated teachers in their region, and support from the federal government which provided modest directed funding from 1991–2011. During this period the network pursued a goal of "putting the writing project experience within reach of every teacher in the nation," building the network by building new Writing Project sites at new universities. These new Writing Project sites were directed by our governing legislation to "reproduce the NWP model," which included NWP's signature summer institute as the entry into leadership at the local Writing Project site.

Now, with all directed funding eliminated from the federal budget under its rules for earmarks and with many universities facing funding challenges of their own, the previous model of expansion by creating new Writing Project sites in new regions is a weak strategy for reaching teachers in underserved areas. Yet we do not want to abandon the aspiration to provide access to NWP leadership development and professional learning programs. With support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NWP seeks to develop new pathways which expand access to our professional learning community and support a new generation of teachers to become teacher-leaders in their local communities.


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