National Writing Project

Teachers Enter the “Writing Project Way”

By: Linette Moorman
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 10, No. 3
Date: 2005

Summary: At 18 NWP sites, the New Teacher Initiative (NTI) provides a supportive community where novice teachers have found "solace and refuge, as well as identity and challenge as professionals."

 

NWP New-Teacher Initiative (NTI) participants Sheila Newell (front), Greater Houston Area Writing Project, and Diane Buenafe, Western New York Writing Project, take time for their end-of-day reflections at the NTI Summer Institute in Wellesley, Massachusetts, in June.

It's made me more brave, not so formulaic as a writer . . . I have found my own voice.

(Interview with a new teacher, June 2005)

This fall, new teachers from the 18 National Writing Project sites involved in the New-Teacher Initiative (NTI) will return to teaching with newfound confidence in their ability to teach writing, with improved skills in managing their classrooms, and with a better understanding of the importance of developing positive relationships with students, parents, and other teachers.

Like the teacher quoted above, they have been part of a supportive community provided by their local writing project site, where novice teachers have found "solace and refuge, as well as identity and challenge as professionals." (All quotes in this article, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from evaluations conducted by Inverness Research Associates.) As some participants note, even as novices they are given voice, and their voices are heard. As their more senior colleagues, experienced teacher-consultants serving as mentors and facilitators might say, that's the writing project way.

The NTI grew out of the interest that NWP sites in the Urban Sites Network (USN) had in providing support for the rapidly growing numbers of new teachers in their service areas. Over the course of several USN conferences, teacher-consultants discussed the absence of support for their newer colleagues, many of whom worked in challenging circumstances. They recognized the unevenness and ineffectiveness of many induction programs, the dramatically low retention rates among new teachers, and the resulting impact on student learning. Working through the USN leadership team, the network crafted a vision statement for a program of support for new teachers.

In 2002, with partial support from the W. Clement and Jessie V. Stone Foundation, NWP was able to make that vision a reality, inviting sites to apply for the first year of a three-year program. Nine urban writing project sites were funded in a first cohort. In 2003, a second cohort of nine sites from a variety of service areas was funded. Now in its third year, the NTI has the following goals:

  • to bring together NWP sites that have worked with beginning teachers, or that have the capacity and interest to do so, to establish a learning community that contributes to the retention of new teachers
  • to help sites in the NTI develop and/or strengthen successful local models for supporting new teachers in high-needs schools
  • to design, through the NTI, processes for documenting and disseminating the models
  • to contribute to knowledge in the field by making explicit the characteristics of these models, including the focus on specific writing content and the particular professional development strategies that have been most useful for beginning teachers.

NTI sites commit to serving new teachers in high-needs areas, and they are given the flexibility to design their programs to fit their specific contexts and needs. Certain key questions guide the local work:

  • How can our writing project support new teachers so that they will continue to work in high-needs schools?
  • What kind of support do new teachers working in high-needs schools really need and want?
  • How do we balance the immediate needs of new teachers with a broader goal of helping them understand the crafts of writing and teaching?

Values and Strategies

Inverness Research Associates in their year two report on NTI noted that the work with new teachers, because of its many challenges, was "messy business." However, the report noted that over the past two years, through a process of inquiry, the first cohort of sites has modified, refined, and deepened its work with new teachers, and values common to the NWP have emerged to ground the work of the programs—values such as egalitarianism, community, and reflection. All the programs shared the conviction that they should help new teachers experience the value of membership in a professional community of learners and reflective practitioners.

The design of the programs at different sites, while varied, did indeed share some common values, structures, and strategies. Almost all the programs included multiple approaches and strategies for supporting new teachers in their teaching of writing. A number of sites offered a combination of workshop series, seminars, or graduate courses with a focus on writing. Some provided mentoring—on-site or through meetings outside of the school. Some experimented with on-site seminars accompanied by listserv conversations, while others worked to develop communities of new teachers as researchers of their own teaching. Many decided to begin or end the year with a special event like a retreat or celebration of practice that allowed time to build or sustain community. And a number of sites required new teachers to share some aspect of their practice with their NTI colleagues and at times with a wider audience—a practice that contributed to the new teachers' growing sense of professionalism. All respected the circumstances in the teachers' various environments and tailored their programs to meet the needs of these teachers. Teacher-consultants brought to their work with new teachers their knowledge of the conditions in these schools, their empathy for their newest colleagues, their experiences in working effectively with students of diverse backgrounds, and their knowledge of the teaching of writing.

