Now, we have our own YouTube Channel for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Our hope is to slowly grow this video collection of work being done at our site as we seek to raise our profile, including using our web presence. The Youtube Channel now joins the WMWP Twitter feed and the WMWP Facebook page as more places we call home in the world.
Peace (in the video),
Yesterday, members of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team met to begin a discussion about the future of our organization now that federal support for the National Writing Project has disappeared. It’s an uncertain time for us, and for all NWP sites. And the discussion is sure to stretch into next year.
The activity that started us off was to look deeper at our WMWP Mission Statement, which we developed last year after a year of inquiry work, and which now is something that we see as our guide forward. We spent a lot of time, and a lot of reflective thinking, on the writing of the mission statement. As we struggle with where funds should go, and how to gain more support, our site director, Anne Herrington, reminded us that we need to maintain the values that we hold dear in the WMWP. The mission statement can help us in this regard.
We spent some time reading the mission statement and pulling out words and phrases that seemed most important, or most central, to us. Then, we shared out those phrases and discussed what they meant. The Wordle above are some of the central ideas that came out of that discussion.
This is our full mission statement:
The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.
Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.
Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.
We then began to talk about what programs represent those ideas. We’re trying to determine which areas of WMWP should remain the central backbone of who we are and what we do. It was decided that the Summer Institute, the English Language Learners network, our Best Practices conference, professional development with schools and continuity programs for teachers must remain a top priority.
The message that came out from the meeting is: we’re down but not out, and we will find a way not only to survive, but to thrive. I don’t think we are afraid to change, as long as we keep the values of our program alive. Coming at it from that angle gives a clearer sense of possibilities, I think.
Peace (in the writing projects),
We’re still working here in Kansas City around creating interactive, social networking spaces for National Writing Project teachers. I’ve been using Cinchcast to add some reflective podcast thoughts. Give a listen if you want to hear what’s been on my mind after a full day of “playing” and “building” in the Drupal site:
Peace (in KC),
I am in Kansas City with a whole group of very talented and smart representatives of the National Writing Project where we are exploring ways we can use a new NWP Social Networking site to the advantage of the teachers in our various sites. Last night, we had some initial activities, including discussing the elements of a website that makes us want to come back it time and again. Themes that emerged included:
- Usefulness to a specific interest
- Fun, and use of humor
- Collaborative elements
- The voice of someone with experience
- Multiple points of entry to content
- Easy to navigate
- and more
We then broke into our site teams (I am here with a wonderful teacher from the Springfield schools) and worked on a paper activity using widgets that might be available as we work today to design our space. My partner, Anne Marie, and I talked about simplicity of design and which elements would allow for the easiest way for our teachers to enter into conversations. It was pretty interesting and will lay the groundwork for some activities today.
Peace (in the NWP),
I am off to Kansas City today to join so many other colleagues in the National Writing Project to learn about and go deeper into the fairly-new social networking platform of the NWP, which is called NWP Connect. With federal support now gone for NWP, a lot of sites like my own Western Massachusetts Writing Project is gearing up to use an online presence to keep a firm foothold in the world of teaching and professional development, and keeping our NWP folks connected.
This week’s NWP Web Retreat should allow us time to conceptualize how that might look and how we might use this new space for both connecting to the larger NWP network, and also, constructing smaller “communities” for our sites right in that larger space. For us at WMWP, this dovetails nicely with an ongoing effort to revamp and relaunch our website this summer. We’ve had lots of ideas in the past around lesson plan sharing, writing spaces, professional development, and more that could find a home inside the NWP Connect space.
The retreat also comes right before an important meeting we are having at WMWP on Monday in which we really brainstorm what our network will look like as funding comes to a close, and how we can best survive. I am hoping some of the ideas from this weekend will help me share out some possibilities with online spaces during those difficult conversations.
A few weeks ago, when we started the planning, I sent out an email to all the folks going to the retreat. I shared out a Prezi Meeting space and asked them to consider using it to write three words that describe their online selves — sort of an identity idea. A handful of my friends took me up on the offer, and the Prezi up above is the result of that sharing via Prezi Meeting (which I hadn’t used before, so I was curious to see how it would go).
Peace (with a little bbq sauce on the side),
This morning, I am co-presenting a session at a regional technology conference on the topic of Technology Across the Curriculum. It might as well be Writing Across the Curriculum, with technology. But we will be covering assessment, too, and the changing curriculum landscape with Common Core.
