I’m a geek.
My inquiry for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (WMWP) summer institute in 1994 focused on the differences for young people in composing with computers—a novelty at that time—rather than on paper. I helped plan and facilitate some of the first nationally organized professional development in our network related to digital literacies. I’ve blogged, built web-based communities, tweeted, and led online webinars, all as part of my work for the National Writing Project. I’ve got in my pockets, literally and figuratively, a bunch of gadgets, and I use them all for purposes of exploration and writing, experimentation and documentation.
Yet the most powerful tool I’ve encountered over my years of work as a Writing Project educator is not digital. Or at least not necessarily digital.
That tool is the invitation.
My first invitation came from Charlie Moran, the originating site director at WMWP, who reached out to me via a snail-mail letter in my first year of teaching to see if I’d be interested in applying to the summer institute. I had worked with Charlie’s wife, Kay, at a local newspaper a few years earlier and Charlie knew I was back in town and now teaching. During the institute itself, I experienced too many invitations to recount—invitations to share my writing, invitations to give feedback on the precious words of others, invitations to share my practice.
Once the institute was over, the late Pat Hunter, a founding co-director, invited me to lead a technology professional development week at a local school district. As is often the case in these stories of capacity building involving the National Writing Project, my reaction was, “You must be thinking of someone else.” But Pat persisted, claiming she was certain I would be great. I found out later that this is what Pat said to everyone. And not insincerely, but rather because she believed it to be absolutely true. We each have within us the potential to be leaders and collaborators; we just need the opportunity to turn that potential into the kinetic. That’s how I came to understand Pat’s invitations, and how I’ve come to understand the National Writing Project.
Soon, I was the K-12 guy at WMWP who knew “digital.” I was invited to become the site’s Technology Liaison. And shortly thereafter, Christina Cantrill in the national office invited me and a number of others—many of whom are still friends and colleagues today—to think through professional development for other technology liaisons in our network.
I sometimes marvel at these invitations and their kernels of life-altering paths that were completely hidden to me at the time. The invitation as a concept may seem simple—a call, an email, a text message even. But it is a radical gesture, particularly in the current educational climate, meant to inspire trust and engender community and open new adjacent possible pathways.
And of course invitations are meant to get work done.
People in the network I collaborate with today might give me the moniker “The Great Delegator” since I dole out invitations like nobody’s business. But I see myself as carrying on the tradition of Jim Gray and Charlie Moran and Pat Hunter, and all others in the 40-year constellation that is the National Writing Project, who’ve viewed the invitation not as a risky proposition but as a success-breeding, humanistic strategy of shared leadership.
What amazes me to this day is that when I take the time to invite people in our network—to share, to lead, to join, to build, to mentor, to make, to compose, to learn, to come together—they invariably say yes.
Just as I did. Just as I will continue to do.