The Practice of Contemplation

When I think about the National Writing Project, the image that comes to mind is a small group of teachers talking and listening to one another as they share their questions and as they imagine possibilities. This image highlights teachers in conversation, creating and cultivating relationships, tackling something that’s confusing or difficult or filled with tension. It’s an image of people whose work lives are filled with constant decisions and dilemmas, and yet, there they are—taking the time to pause together.

In her book The Garden at Night: Burnout and Breakdown in the Teaching Life, Mary Rose O’Reilley argues that teaching is a “contemplative practice.” “Contemplative pedagogy,” she writes, “has to do with focused attention, silence, hospitality, and humility, and so my questions generally have to do with our experience of these ways of being” (p. vii). It’s a pedagogy that I recognize as a National Writing Project practice, because contemplation has been central to my experiences within our NWP community.

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Janelle Bence: My NWP Video Blog

In this video blog, Janelle Bence of the North Star of Texas Writing Project wishes a happy birthday to the National Writing Project and shares how NWP’s responsive approach to professional development has helped nurture her professionally, in turn helping her to meet the changing needs of her students.

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My NWP Writes Together

I ran into a teacher once who thought he’d met me before—but it took him a minute to remember who I was.

“Oh,” he eventually recalled, “You’re that guy that makes us write.” I’m not sure if he was glad to see me.

It’s pretty special for me to be remembered as “that guy who makes us write.” I give a lot of presentations. And I find that during those presentations, I’m often asking everyone to sit still, grab a pen or their keyboard, and write. It throws plenty of folks, at first.

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On Keeping Fire

“The truth about stories,” writes Native author Thomas King, “is that’s all we are.” He also quotes Nigerian storyteller Ben Okri, who said, “One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, and we are also living the stories we planted—knowingly or unknowingly—in ourselves…If we change the stories we live by, we change our lives.”

An important part of my life’s story has been finding my voice as a Native educator and as a teacher of Native students. Another story that has changed my life is the National Writing Project.

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Melanie Plesh: Putting the ‘Writing’ in Writing Project

I remember when Melanie Plesh interviewed to become a Summer Fellow at the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project’s first summer institute in 1992. I was expecting an applicant named Melanie Lachin when a knock on my door announced a thin woman with red frizzy hair. I asked her if she was Melanie Lachin, and she said no, but her name was Melanie too, and she’d come for an interview. I asked her to sit down and talk while we waited for Melanie Lachin. The more this one talked, the more impressed I became.

After about 15 minutes, she said, “Imagine, two Melanies on the same day.” We both thought it was strange, but kept on talking about her classroom and her love of writing. Finally she said, “What did you say the name of that other Melanie was?”

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My NWP is Family

In Ohio it was homemade lasagna, iced mochas from a Greek family coffee house, something called “pretzel dessert.” In California it was plums from a backyard tree, hummus, sushi, Arnold Palmers. Each summer, at National Writing Project sites across the country, teachers gather to share writing, to share knowledge, and probably most importantly, to share questions. They also share food. We know that families come to the dinner table not only to eat but to laugh, argue, trade stories, and ultimately build the values that make a family. I have had the good fortune to dine at many NWP Summer Institute tables—learning there the values of a family of the best teachers doing their best work.

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California Writing Project Celebrates NWP 40th Anniversary

Happy 40th anniversary from the California Writing Project, the state network of sixteen local sites! CWP has celebrated these anniversaries every five years beginning with the 25th. The 30th, 35th, and now the 40th have been particularly important because they have coincided with devastating cuts to state or federal funding and so have served as a reminder to celebrate our strength and resilience.

For the 40th anniversary year, we decided to begin celebrating last October 5 by convening directors, co-directors, and teacher-leaders to reflect on what has sustained our work for forty years and what gives it momentum for the future. To accomplish that, each site was invited to lead a 75-minute session in response to the following framing issues and questions:

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Our NWP is 40 This Year

Our NWP is 40 this year. Not so old, but not so young either. Its beginnings in a Bay Area summer in 1974 are captured in these black & white photos and in Jim Gray’s memoir, Teachers at the Center. All of us share in that beginning of ‘our NWP’, and at the same time, we each have our own NWP.

My NWP started when Gloria Neubert, professor in English Education at Towson University, showed up at the out-of-the-way high school where I taught English and Journalism. We were a large and confident high school located in the county seat of a rural community. We were just big enough to look no further than the borders of our campus and just isolated enough that new ideas in education didn’t quite reach us. So when a Professor of Education from thirty-five miles away came to our department meeting, it was a red-letter day.

It was Spring of 1984.

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