My long-time mentor, Maridella Carter, invited me to participate in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute over and over.  She knew I would love the experience, but life kept interfering.  Finally, one summer, I could commit.

She was right; not only did I love the experience, but it was the BEST graduate class/professional development of my career, and I write these words with no exaggeration.

The SI, as it is known, is hard to describe because the experience provides each person what he/she needs.   This is in part because of the goals of the Writing Project, which builds and sustains a professional community by valuing the individual strengths and passions of each teacher.

The SI begins each participant’s journey into this professional community.

During the SI, teachers do the same work they ask of students:  They read, discuss, question, develop inquiry workshops, and write, write, write.

You might think teachers are overflowing with confidence, especially about their writing skills, but most adults are wary, even afraid, to share their writing.  Yes, even English teachers.  Maybe especially English teachers.  After all, we savor the words of the most gifted writers in the world daily. To work past this elemental fear, participants are placed in supportive writing communities in true workshop fashion.

One day during my SI experience, I listened to person after person share their literary luncheon pieces. These are not pieces writers spend weeks and weeks perfecting.  Even so, as each person read, I was caught up in the story, and all the words, phrases, sentences, and so on, seemed perfect. Not good; perfect.  Perfect because the writing matched the purpose, to share the writer’s story.  These pieces were not judged by a rubric, graded for specific traits, edited for grammar, usage, and mechanics.

They were judged by reflective smiles, out-loud laughter, occasional head-nods, and wiping of tears.

It suddenly occurred to me that I should not write any differently than I do.  I will keep practicing and improving, and I will never write as well as the writers I love to read, but that will not stop me from writing.  What a freeing thought!  I decided critical voices will always cut through my words, but unless those voices reflect purposeful, encouraging guidance, they should be ignored.  I left the experience saying in addition to all the content, skills, and connections I gained, it was like I had been to teacher therapy!

My teaching changed after this experience.  I was embraced by a strong community of professionals who encouraged my pursuit of personal inquiry.  I had also broken free of many insecurities I had about writing, which led to a more authentic writing workshop structure in my classroom.  This experience also helped me understand why some teachers resist implementing workshop in their classrooms.  It’s difficult to implement something you have never experienced.

I stayed involved with The Greater Kansas City Writing Project, which provides various opportunities for continued growth and support from this professional community. This summer, I served as the SI co-facilitator, and in the fall, I took on the role of PD Coordinator.  (Let me know if your district is interested in scheduling PD through the GKCWP.)

My only regret is not participating earlier in my career; don’t make the same mistake!

If you would like to get involved in the National Writing Project, go to and search for your local site.  If you are in the Kansas City area, email me at  You won’t regret it.


This is a piece Linda wrote for the summer institute in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project.  Participants wrote about food that is important to them in some way.  Some of the participants had nicknamed Linda Wonder Woman during the SI.


Before my mother discovered she could communicate important family information by texting all nine of her children at the same time, we relayed information in a haphazard way that was more like playing telephone than a pipeline of accurate information.

Patrick:  Two weeks ago mom told me to tell you Barbara’s cat pooped or something.  I can’t really remember what was important about that.

Me: Why would I care if Barbara’s cat pooped?

Patrick:  I don’t know – call Mom!  She’s the one who told me to tell you.

(The real message, Barbara’s cat died, and I looked like the uncaring big sister who didn’t say anything because the message I received was weeks late and about poop.)

On June 5th, I got the message on time:  My dad’s brother Jim had died.

Some time ago my cousin Kelli labeled the generations in our family.  Our grandparents were the G1s, our parents were the G2s, we were the G3s and so on.  The labels were helpful at family gatherings to get people organized for pictures or to indicate who was supposed to go through the food line first.  Uncle Jim was the first G2 in our immediate family to die.

This past weekend, the family held a memorial in my hometown, which was Jim’s hometown, and my grandfather’s hometown.  (In fact, my relatives settled in the area around 1823, and we are related to Daniel Boone, but that’s another story.)  This memorial was as much about sharing our oral history as it was about grieving our loss, so Saturday the G2s, 3s, and 4s gathered on my aunt’s giant deck while the younger G4s and G5s ran and played and reconnected.

Do you remember when Jim and Dan tried to drive over a giant snow pile and ended up stuck on top with the wheels still spinning?

Remember how Jim would make all the kids get up at 6:00 AM on vacation at the lake because that’s when the “water was glass”?

Stories buzzed all around, and I couldn’t settle myself into any one of them for very long. Along with all the action stories were stories about food.

I was always told that since I was the youngest, I had to pick through the cherries that had fallen rather than climb the tree or get on the ladder.  But do you remember how good those pies were – the cherries went straight from the tree into a pie.

My favorite was Grandma’s orange bundt cake.  I still think about that cake when I eat an orange.

Remember when Mom made us eat potato soup for a week so we could donate money to help those in need? I still love homemade potato soup!

On my drive home, I wondered, what food would my children connect to their childhood? I often feel guilty for not giving them the same kind of childhood I experienced, and not having time to make all the food, especially baked goods, is part of that guilt.

Mea culpa, my children.

So I asked.  The answer – black eye pea dip.

But that is so easy to make; it doesn’t even require a recipe! That’s not a signature dish, and it’s certainly doesn’t warrant Wonder Woman status! 

I pushed.  “Surely there’s something else.  Chicken Madeira, perhaps?  Caramel pecan rolls?  Scones?”

Kelsey answered, “No. You always make black eye pea dip at the lake, and when you bring it out, everyone immediately flocks to you. Then we all sit around telling stories about who got up on the wakeboard for the first time that day, or how Brice almost killed me, Emily, Hannah, and Anna trying to throw us off the tubes, or how Robert caught a snake by throwing an empty Huggies box on top of it that one time!  The lake is like my second home.”

Then her eyes and voice softened, “And black eye pea dip always reminds me of family.”


Wonder Woman worthy after all.