NTI Cohort One Sites
D.C. Area Writing Project, District of Columbia
Coastal Georgia Writing Project, GA
Chicago Area Writing Project, IL
Boston Writing Project, MA
Maryland Writing Project, MD
Third Coast Writing Project, MI
New York City Writing Project, NY
Oklahoma State University Writing Project, OK
Philadelphia Writing Project, PA

NTI Cohort Two Sites
Delaware Writing Project, DE
Meadow Brook Writing Project, MI
Southern Nevada Writing Project, NV
Western New York Writing Project, NY
Winthrop Writing Project, SC
Central Texas Writing Project, TX
Greater Houston Area Writing Project, TX
Sabal Palms Writing Project, TX
Marshall University Writing Project, WV


Benefits to New Teachers

Based on interviews with new teachers after the first year of NTI, Inverness Research Associates identified the following benefits that these teachers were gaining from participation in their local programs. They report that NTI is

  • helping new teachers "survive"
  • providing new teachers with community
  • helping new teachers focus on writing in their classrooms when otherwise it might have been overlooked or neglected
  • helping new teachers learn practical classroom techniques and strategies for teaching writing
  • helping new teachers expand on or reconceptualize their ideas about the nature of writing
  • helping new teachers begin to learn to reflect on what they do and why they do it
  • exposing new teachers to professional development that is different from, and higher in quality than, what they ordinarily receive
  • exposing new teachers to some of the most experienced and skilled teachers of writing in their local areas.

An Inquiry into Working with New Teachers

As is true of many writing project programs, NTI and its sites have a structure for sharing their learning and supporting each other. Sites have also shared their knowledge through such venues as the NWP Annual Meeting and the Urban Sites Conference. The most important support structure has been NTI's national summer institutes, designed and led by the NTI leadership team, which consists of a project director and a nine-member team of classroom teachers/teacher-consultants (of different teaching levels), directors, former directors, and school administrators. The institutes provided opportunities for NTI national and local leaders to learn through reading, writing, and talking, as they examined their work with NTI colleagues across sites. As one summer institute participant put it, "Every step and every process helped me to think about our NTI work, evaluate it, find the holes in it and begin a plan for the continuation of our work in the coming year" (NTI 2005 Institute Final Reflection).

Like each of the 18 sites, the NTI Leadership Team is engaged in its own inquiry. Collectively, this national team leads the work of the initiative, while each team member is paired to work with a local site coordinator and team. Like other NTI leaders they have learned that working with new teachers provides a source of rich reciprocal learning. Many NTI leaders talked about themselves as "renewed through their work with new teachers." While the new teachers express appreciation for the support, encouragement, and knowledge they have gained from the experienced teacher-consultants, many of the teacher-consultants and writing project leaders express their excitement to be working with "energetic, talented, committed people who wanted to make a difference for children."

NTI as a Program of Equity

According to Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, NWP Director of National Programs and Site Development, NTI has evolved into an important equity program for the writing project. As new teachers are placed in the highest-needs schools, writing project sites that work with new teachers are often working with underserved schools, teachers, and students. A key benefit for the sites is that they often expand their diversity and the diversity of their leadership. NTI project director Marci Resnick notes that the dialogue and examination of work in the summer institutes often result in an expanding understanding of local issues—such as demographic shifts, language, and race—and their relationship to the teaching of writing. The acknowledgement that these issues are among the challenges of new teachers has allowed sites to think about their work in the context of equity.

Next Steps

Cohort One is currently completing its third year. Those sites have now gone through a year of thinking and working to sustain and disseminate the work. They continue to raise questions for themselves and their sites such as, "How do we make the NTI work an integral part of our writing project site's work?" and "How can we best support new teachers as leaders as they become part of the site?"

Cohort Two sites will begin their third year in September. While they have some of the same questions as Cohort One, they are focusing more on the idea of "scaling down," that is, going deeper. Some sites are focused on ways to help new teachers study their own practice. Others want to examine the social issues that affect the writing and learning in the classrooms of the new teachers. They are examining their work and thinking about the issues of access and equity as these issues relate to underserved teachers and high-needs populations of students. Still other sites wonder how to align their work with the work of school districts while staying true to their own values in working with new teachers.

While working with new teachers has benefited new and veteran teachers alike, it is not without its challenges. Many sites have found that the process of bringing new teachers together is difficult because of district-mandated professional development and additional courses for new teachers. Further, balancing the immediate and daily needs of new teachers, especially around issues of classroom management, with their need to develop as teachers of writing has also been challenging. And of course, finding the time to be available and "on call" to new teachers has not been easy for full-time classroom teacher-consultants. But despite these rough spots, each site has expressed plans to continue their work with new teachers beyond the life of the grant.

In the NTI Summer Institute, we always try to fill the room with voices of new teachers, to remind us why we are doing this work. The following quote from a new teacher from an NTI site serves as such a reminder:

It's made me rethink what teaching is anyway. . . . What kind of teacher do I want to be, what does being a teacher mean? Those things came to the surface because we were forced to write. We were forced to ask those questions of ourselves. . . .We all had different stories, all were asking each other questions, all were sharing.

(Interview with a new teacher, June 2005)

About the Author Linette Moorman is a former director of the New York City Writing Project and currently serves the National Writing Project in a number of capacities. She is both the national coordinator and a leadership team member of the New-Teacher Initiative.

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