National Writing Project

Project Outreach Plans a New Cohort

By: Tom Fox
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 10, No. 3
Date: 2005

Summary: Project Outreach 3 will gather sites that are invested in the process of inquiry, eager to develop their capacity to serve teachers in low-income communities, and committed to the goals of access, relevance, and diversity.

 

The National Writing Project will launch a third cohort of Project Outreach in early 2006. The request for proposals will be distributed to writing project sites in early fall, and applications will be due in January.

Should your site apply? Project Outreach 3 will gather sites that are invested in the process of inquiry, eager to develop their site's capacity to serve teachers in low-income communities, and committed to the goals of access, relevance, and diversity.

Project Outreach began in 1996 with funding from the DeWitt-Wallace Reader's Digest Fund. The first cohort of 18 writing project sites developed a common set of goals that would guide their work:

  • Access: to increase the number of teachers of low-income students participating in sustained professional development at writing project sites.
  • Relevance: to increase the quality of services provided by writing project sites by improving the professional development they offer and by making it more relevant to teachers in low-income communities.
  • Diversity: to increase the quality of programs conducted by writing project sites by increasing the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity in project leadership so that teacher knowledge can more closely reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the local community.

The success of the first cohort led, in 2001, to NWP's support of a second cohort of eight sites, Project Outreach 2 (PON 2). After completing the initial three-year cycle of work, Project Outreach 2 sites have, for the last two years, focused on dissemination of local site learning. The project has organized a variety of writing retreats and other events that support dissemination, aiming to provide ongoing support to PON 2 team members as they develop and complete their projects. To date, Project Outreach 2 participants have delivered more than fifty conference presentations and workshops and published five articles.

The Project Outreach work begins with each site organizing a leadership team that does a "self-study," examining the work of the site through the lens of the goals of access, relevance, and diversity. Sites look carefully at their service areas to see where their work in schools happens and where their summer institute applications come from. They examine their materials: their applications, their flyers, their communications. And they ask questions such as, How do these materials encourage access? How are they relevant to teachers in low-income communities? What image of diversity is reflected in our materials? Sites also examine the details of their work: Are there professional books by authors of color in the summer institute? Does our inservice address the needs of English language learners? Do our programs speak to the concerns of urban teachers or teachers of children of poverty?

Additionally, sites look inward, asking more questions: Does our advisory board represent the diversity of our service area? Are leadership opportunities and responsibilities distributed to a wide number of teacher-consultants?

NWP holds a summer institute that assists sites in this self-study, bringing together teams of site leaders from all of the Project Outreach sites.

After a year of engaging in this deep inquiry into their sites, the local leadership team draws some tentative conclusions about patterns in their site's work and develops an action plan that addresses one or more concerns that have emerged from their year of inquiry. They may institute a teacher study group at a high-need school and document its progress, paying special attention to the degree to which it engages teachers. They may embark on a new effort to recruit teachers from urban districts, and devise a method that improves the site's ability to attract teachers in low-income communities to their programs. They may develop a plan to recruit teachers of English language learners, which simultaneously may require the project's leadership to develop programs that increase the academic knowledge necessary to teach these students.

Site teams study these plans as they are implemented, revising them as new circumstances arise at the site and as the team and site leadership gain insights into the work. A second summer institute, again with teams from all the sites, supports the development of the action plans.

In the final year, sites are charged with disseminating what they have learned from their experience, though most sites will continue their inquiry into changes they can make to achieve Project Outreach's goals. During this final year, NWP supports workshops, writing retreats, and planning sessions to help sites articulate and disseminate their knowledge.

Sites in Project Outreach 2 have taken impressive steps toward their goals. Some sites set goals for the number of teachers from underserved areas that would attend the summer invitational—and reached their objective. Others revamped the reading and activities in their invitational summer institute. Some sites have established active long-term partnerships with districts or schools with whom they previously had little or no contact. New leaders have emerged at every site, many of them teachers of color, adding their perspectives, experience, and knowledge to the governance of the site. Finally, all sites have expanded their overall capacity. For instance, during the years that sites participated in Project Outreach 2, the number of participants served increased nearly tenfold.

When two sites in Project Outreach 2 went through transitions in leadership, these sites were able to draw upon the broad knowledge and abilities developed during their Project Outreach work to ease the leadership transition.

Look for information about how to apply for Project Outreach Cohort 3 this fall in NWP site bulletins and at the NWP website at www.nwp.org.

About the Author Tom Fox is director of the Northern California Writing Project and national coordinator for NWP's Project Outreach.

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