We are linking this presentation to some of our work at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. The three of us are part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Technology Team.
Tina’s Digital Storytelling Resource
Tom’s Digital Portfolio Resource
Kevin’s Digital Picture Book Resource
Here is the presentation:
Peace (in the sharing),
On Friday, I will be in Atlanta for the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (4cs) and I am presenting an early morning session with some fellow National Writing Project/Western Massachusetts Writing Project colleagues– Anne Herrington, our site director and a professor at the University of Massachusetts; Donna LeCourt, a member of our WMWP technology team and a professor at the University of Mass, and Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, a co-director of the National Writing Project.
Our talk is entitled “Broadening our Community to Reaffirm Connections with K-12 Educators” and our goal is to explore the connections between the university and the classroom, with the National Writing Project as a model for how those connections are made and nurtured.
Of course, our focus will shift a bit, given the latest news that the federal government has cut out all of its funding support for NWP, so we will be framing some of our discussion around what that change may mean for teachers and universities. (on a side note, the #blog4nwp effort continues to grow — read through the more than 200 blog posts so far in support of the Writing Project. It’s not too late to add your voice.)
My own part of this talk is entitled “An NWP Site’s Teacher and Student Collaborations on Digital Projects,” and I have been thinking of what I can talk about in my 15 minutes or so. There are so many connections that have been made with the National Writing Project and so many ways in which my students have benefited from those connections.
So, here is an outline of my path of talking (still subject to change).
For me, the teacher
- First year teacher — WMWP opened up my eyes to the value of what we now call PLC — that of teachers coming together to share and support and nurture each other.
- Blogging in the Summer Institute with WMWP colleagues — realized the potential of blogging as a writing platform for my students — as publishing space, authentic audience, peer feedback
- Led to Tech Friends (social networking space for NWP teachers across the country); the Collaborative ABC Movie Project; and the iAnthology (inspired by the eAnthology) which is now home to almost 450 NWP teachers for writing.
- The Digital Is site is the latest iteration of collaborating for shared knowledge, with a focus on digital learning and how technology is shifting the way we teach and the way we learn.
For my students, collaboration opportunities
- The Electronic Pencil — my classroom’s online home
- The Flat Stanley Project (with fellow WMWP teacher Sara Palmer)
- Blogging with DC (Maria Angala)– an online poetry collaboration
- Making Connections — blogging with middle school students
- Longfellow 10 Movie Site — movies by students
- Youth Radio — podcasting with schools around the world
- Voices on the Gulf — environmental exploration
- Summer Writing Projects (through WMWP partnership with a local vocational high school) — Webcomics, Stopmotion Movies, Digital Storytelling, and Gaming.
The benefits of these connections/Projects
- Authentic writing spaces
- Authentic audiences
- Fosters collaborative nature
- Using technology for meaningful work and learning
- The connections as WMWP/NWP teacher allowed me to tap into knowledge and expertise, explore it and then bring it into the classroom.
Peace (in the connections),
Here is a letter I just sent off to my two Massachusetts senators. If you are in Massachusetts, can you spent a bit of your time to do the same? You can contact Sen. Kerry (D) here and Sen. Brown (R) here.
I know in the past you have been a strong supporter of the National Writing Project and I am writing you to urge you and your colleagues to reconsider moves by Congress and President Obama to eliminate federal funding for NWP.
As a sixth grade teacher, the National Writing Project network, and the connections I have made through the local Western Massachusetts Writing Project, have been invaluable. My skills as an educator have been enriched and supported through my work with National Writing Project teachers, and my students have benefited from those connections. I have gone deep into research around writing, reading and my own area of real expertise these days — technology and 21st Century Skills.
I understand that NWP funding was an “earmark,” which is a political sensitive issue these days. And I understand that President Obama sees a shift to competitive block grants. I am hopeful NWP still finds a way to fit within the framework of federal support.
However, the immediate loss of funding for NWP at the federal level will directly impact work that we teachers are doing in the classroom to instill a love of writing and to help strengthen language arts and technology skills that are needed for the future.
Please continue to find ways to support NWP. I appreciate any help you and your staff can give to us teachers and our networks.
