National Writing Project

National Writing Retreats Inspire Local Retreats

Date: July 2007

Summary: Not everyone can attend one of NWP's annual professional writing retreats, but local sites can offer their own. Drawing on the NWP model, the Hudson Valley Writing Project organized a professional writing retreat for local area teacher-consultants that was so successful it became a springboard for further workshops.

 

Each year the National Writing Project sponsors professional writing retreats that support teacher-leaders as writers, giving them time and space to explore their practice in writing and to find ways to share this writing with a larger audience.

But a writing getaway in a beautiful place for 25 writing project teachers was never intended to be the beginning and end of this concept. Leaders knew the retreat model would be working when writing project sites implemented their own versions of the retreat blueprint. And that is just what seems to be happening.

Hudson Valley Picks Up the Torch

The retreat sponsored by Hudson Valley Writing Project (NY) is a recent example of how one writing retreat can spawn other versions.

After director Mary Sawyer and co-director Kathy Yeager attended the NWP Professional Writing Retreat A in mid-June 2005, they set out to organize a professional writing retreat for local area teacher-consultants drawing on the NWP model.

Sawyer wanted the retreat to provide participants with "something every teacher needs: prompts, writing time, and a supportive audience."

Sawyer and Yeager invited other writing project sites in the region to participate in the local retreat and two teacher-consultants from Albany's Capital District Writing Project joined. In all, a ten-member professional writing group met five Saturday mornings in the fall of 2005 and spring of 2006.

Sawyer and Yeager asked Gwen Williams, past director of the Peachtree Writing Project and a facilitator of the NWP Professional Writing Retreat they had attended, to be both keynote speaker and in-house consultant.

Participant Brigid Schmidt, from the Capital District Writing Project, describes an experience that will be familiar to those who have attended the nationally sponsored retreats: "Mary and Kathy set up structures for us to have work time, socializing time, collaboration, solitude.  They kept the `task mastering' flexible but also kept us moving along."

Participants Grow and Publish

Trace Schillinger, from the Hudson Valley Writing Project, explained how her head was "filled with so many ideas about writing, revision, and the craft of teaching. I feel I was able to start a piece I never would have started or finished outside of this retreat context."

Molly Fanning, from the Capital District Writing Project, added, "It was rigorous yet so enriching, and a respite from my daily life and work." Molly suggested an advanced retreat for those who'd gone through this one.

Although the anthology from this retreat is still forthcoming, participants have already had pieces published elsewhere. Sawyer worked with coauthor and Hudson Valley Writing Project director Tom Meyer on an article titled "Cultivating an Inquiry Stance in English Education: Rethinking the Student Teaching Seminar," which was published in the October 2006 issue of NCTE's English Education.

An article by participant Trace Schillinger (2007) will appear in Social Education this September, and Kathy Yeager's piece "Go Slowly" has received a positive response from the editor of Schools Journal.

The retreat was so successful that site leaders will work on their budget to establish a continuation grant that sets the writing retreat on its way to becoming an annual event.

One Writing Retreat Leads to Another

Just as the national writing retreats have generated local retreats, the Hudson Valley professional writing retreat has spawned further activity. Positive feedback from the retreat was used as a springboard toward another very successful professional writing retreat for the Hudson Valley Writing Project held in the Spring of 2006 at Marist Brothers Retreat House on the Hudson River.

Later in 2006, Mary Sawyer coordinated a New York State English Council annual meeting workshop titled "Teacher as Writer." The workshop was attended by all members of the Hudson Valley Writing Project's professional writing retreat.

Musing on the importance of the Hudson Valley and other professional writing retreats, Sawyer quotes Donald Graves on "the simple truth that lies at the heart of the National Writing Project." Says Graves, "To encourage literacy among children, attention to teachers' literacy has to come first."

References

Sawyer, M., and T. Meyer. 2006. "Cultivating an Inquiry Stance in English Education: Rethinking the Student Teaching Seminar." English Education 39 (1): 46–71

Schillinger, T. 2007. "Tangled Up in the Past" (tentative title). Social Education 71 (forthcoming). 

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