For over thirty years now, I’ve regarded the National Writing Project as a family—as my professional family. Just like families, we engage together, go separate ways, but when we come back together we take up where we left off, our shared experiences of doing significant work together bonding us, but also leading us into shared futures in often surprising ways.

The NWP has been the best kind of family to me. A family that wants everyone to be involved, welcomed and to become their best possible selves. Being there when needed, but celebrating your journey when you are off on your own, and always there to welcome you back. It’s a family that gives you a home, but more than that, helps you to find your own home in the world.

I found myself mentored by a most enthusiastic, insightful, and excellent thinking partner.

As an early career teacher in Baltimore County, Maryland, my colleague Michal Makarovich encouraged my involvement in the Maryland Writing Project. This involvement became the most formative, informative, and significant experience of my teaching career. I was new to Maryland but after my first MWP meeting I thought: “Now I am home!” I remember looking forward to Super Saturday meetings, and always departing not only with practical teaching ideas, but much more importantly, with principles for thinking about teaching and ways to invent and adapt ideas of my own. I learned to engage in principled practice and to think like a reflective practitioner and teacher researcher. At the time, I found myself mentored by a most enthusiastic, insightful, and excellent thinking partner teaching at Westminster High School: wait for it—our current director, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl! Funny it is, how road leads on to road, how a member of your family leaves and then returns. There Elyse is, over thirty years later, still serving as my own—and your—thinking partner and guide.

After thirteen years of teaching and some tangential involvement in the Wisconsin Writing Project, I became a professor at the University of Maine. It was a struggle to transition to university teaching for me, but when I founded the Maine Writing Project, I knew, as announced during our first meeting, that “I’ve found my peeps!” I was home again.

As director of the Maine Writing Project, my co-director and graduate student was Tanya Baker. She was also a member of a most awesome book club, and she remains a great family friend. Must have been 1999 or 2000, I was invited by Elyse to attend an NWP Reading Initiative meeting but, being in the middle of our ISI, I declined. But I suggested that Tanya be invited in my stead. I’d been working in Tanya’s classroom and we’d just written Strategic Reading, so I knew how smart she was in supporting student readers—and in assisting teachers to help their student readers. Tanya told me that she just couldn’t go—she didn’t want to miss a single day of the ISI. But I told her that’s why we distribute expertise and have more than one director—that’s why we are a family—so we could cover for each other and create opportunities together. So she went—and this led to more and more NWP involvement for her, and eventually to her work as National Programs Director at NWP. (Can you tell that I am proud?) My daughters, who love Tanya enthusiastically, rejoice in the idea that Tanya is kind of my “boss”—because, as daughter Jasmine says: “She IS so boss!” (BTW, that’s a compliment!). Once again, there is the mutual support of a family network.

This is our family: an unbroken circle of love, caring, and professionalism—of people doing significant work together.

Eleven years ago I moved to Boise State University. The first thing I did was to organize a National Writing Project site. What happened? We created a family together. Some teacher-consultants (TCs) have been there from the beginning and are always involved, making things happen. Some TCs come and go; we don’t see them for a few years, and then they come back and we resume our significant work together.

This is our family: an unbroken circle of love, caring, and professionalism—of people doing significant work together—and individually—and supporting each other all the way, at home with each other and in the world.



Wilhelm-NWPJeff Wilhelm is a well-known teacher, author, and presenter. His interests include team teaching, co-constructing inquiry-driven curriculum with students, and pursuing teacher research. A classroom teacher for fifteen years, Dr. Jeffrey Wilhelm is currently a professor at the Boise State University. He is the founding director of the Maine Writing Project and the Boise State writing project. You can follow him on Twitter at @ReadDRjwilhelm.

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