National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 3
Date: May-June 2001

Summary: An update from Executive Director Richard Sterling.


Dear Colleagues and Friends:

I never tire of explaining to policymakers that the strength of the National Writing Project is in its dynamic nature--it is responsive to the fast-changing demands on educators and powerful in its ability to disseminate information to all sites in the network. We see this quality echoed in nearly everything we do--from the way we communicate to our representatives in Washington, D.C., to the way we conduct our meetings, retreats, and summer institutes.

The summer institute, which is the focus of this issue, is not only an example of this dynamic capacity in action, but it also forms the core of the writing project model. With thousands of teachers participating across the writing project network, the summer institute is a place where teachers are renewed and energized; they return to their classrooms ready to improve their own teaching of writing and better able to take on leadership roles in their schools and districts. Participation in the summer institute is also an invitation to join the National Writing Project network, which offers additional professional development opportunities as well as connections to thousands of excellent teachers in districts everywhere. Through these connections, teachers can hear about and participate in conversations, both face-to-face and virtual, across the country.

Our other summer activities are additional examples of the network's energy put in practice. The NWP is offering two retreats again this summer: the directors retreat at Estes Park, Colorado, and the writing retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition, teacher-consultants from several sites will trade places in each other's summer institutes through the NWP Teacher Exchange Program. And finally, closer to home for everyone, the online E-Anthology will be up and running. All of these activities provide opportunities for teachers in our network to examine the issues facing them, to exchange ideas about those issues, and--above all--to write.
The energy generated by these activities is sustained throughout the year in a number of ways, including events such as the Rural Sites Network Retreat that I attended in Orange Beach, Alabama, in early March. Over 145 people from sites across the nation attended this meeting. The guest presenters offered workshops that were rigorous and sophisticated, and the retreat ended with participants wanting even more.

The enthusiasm and ideas sparked during such experiences feed back into programs that affect the entire network. Among these is the NWP minigrants program, which invites sites who are members of the various networks within the NWP to apply for funding to strengthen their activities. With the help of this program, these networks have flourished. The program also encourages site directors to get together to think creatively about ways to improve what we do, often combining research, practice, and programs in new ways. Minigrants are just one source for channeling important ideas from teachers and local sites to our writing project community. As the best ideas come from you, such sources are vital.

All of this brings me back to where I started: explaining the vitality of the NWP to policy-makers. I'd like to thank and congratulate all who helped do just that at the NWP Spring Meeting  in Washington in April. The meeting was an immense success, with more than 150 people from 39 states (and 66 sites) attending. In Sen. Thad Cochran's (R-MS) address to our group, he called the project one of his top priorities and reiterated his commitment to keeping it federally funded. As of press time, we have 50 co-sponsors of our reauthorizing bill in the House (H.R. 1192) and 19 co-sponsors in the Senate (S. 403), with both numbers expected to rise significantly in the days ahead. (Check our website for the latest updates.)

The strength and professionalism of the National Writing Project and its activities show what can happen when people are united by a common vision. The result is dynamic, and dynamic is certainly an apt word with which to describe this network. It is a trait to which each member of the network contributes and of which we all can be proud.

Richard Sterling

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