Sixth grade teacher
William E. Norris Elementary School
Peace (in the lobby),
We had our leadership meeting for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project the other day. This is the first time we have gathered together as a team since we learned that federal funding for the National Writing Project, which provided crucial financial and logistical support for us, has been eliminated by Congress and President Obama.
The mood was somber and reflective, but it wasn’t a funeral procession. We still have a lot of hope and we still have a lot of faith in NWP leaders to find a path forward for the organization that means so much to us. And we know the power of the network is with us, and not in budget line item.
As WMWP Director Anne Herringon noted, “A corp of us remember pre-NWP funding (before the group of WMWP founders hitched their wagon to NWP). At the least, we’d still be a loose confederacy of teachers. There won’t be nothing.”
Past WMWP Director Bruce Penniman noted that there may yet be ways to stay connected to funding in the federal government, but maybe not primarily with the Department of Education. Other departments, such as NOAH and the Department of Agriculture, have educational components who may want to partner up with a proven organization, like NWP.
“We can re-invent ourselves, if we have to,” Anne concluded, and then asked that we dedicate most of our April meeting to deeper discussions about the way forward in the face of uncertain federal funds.
Then, I heard a piece on the radio today about NPR, which is embroiled in its own difficulties and faces loss of federal funding. The piece showcased folks seeing this as an opportunity to try new things, to re-focus efforts on local communities, to push further into the web-based listener audience. Even NPR reporters see possibilities that weren’t there before.
And of course, I am still thinking of Bud Hunt’s blog post about needing to take a breath and look at what we have in the NWP. It’s a challenge, but it’s not the end of the world. We still have us.
So, if change is afoot, what kind of change might we envision for our WMWP site? How can we try to see the glass as half full? I’ll put out a few ideas and I want to note very strongly that this is only me — one person — thinking things through, and not the WMWP leadership.
- Since I came on board, we have seen our site’s direct engagement with students dwindle. This is mostly because of stipulations on how NWP/federal funds can be used. It can support professional development and teacher worker, but not student programs. I wonder if we can now re-double our efforts in helping meet the needs of student writers, directly. I feel as if student writing programs is an area that needs more attention, particularly in our urban and rural districts.
- The reality is that our university, The University of Massachusetts Amherst, is very generous with its support of our WMWP, even in tough times. It provides release time for our leader (Anne, right now; Bruce, before that; Charlie Moran, before that) and office space and other intangibles that even I don’t quite understand. But that support is part of a matching funding agreement. Will UMass still support us without NWP funds? Given its own financial problems, I doubt it, a least in the long-term. Which means we might need to forge new partnerships with other community organizations. This won’t be easy and it is something Anne has been working on for years. I wonder if our cache as a place for teachers and writers and technologies might open the door for something at another space of higher learning? I’d hate to lose the UMass connection. But it might happen.
- We need to redouble our efforts on grant programs. Anne and other do a lot of this right now — they work hard at this — and the fact is that we will need to cast a much wider net for grant opportunities, and begin to revamp some of our expertise to fit the needs of funding agencies. We can do this.
- There has been tremendous work in creating inroads with our state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. As we talked about in our meeting, the state’s shift to a Common Core Curriculum (already underway) opens up an opportunity for our WMWP folks, some of whom are already doing deep work (thanks to NWP and its connections to the Gates Foundation). I think we can position ourselves as a leader for school districts wondering how to help teachers re-envision their curriculum in light of Common Core. I see this as a real positive direction (oh, and my wife is part of our WMWP team working on it, so I have a vested interest).
- Will the loss of NWP bring forth new energy to our WMWP? Will this turn of events with federal funding be a rallying cry for local folks? Our energy ebbs and flows. We’d like more flow, and less ebb. Perhaps folks who take WMWP for granted will suddenly remember why they connected with us in the first place, and reconnect on the journey ahead.
- Will the shift mean more online presence work for our site? It may have to. Which means that our work on redesigning our website better get in high gear soon (the delay is mostly me, sorry to say). If funding limits what we can do in physical space, perhaps we need to become more acute in virtual space. We’re dipping our toes into online classes and offerings. We may need to make a full push ahead in this direction to leverage our expertise across a wider spectrum.
Yes, I am uncertain and worrisome about it all. But it does no good to harp on all the reasons why change is bad. We also need to remember what we tell our students: the only thing certain is that things will change.
Peace (in the glass),