An excerpt from the opening journal of my first summer institute in 2008, page one:

So I bought this journal a few weeks ago, knowing I needed a place to begin my writing journal. I read the fact we have to bring our writing in copies to share on the first day. As if I am going to be a “real writer” now, not just someone who loves it, teaches it, and motivates kids and other teachers to explore ways to incorporate it everywhere into their world. I’ve avoided becoming part of the writing project for years. I wasn’t sure I had anything to say, to add to the conversation. I’m not sure I do now. But at the very last minute I submitted my application. Then to my surprise I got the interview, and then accepted.

I got up at 5:30 am this morning determined not to be late- and I wasn’t. Determined not to get lost, only a little, and here I sit in a circle of writers. Of real writers. Teachers who have been around longer, shorter than I. I come feeling excited and hesitant at the same time. So many goals, both personal and professional. I parked on the 6th floor of the Gilman Parking Structure, with a student pass. It’s been a long time since I have been a college student.

So this excerpt from my 2008 summer institute journal and the photo collage inserted above represent NWP to me. The National Writing Project is a place where teachers find their voice, both in their own writing, and hopefully, to impact and inspire others to find their voice in the world. Reading through my journal from that first summer has been a joyful walk. I recognize that so many of those faces from that summer are now professional colleagues and personal friends. Not only that small circle of writers; now I see myself as part of something so much greater.

Rereading that journal took me back to that summer, walking the UCSD campus, listening to the presentations, and sitting for hours with time to reflect. I can hear in those early words, the passion, the frustration, and the need to change. What I didn’t know at the time was that this was going to be an endless summer, one that was just a doorway to a new road ahead. That woman, Margit, who I met that first interview because we both got lost on campus, became a partner in the summer writing academy we now call Writing For Change. That manifesto/rant I wrote in the center of my journal, that redefined what I wanted to do as a literacy coach, and the longing I felt to be working with kids daily, became later that year an unexpected return to the classroom where I immediately reached out to my Writing Project fellows for support and guidance.

Reading Linda Christensen’s work was a prelude to the social action writing I would do with my middle school students, defining my mantra, “student choice inspires student voice,” and an eventual meeting with Linda herself at the Civil Rights Conference last spring to discuss her work and mine. That work would inspire the creation of our summer program, Writing For Change, that then led to a campus writing club that changed the focus of my writing instruction in my own classroom and beyond.

My handwritten journals would eventually become my blog, inspired by NWP bloggers like Troy Hicks and Kevin Hodgson, and I would come to write along side them. I would eventually meet both these men over the past few years at writing retreats, and to begin to interact in digital spaces, like Google Hangouts and the iAnthology. I learned about the power of Twitter as a link to other writers on a Saturday night in San Antonio with some NWP colleagues that changed the circles of support and inspiration for our work. This circle of writers from that first summer continues to grow, yet it feels exactly the same, one writer supporting another.

One road leads to another that is NWP.

The reflection we did daily that summer would inspire me to incorporate reflection into not only my work, but also the work of my students. Those early position papers have turned into articles for the SDAWP Dialogue, posts on Digital Is, and have evolved into work with Digital Learning Day, eventually speaking in Washington D.C. Suddenly I was in the position to share our NWP work in a political venue. With the help of my Writing Project fellows, I was able to highlight how students needed to become creators, not only consumers, of digital media and that technology was not a remediation, but should be a source of student inspiration.

I continue to work and lurk in these digital spaces, my students now have their own blogs and digital spaces, creating movies and leading our National Day on Writing each year on campus. More recently, my students were speaking formally at our local city council meeting about Teens and Vaping; all inspired by the CWP “Upstanders, Not Bystanders” movement.

On the last day of the institute that summer I wrote:

My husband keeps asking, is it done yet? Alas, he has no idea this isn’t done, it is just the beginning. I look around the room and I wonder how what we have done this month will change hundreds of students’ lives? The potential is so great.

And so it goes. That is NWP.

IlkoJanet Ilko is a fellow at the San Diego Area Writing Project, and believes that students should know that they matter and words have power. She works to inspire young writers to create media, not just consume media, and believes that student choice inspires student voice.