Friday, February 5, 2010

Making Ripples and Waves
Bill Tucker

Every summer the National Writing Project invests $15,000 in our Invitational Institute to encourage instructional leadership in classroom teachers. Imagine if your school suddenly had that money to spend on professional development. Probably some of your schools do have it!
Why would the NWP choose to disperse its funds among fifteen teachers instead of choosing a few good schools and concentrating its effort in them? Obviously because it believes in the power of individual teachers to reform the teaching of writing.

And you are probably doing that right now by improving your own teaching in your own classroom. That kind of teaching causes ripples among good teachers, as we share our best practices and the energy that comes from commitment.
But the National Writing Project has a larger goal than creating ripples. It wants to make waves. The Eastern Michigan Writing Project is attempting that by inviting local schools to propose a year of professional development in literacy and the teaching of writing and engaging us as partners and facilitators.
We know we can make waves by a series of workshops and ongoing conversations about the struggles of teaching writing in K-12 schools. We know our teachers have the disposition and the experience to inspire other teachers of writing.
Teachers are not famous for “making waves.” Generally we don’t like people who make waves, because they seem to have no constructive agenda. They delight in upsetting the status quo, but seem oblivious to the inconvenience they cause.
Teacher consultants are not like that. They have been through the struggle of teaching skills in context, of taking and giving up control of students’ writing processes, of assessing writing and pondering what makes it good. I believe that disposition of patience and inquiry is what we uniquely bring to professional development. You can’t bottle it and market it, but you can share it.
And you can make waves with it.
We didn’t ask you if we could depend on your expertise, but we are nonetheless depending on you to help us make waves. We have invited your support in a recent mailing, which includes your volunteering for one of our consultant roles, e.g. workshop leader, apprentice, teacher research facilitator. (You can download the description of the consultant roles by clicking here.)
For once we are trying to be proactive and planning six months ahead, and we invite you to plan with us. Plan to assume a reasonable role of leadership in our work. Every one of you was prepared to do this, when you took the summer institute.
Taking this step might mean inviting us into your school or district. Encouraging your district leaders to respond to our “Request for Proposals” could be your first “making waves” initiative. If your school is interested in our invitation, give us the name and address of the contact person, and we will send them the “Request.”
If you are following the statewide and national conversation about Common Core standards, you know that politically powerful reformers are already making waves, maybe even a tsunami of change. Much of the economic resources at our disposal (“Stimulus funds”) are intended to raise students to national standards we didn’t compose or approve. That complicates the role we play.
But we also know that real educational reform has never been top-down.
When we speak of “fads” and “pendulum swings” in education, we are almost always speaking of reforms that were imposed from above. Reform that moves horizontally, from teacher to teacher, has a much more lasting effect. That is why the National Writing Project invests in individual teachers—for horizontal reform. That is why their motto from the start has been “teachers teaching teachers.”
Please join us in making waves in 2010-11. The stakes have never been so high, nor the need more urgent.

Bill Tucker

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