What a great overview of the shared experience repeated by so many teachers who participate in a National Writing Project Summer Institute. I’ve been involved with NWP for the past four years and through my interactions with teachers both at the local, state and national level, the message is clear: the NWP model is a transforming experience for many teachers, allowing them to not only improve their ability to teach writing, but to experience a model for learning first hand. One that incorporates community, collaboration and continuity of learning. Seglem captures the spirit of the summer institute when she says, ” so this exchange with such an eclectic group built a refreshing carmaradrie that soon meant I mourned the end of the day and couldn’t wait for the next day to start…” (Seglem, R. 2009, p. 36).
Learning from others is a powerful way to expand your teaching skills. It is when we open up our minds to all that there is to know that we are given opportunities to learn and grow. Seglem makes it clear that this experience alone was not entirely responsible for her success, her hard work, determination and intelligence had a great deal to do with it, but the confidence and courage she garnered from working within this community made it possible for her to expand her learning and reach out for new and different avenues in education. The National Writing Project’s model recognized the expertise teachers bring to the table during professional development activities. Typical models of PD in the schools often are structured in an expert-learner way where the person presenting the PD is the expert and those in the audience are learning. The NWP model not only recognizes the importance of teachers as experts, the SI model encourages and facilitates the teacher-as-expert role and understands the importance of teachers recognizing these traits within themselves.
Seglem’s reference to an “eclectic group” is another key component of the NWP model. Many times during a typical PD event, schools are organized and divided up by grade level, subject area and so forth. The cross curricular, K-12 cross section of teachers creates a dynamic learning environment. So many times lessons presented at one grade level lead to discussions of how they can be tweaked and altered to fit into another; same goes for curricular areas. By opening up learning to include a variety of discourse, we allow ourselves to pause and reflect on our own teaching in new and different ways.
The possibilities for individual teacher learning increase greatly as professional communities move from individualistic or “balkanized” cultures to “collaborative cultures” and towards what can be described as “learning communities”.
Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin, 1999, p. 381
Teacher Learning that Supports Student Learning, Darling-Hammond