Yesterday marked a "first" for the Rhode Island Writing Project. Yesterday we held our first ever Summer Invitational Institute for Adjunct Instructors of First-Year Writing at Rhode Island College. Though the institute has a much-too-long title, to be sure, I am thrilled with what we created yesterday. Thanks to my good colleague and friend, Becky Caouette, the Director of Writing at RIC, for daring to enact a new tradition at our College: collaborating with K-12 teachers to improve our understanding of and teaching of First-Year Writing at the College.
We invited 10 participants to enroll in a day-long Institute devoted to: (1) discussing the new General Education program at our College and how it will impact our teaching; (2) discussing the new Common Core State Standards and how they might impact our teaching of college writing; (3) hearing from a panel of high school teachers about their experiences and observations teaching high school writing. The Institute was filled, a good sign, and we welcomed a panel of three exceptional high school teachers to the Institute in the afternoon to share their experiences with us. By the end of the day, we had grown to 15, and there we were: high school and college writing instructors, at the same table, talking about teaching our students to write for various audiences, despite and in light of assessment pressures. It was AMAZING! And, in true Writing Project fashion, it happened in a tiny little corner of a tiny little state in a dimly lit, air-conditioned room in a weird little building on the far side of campus. But, nevertheless, there we all were, changing the world in our small but sincere way.
So, what happened as a result of this attempt to break down the institutional barriers between people who share the same passions and concerns?
We built a new community. We instilled some confidence and scooped out a lot of validation. We passed along some new and relevant knowledge. We shared our writing: stories of good and not-so-good memories of ourselves as high school writers. We marveled at each other's writing abilities. We ate good food and snacks. We drank lots of water. We listened to one another, with respect and good intentions, and without fear of judgment or evaluation. We shared practices. We shared secret fears. We compensated everyone. We also gave them nice tote bags. There's no doubt in my mind that everyone left the room--and the day--much lighter and much happier than when we had all entered.
At an institution where 95% of the First-Year Writing courses are taught by Adjunct Faculty, I am so proud to have begun a professional development resource for this under-served and under-recognized population of vital instructors on our campus. Becky and I both believe that without taking good care of our Adjunct Instructors of writing, without building a community in which they, too, feel that they are growing as intellectuals, as researchers, and as practitioners, the entire college community will suffer. Writing--and the teaching of it--is just that important.
Here's to many more collaborations between the RI Writing Project and RIC's First-Year Writing Program. It's one way that the Rhode Island Writing Project is working to make our presence on the RIC campus vital and our work, both on campus and off, indispensable to the College.