National Writing Project

Director's Update

By: Richard Sterling
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 10, No. 1
Date: 2005

Summary: Executive Director Richard Sterling reflects on the 2004 annual meeting and NWP's recent successes, new funding, and future direction...


Dear Colleagues:

It was wonderful to see so many of you at the 2004 National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Indianapolis. As always, it was an extraordinary event . . . dare I say, the best ever.

I have heard it said that our annual meeting feels more like a reunion of friends than a large convention. I think that's indicative of one of the real strengths of our organization. We care deeply about the work we do, and there's a good deal of mutual respect and appreciation for those who do it with us. The standing ovation for the talks by Philadelphia Writing Project Director Vanessa Brown and Boston Writing Project Teacher-Consultant Johna Dowdall at the end of the general session were just one indication of this appreciation.

Our annual meeting is also an immensely productive event, allowing for an amazing exchange of best ideas and practices. We had 798 sign-ups for Thursday sessions at the 2004 annual meeting. On Friday, we offered 60 breakout sessions on topics ranging from rural poverty to technology in the classroom and building inservice programs for schools. More than a few attendees commented on the richness of the conversations started in Indianapolis; I am already looking forward to the 2005 meeting in Pittsburgh.

The work we do is also valued outside of our community. The National Writing Project will receive an appropriation of $20.34 million in fiscal year 2005, a $2.45 million increase in federal funding over the previous year. We plan to use this additional funding to continue to increase the number of writing project sites and further ensure the quality of our existing services. As you know, our eventual aim is to bring a writing project site within reach of every teacher in the country. We also hope to expand programs for teachers new to the profession, extend programs that help teachers use technology in the classroom, and broaden programs that connect writing with reading comprehension.

We are very excited about this new funding and the possibilities and responsibilities that come with it. As I have said before, the federal funding and other grants we are awarded are possible only because of your day-to-day work in schools and universities across the country. Each person's contribution to the network makes a difference. It's as simple as that.

And we keep writing. Writing project site directors and teacher-consultants are published in a wide range of print and electronic publications, and writing itself is increasingly gaining the attention of the news media. From Education Week and the New York Times to smaller local newspapers, the profile of writing and the writing project is on the rise. Over the past two years, approximately 100 stories mentioning the work of the writing project have appeared in publications across the country. Most of these stories connect directly to the work of writing project sites; you are doing a great job of getting the word out.

More than 70 news outlets carried an Associated Press story last fall on the release of Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out, the second report from the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools, and Colleges. The report, which argues that good writing skills are a must for success in today's professional world, is available here. It offers some compelling reasons for the need to improve writing instruction in this country.

So where do we go from here? Despite the increased media attention, we need to continue reminding policymakers that we are still here and that our work matters. One opportunity to do so will be at this year's NWP Spring Meeting, April 7–8, in Washington, D.C. "Leading a New Generation" is the theme for this year's Friday session, and Jeffrey Wilhelm, author and site director of the new Boise State University Writing Project, Idaho, will be our keynote speaker. I encourage you and your teacher-leaders to attend.

Second, we need to continue our ongoing discussion of how to broaden and deepen the work of the writing project and our impact on students. Some of the questions we continue to grapple with: What are the most effective ways to continue the growth of teacher leadership in the writing project? How do we interest new colleagues in directing writing project sites? And how do we continue to reach out to teachers who work in the toughest schools or most remote parts of the country?

As you know, your ideas and strategies spark the major developments and programs in our network. I encourage you to continue contacting me with your thoughts and ideas on how we can improve the work we already do in the writing project and how we can continue to improve writing instruction in the United States.

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