National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 9, No. 3
Date: 2004

Summary: Executive Director Richard Sterling comments on NWP efforts toward implementing a writing agenda for the nation and the research NWP is conducting.


Dear colleagues and friends,

Welcome to a new academic year. The summer months are among the busiest for writing project directors and teacher-consultants, and I know from talking with many of you that summer does not provide you with a traditional break in the academic calendar. Still, I hope you have had time for relaxation and reflection and that you are entering the new year with renewed energy and ideas for the work ahead.

Last year, during a meeting with a number of leaders of national reform programs, we were asked to present various aspects of the National Writing Project’s work. Most of the other reform efforts present were programs and procedures known as whole-school reforms. Our model was, of course, very different from others. When we finished our presentation, there was a long pause. Finally the executive director of one group said wistfully, “I wish we had the loyalty of your teachers.” And that is what makes NWP different. It is owned and run by teachers and site leaders who do the work and who are in the schools day after day. It is your leadership and commitment to the array of local and national institutes and events that continue to enhance our reputation for high-quality work that makes a difference to the quality of teaching and learning for our students. We are a remarkable network, and the work of individuals and writing project sites continues to grow and gain recognition in the profession. And while our summer events are now completed, we know from our own history that the energy generated by those events will lead to many new experiences, connections, and ideas for improving the teaching of writing.

Writing, with its central importance to lifelong learning and engagement in a democratic society, is regaining its rightful place alongside reading and discussion as modes of communication that cannot remain artificially separated. Your work at universities and in elementary and secondary schools continues to make a difference in the learning lives of young people in this digital, information-rich age. Supporting your efforts this year, we will again participate in regional meetings with the College Board’s National Commission on Writing for America’s Families, Schools, and Colleges: in Lorman, Mississippi, and Boston, Massachusetts; at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Indianapolis; and in Austin, Texas. These meetings are helping make visible the issues involved in implementing a writing agenda for the nation as outlined in the commission’s report, The Neglected “R”: The Need for a Writing Revolution, and, to date, these gatherings have generated thoughtful commentary by policymakers, school district superintendents, principals, teachers, and researchers. At the end of this academic year, a second commission report will synthesize what has been learned from these discussions. The goal is to provide action steps that will help realize the vision of improving writing for all students.

As you know, we have requested an increase in our appropriation to $30 million for the fiscal year beginning in October 2005. Our goals are to put a writing project site within reach of every teacher in the country and to provide additional support for professional development programs that grapple with the challenges teachers face today. As I say every year at this time, we must constantly remind the world that the writing project is here, that we are continuing our efforts to improve writing and the teaching of writing in our schools, and that we won’t rest until the job is done.

To document the impact of writing project work over time, we are conducting the NWP Legacy Study, a new study that reaches out to teacher-consultants from the first 20 years of the project. More than 1,000 of them have returned professional history surveys thus far. This research, together with results from the Local Site Research Initiative and the Teacher Leadership Study, will provide the fullest documentation of our work to date. Many of you are participating in one or another of these research activities. It takes great dedication and effort for writing project site leaders and teacher-consultants to conduct research alongside teaching, professional development, and other related work requirements. These studies will illuminate important new findings about the work of writing project sites and their influence on teachers, students, and the education profession. The reports will provide all of us with new information for future writing project summer institutes and professional learning opportunities.

This year’s annual meeting in Indianapolis will mark the close of the National Writing Project’s 30th anniversary year. I hope to see many of you there and to continue the discussion of how to both broaden and deepen the work of the writing project and our impact on teachers and students. As I say in every writing project gathering I attend, your ideas and strategies for developing our network are responsible for all the major developments and programs in the National Writing Project. That is what keeps our network alive, nimble, and valuable.

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