NWP & NCTE: Collegial Conferring and Conversation at its Best
By Janice Ewing & Mary Buckelew
Several of us had the good fortune to attend the National Writing Project and National Council of Teachers of English annual conferences, which were back-to-back in Boston from Nov. 20th to 24th. One of the NWP standout sessions for me was “Narrative Troubles (and that’s a good thing): On Why and How to Find, Shape, and Share Stories of Classroom Life.” I was drawn to this session because I believe that, more than ever, teachers need to support each other and advocate for themselves as a group. I also believe that this can start with sharing our stories.
In this reflective and interactive session, Jim Fredricksen (from Boise State University and Writing Project) guided us through the process of finding our own teacher stories, sharing them, and examining how that experience changes us. Here are a few of the ideas that we reflected upon as a backdrop:
*Uncertainty lies at the heart of teaching
*We can try to avoid trouble or strive to understand it
*Writing is a way to pause
With this common understanding, we were prompted to start our own writing, during the session, by listing five to ten people who have been on our minds lately. From this list we each chose one to write about, guided by these questions:
*What does this character want or need?
*Why is this goal important to this person?
*What steps of action is the person taking?
*What are the boundaries and opportunities within that person’s world?
The result was a scene from each of our classrooms, focused on a specific individual’s dilemma, ambiguity, or epiphany. We were encouraged to continue this process over time, looking for patterns, insights, and directions for meaningful change. Sharing stories from our daily lives as educators can deepen our understanding of our own teaching lives and provide windows into the struggles and successes of others. It takes conferring among colleagues to a new level, and one that I think is worth the “trouble.”
Conversation, Questions, & Cannoli
The NWP Roundtable sessions provided the time and space for sharing the stories of our Writing Project sites in a relaxed conversational manner. The round-table sessions that I attended set the tone and pace for an awesome, thought-provoking four days. In the session on place-based learning, site directors and Fellows from Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania briefly described the exciting learning opportunities that the partnership between NWP and the National Park Service (NPS) afforded young writers and readers this past summer. After an overview of each site was given, facilitators engaged attendees in conversation by inviting questions and by asking their own thoughtful inquiry questions. Going forward, one of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project’s questions is “how do we help students uncover the untold stories that reside hidden in primary sources at Valley Forge”? The Philadelphia Writing Project asked “what makes literacy learning unique at this out of the classroom place (Independence Hall)”? Attendees asked about logistics and content. Conversation. While conversation is defined as informal talk, providing the formal structure, i.e., time, and space for conversations takes careful planning especially in this time of technology when conversations can often be interrupted by the sound of beeps, buzzes, and dings. Each NWP roundtable session provided attendees with that time and space for thoughtful conversations on myriad topics.
So where do cannoli fit in? In Boston, PAWLP Fellows continued the NWP and NCTE conversations with a round of cannoli in Boston’s North End after a satisfying day spent with colleagues from across the nation. Conversation, Food, and Community – a terrific trio.
Dr. Mary Bellucci Buckelew is the Director of the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project and Professor of English at West Chester University. She is co-author of Reaching and Teaching Diverse Populations: Strategies for Moving Beyond Stereotypes. When she’s not facilitating workshops, leadership gatherings, and institute meetings; visiting youth sites for Young Readers & Writers; or teaching undergraduate and graduate courses – you may find Mary composing a poem about life in New Mexico, taking long walks with her husband Paul, visiting with family and friends, or reading a good book!
Janice Ewing is an adjunct for Cabrini College and a co-director for the Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project. Janice co-facilitates PAWLP’s “Continuity Days” and this blog. She is an avid reader and writer, and especially enjoys writing poems.