National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 4
Date: September-October 2001

Summary: An update from Executive Director Richard Sterling.


Dear Colleagues and Friends:

Welcome to the new academic year! A special welcome to the thousands of new members of our professional community--teachers across the United States who recently completed the summer institute.

While these teachers were immersed in their first summer institute experience, more-seasoned members of our writing project network continued their professional development by participating in an array of national events including writing retreats, the annual Directors Retreat, Project Outreach, network leadership team meetings, and the NWP Teacher Exchange. Just as sites continue to bring teachers together locally to learn from each other and improve their classroom practice, the National Writing Project creates more opportunities each year for site leaders and teacher-consultants to come together nationally and extend those learning opportunities to our professional community nationwide.

The NWP Directors Retreat, held in Estes Park, Colorado, this year, is one such example. More than 30 participants from 20 writing project sites gathered to write and talk about the future of their sites and explore ways to strengthen and expand their work. The retreat was led by Sherry Swain, director of the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute, the statewide network of Mississippi writing project sites; Jim Davis, director of the Iowa Writing Project; and Richard Louth, director of the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project. The sophistication of the weekend's discussions once again revealed the deep knowledge that writing project people bring to this work and the unique value in bringing such people together to share experiences and strategies. Needless to say, everyone left the meeting with a wealth of ideas and enthusiasm for the coming year. I urge you to secure a place for yourself at next year's directors retreat, which will be held in Upstate New York in mid-June.

Looking beyond our national borders, this year the NWP has seen a renewed interest in writing project activities for teachers internationally. Many of the basic concepts that account for the writing project's success in this country--recognizing the value of teacher knowledge, promoting no single "right" approach, believing that teachers are key to education reform--are universal, and therefore produce success around the globe. A series of writing project workshops were held in Malta, teachers visited from South Africa, and visitors from the Chinese University of Hong Kong toured the New York City Writing Project, the Bay Area Writing Project, and the UCLA Writing Project. Our guests from China were delighted by what they saw, and we anticipate that there will be further interchanges among teachers in the United States and Hong Kong next year.

Back on the national front, the big news this summer was the inclusion of the National Writing Project in both the Senate and House versions of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) bill. (See "NWP Included in New Legislative Bill" for a legislative update.) As of press time, the congressional conference committee that was convened to resolve the differences between House and Senate education bills had not completed its task, but we are confident that we will be included in the final version that the president is expected to sign this fall.

Although our reauthorization is nearly a fait accompli, our work in Washington, D.C., is not quite over this year, as the task of appropriating education funding remains. The Appropriations Committee has yet to decide our funding level for fiscal year 2002, but there is a distinct possibility that we will receive an increase. We have received steady increases for the past five years and have gradually expanded the infrastructure of the project to increase the grants we offer to each site, to support sites in building their capacity, and to expand the work of our national special-focus networks such as Urban Sites, Rural Sites, English Language Learners, and the Teacher Inquiry Community. If our funding is increased once again, we plan to look to our site leaders for ideas about how best to strengthen the work of the project beyond merely increasing the amount of the annual site grants. Some of that potential funding will likely be used to create more opportunities for site leaders and teachers to come together nationally to work on common issues and contribute knowledge to the larger community.

The largest single opportunity of this sort is just a few months away--our NWP Annual Meeting in Baltimore in November. (See "NWP Annual Meeting Preview" for details.) Please don't miss this chance to mingle with your peers and experience the ebullience that results when hundreds of members of our professional community join to celebrate their accomplishments and share their passion for teaching and writing. See you in Baltimore!

Richard Sterling

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