“Policies Don’t Teach Kids” — Jim McDermott, part one

We taped the keynote address given by Jim McDermott to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s Best Practices Conference. The theme of the conference was on Massachusett’s transition to the Common Core curriculum and Jim’s talk was about how people teach kids, not policies on paper. Jim’s role in developing the current curriculum, and assessment tools, gives him a valuable perch. He also served on our state’s Board of Education, so his insider knowledge goes deep. He was funny, engaging and thoughtful as he used his own experiences in the classroom with difficult students to demonstrate how teachers can reach students as learners.

This is Part One of the keynote. I’ll share Part Two tomorrow.

Here is a quick bio of Jim McDermott:

James E. McDermott, Ed.D. , clinical educator and assistant professor at Clark University, is a former Massachusetts State Teacher of the Year who has taught English, Writing, Drama, and has coached championship teams in baseball in a career spanning 34 years working with urban students in grades 7 through 12.  He is Co-Founder and former Co-Director of the Central Massachusetts Writing Project, and for seven years served as the English Language Arts Liaison for the City of Worcester during which time he led the task force for developing an articulated k-12, portfolio-driven curriculum.  He served as a leading member of the Massachusetts State Curriculum Framework and Assessment Development Committees.

Professor McDermott has presented numerous workshops locally and nationally.  His focus is on creating classrooms that engage all students as thinking and feeling human beings through using low stakes writing to help even the most at-risk students to think deeply and to understand rigorous content.

In 2010, Jim was appointed as the first teacher to the Board of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education.

Peace (in the talk),


From Old to New: The WMWP Website

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project launched a new website this month, in our hopes to make our site cleaner and easier to navigate. The change came on the heels of a long inquiry process of how our writing project site can best project our mission statement and our goals to our online audience. It’s still a work in progress, with some areas still under construction and some links still to be added. But I like the new site, and I appreciate all of the world folks put into making it go live. We had lots of voices in the mix because we realize the importance of a strong web presence.

Our New Site
WMWP new

Our Old Site
WMWP Web Old

Peace (in the change),


Moving WMWP onto NWP Connect

Connect WMWP Space
The National Writing Project’s new networking space — NWP Connect — is a move towards making connections among various NWP site members and within sites. At the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we have been using a Ning site for our leadership team (sporadically) but yesterday, I presented to our board the possibilities of using NWP Connect. Among other reasons, we don’t want to keep paying for Ning.

After a tour of the NWP Connect site, we had an engaging conversation about we might best use the main site and our space within the Connect community. There were discussions around:

  • Do we make our space public or keep it private? We mostly seemed to lean towards a public space, particularly as one of our missions to visibility to our teachers and our community.
  • How do we use our social networking site in a way that does not conflict with our website?
  • How do we label and name things in our Connect site in a way that is clear and understandable for users? You’d be surprised at how difficult that can be at times.
  • How do we best integrate the Connect site with our website, so that a user can move fairly seamlessly from one to another?
  • What activity can we launch (book talk?) to get people on the site and writing?
  • Who will be in charge of making sure that every post gets a response?
  • And more …

It was interesting and a good discussion. The key is for us to keep designing our WMWP Space with simplicity of use in mind, and to avoid making another site that people don’t need to go to. We don’t want to stake out some ground that is never used, or replicates what people already have in their professional teaching lives. But we also see Connect as another way to bridge connections with teachers who are part of WMWP and maybe need another line to our organization.

Here is a document I created and shared with our WMWP folks, but it may be helpful for others, too. (Note: The NWP Connect space is not just for NWP teachers. It’s an open place for resources on writing and literacy. Take a look. Stay awhile.) All of the members of the Leadership Team pledged to tour NWP Connect on their own, maybe add a few comments to some posts, and then take a critical look at the WMWP Connect space.
Using NWP Connect

Peace (in the sharing),


Moving into the WMWP Connect Space

WMWP Connect Homepage
This afternoon, I am heading off to our Summer Institute at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in order to give our teachers a tour of our new online space, which is called Connect, and which is part of the National Writing Project’s new push to provide a networking space that encompasses both the entire NWP network and individual sites. I’m a little worried because, to be truthful, I don’t have a full handle on the Connect platform (built off Drupal, I believe) and find it a bit difficult to navigate and manage right now. I am hoping that with experience will come ease.

But I will pitch it to our SI folks as a way to dip their toes into something new, just my own Summer Institute did when we were introduced to Weblogs in a time when blogs were certainly not in fashion and had certainly not even begun to take hold much in classrooms. I remember thinking “OK,” and diving into something new. There were times when it was frustrating but I kept at it, and learned quite a bit. I am hoping our 2011 folks can do the same. I hope.

Peace (in the Connect-ions),

Western Massachusetts Writing Project Is …

I was inspired by an NWP friend’s Animoto of her writing project, so I copied it a bit for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. This will become part of our new website and social networking space. I used elements from our Mission Statement as the text.

Peace (in the WMWP),

WMWP: Tapping into our Mission Statement

WMWP Mission Brainstorm
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),

Some More Thoughts from the NWP Web Retreat

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),