Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Take-Home Message from the NWP Annual Meeting in Chicago

This year's NWP Annual Meeting was well-attended--a full house--and while the mood was kind of dim at times, there was also a hint of hopefulness in the air, as we were reminded of the power of the national network and of our collective voices. Some Writing Project sites around the country have already been closed--most shockingly the site at Florida State University--now that the core grant has dried up. Those were sad stories for sure. But, other sites--like one in Mississippi--are getting tons of work with schools and districts and are thriving. Despite the grim national economic landscape of funding for literacy and teacher development, Dina, Susan, and I were validated in many ways at the conference in terms of the steps we are taking at our site to plan for the future. Here's a recap of how far we've come since April...

Since learning last spring that our federal funding had been eliminated and that we were facing a future with no core grant from the NWP, we've made several proactive and productive moves to "shore up" our site for the long haul. We are certainly not done with this work, but some of our accomplishments include:

1. Meetings with both State Senators and Congressmen--in DC and in RI--to discuss the work of the RIWP and the need for federal funding of literacy and teacher development programs.

2. A 2-day Leadership Institute in June, bringing together Board members and stakeholders to discuss our mission & values, our strengths as a site, our 1 and 5-year vision, and our organizational structure.

3. Regular meetings with RIC's Vice President for Academic Affairs, reporting on our work, our strategies for fundraising, our research, and our connection to the College.

4. Increasing our visibility on the RIC campus as well as our connection to the Writing Program at the College.

5. Moving our organization to a shared leadership model, where in addition to the Executive Director and Co-Directors, we also have teams assigned to specific projects: Development team, Inservice team, Spring Conference team, Summer Institute team, Young Writers team.

6. Cultivating a nationally-known keynote speaker for our Spring Conference, giving the conference a theme for the first time--Literacy and the Common Core--and developing an organized peer review system for reviewing conference proposals.

7. Running the third successful session of the Rhodes Elementary Afterschool Program creative writing class in Cranston.

We've certainly accomplished much more than this, but those are some highlights to let you know that we are working hard to keep our organization and our network strong and viable. At the Annual Meeting, Dina, Susan and I felt affirmed in these accomplishments; we also developed some ideas for our site, based on things that other sites around the country are doing.

As I sign off to go prepare for a Thanksgiving celebration with my family, I feel hopeful about the future of the RIWP. We have a strong Executive Board with dedicated members; we have support from our College and its Administration; we have good strategies for moving forward; and we have a vast state network of teachers who believe that the Writing Project is the best professional development they have ever had.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.