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 nwp.org and search for your local site. If you are in the Kansas City area, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You won’t regret it.