The National Writing Project has a suspiciously vague name, and does suspiciously vague things. focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners. They “focus” teachers on “efforts to improve writing.” Using our federal tax dollars. It sounds like a lot of liberal flimflam.
But some of the most effective work happens when you start with people who are experts (teachers, not administrators or college professors) and give them room and protection to work in the gray areas. It happens when you provide an opportunity for teachers across grade levels and disciplines to collaborate. The National Writing Project does have quantitative research to prove its effectiveness (see http://www.nwp.org/cs/public/print/resource/2668 ). The qualitative information I can add should merely reinforce this.
Many, if not most, education programs start with a deficit mentality. What are teachers missing, and how can we pour it in their heads and convince them to do it? The problem is, people tractable enough and naive enough to follow blindly are not the people we want alone in classrooms with our children, day after day.
Teachers are experts in education. They are the ones in classrooms. They are the ones who know the kids, and what works and what doesn’t. You wouldn’t ask the CEO of a hospital how to perform brain surgery. You’d ask a brain surgeon.
The National Writing Project treats teachers as experts. Because they start with this premise, teachers are immediately set at ease and empowered. No other education training I’ve had has offered the inspiration and intellectual challenge I have gained working with Writing Project colleagues.
My classroom is such a demanding, fast-moving place that I need direction and support for careful inquiry into educational theory and practice. I need people around me who will give me that space, and encourage me to go beyond easy answers. I have found those people in the Writing Project’s classes and conferences. My creativity, flexibility, and intellectual curiosity have all been strengthened by the organization.
We spend enormous sums testing students, often to tell us what a teacher could have explained with two minutes and three words. We spend tons of money training teachers who are already great at what they do, and already know better than anyone what is needed by their students. Our funds would be far better spent in helping teachers to lead the way, through programs like the National Writing Project.