It’s hard to believe that my career-long involvement with the writing project began with a wild (and unusual) urge to take a road trip! Way back in 1991 we had just gotten our first minivan—the perfect vehicle for a family with two little boys—and even though my husband had to work, I was itching for a trip. Somehow I managed to talk my dad into coming with me and two boys under 6, and driving the length of the state of California to visit my sister.

So what does this have to do with the Writing Project? Well, it so happens that my sister was attending the Area 3 Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute at UC Davis…and she invited me to come with her for a couple of mornings, if I could talk my dad into watching his grandsons. And for those two mornings while I discovered compelling professional development in typical Writing Project fashion, my father fed my sons popsicles for breakfast at the local country store, taught them to crawl in and out the window of my sister’s Datsun (rather than use the door), and who knows what else…he probably taught them to spit too! And it was totally worth it.

I followed that experience with my own ISI the following year, and have been an active and connected San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP), California Writing Project (CWP), and National Writing Project (NWP) educator ever since. I stay connected for lots and lots of reasons…here are just a few:

Only in the Writing Project do I find teachers from the pre-K level through university interacting with each other on even footing, sharing ideas, adapting lessons, and giving each other rich and relevant feedback.
  1. I love the collegiality and classroom-grounded insights of a “teachers teaching teachers” model of professional learning. Only in the Writing Project do I find teachers from the pre-K level through university interacting with each other on even footing, sharing ideas, adapting lessons, and giving each other rich and relevant feedback. This is the place where we all learn together, from each other, and with each other. Research and “experts” are also sources of information, but they don’t overshadow the knowledge of those who work with students on a daily basis. In the Writing Project community, teachers know something and are equal contributors in the world of education.
  2. My interactions with my Writing Project colleagues are intellectually stimulating. Teachers’ lounges and staff meetings can sometimes devolve into places of complaining and negativity, in spite of everyone’s best efforts to the contrary. But in Writing Project interactions, complaining is rare…instead we seem to be on the lookout for possible solutions to the myriad issues that come up in our profession. Maybe this is because the educators gathered come from all over—all over the county, the state, or the nation—and that gives them some distance from the local politics that plague so many school sites. Whenever I meet someone new who is affiliated with a Writing Project site I find that place of intellectual stimulation almost immediately. It seems we are able to talk about the meaty issues of education and writing right away—and even if we disagree (which is common), we can have a productive discussion, share ideas and resources, and leave richer for the time spent.
  3. I am constantly challenged to become a better teacher. Writing Project interactions demand that I pay attention to who is learning from my teaching and facilitation. And when I notice who is getting it, I also notice who I am not reaching. That kind of attention leads to continual inquiry and exploration of my teaching practice and pushes me to consider alternative approaches to reaching students. It’s not enough to lean on past successes…each and every student I teach deserves the very best I have to offer regardless of their background, home situation, learning strengths or struggles, and what happens outside of my classroom. And while I don’t claim to have delivered this ideal to every student, I continue to work toward that goal with the support and encouragement of my Writing Project colleagues.
  4. I am also constantly challenged to become a better person.
  5. I am also constantly challenged to become a better person. One particular NWP initiative made a huge difference in my life and in my Writing Project: Project Outreach. My experiences with this initiative, first as part of a local site team and then as part of the leadership of the initiative, opened my eyes, changed my teaching, and changed my behavior in the world. With the goals of increasing access, relevance, and diversity in relation to Writing Project programming and leadership, I had opportunities to explore the role of race and class in education and consider my own often unexamined privilege. I learned ways to approach difficult conversations and ways to extend invitations that go beyond the assumption of welcome. And I’m still learning…. Working with equity and diversity as a focus requires constant attention and self examination, individually and as a Writing Project site. There’s still plenty of room to grow when it comes to supporting all of our students and teachers in the U.S. educational system.
  6. Learning new things has become a habit. I can tell if I go too long without pushing out of my comfort zone…I get itchy and unsettled. I know if I start to feel complacent, it’s time to explore some new options. Somehow, through my Writing Project connections, I have become comfortable with things I never imagined…like using Twitter as an effective form of professional learning (SDAWP is known for it’s SDAWP Fellow of the Week, a different teacher each week who tweets about their life and profession in the style of Sweden and their citizen twitter account), teaching my students to program (and blogging about it), and creating spaces for making in my classroom and at our Writing Project site. Each of these new things means figuring out where they fit in my life and teaching, and learning why they are worth incorporating. This habit of learning has become addictive, and I hope to continue this habit throughout my career and my life!
  7. Being part of a community of amazing people who just happen to also be educators. My Writing Project connections have put me in contact with the best people—here locally and all over the nation. These are people who are thoughtful, innovative, caring, hard-working, resilient, kind, reflective, creative…the list goes on. I love working with them and playing with them. They inspire me, ground me, provoke me, and support me. What more could I possibly ask for?

My dad likes to claim credit for my Writing Project involvement, and I’m happy to let him. And I can report that those popsicle breakfasts and window climbing lessons had no ill effect on my sons. They managed to grow up surrounded by Writing Project teachers, graduate from college, and become successful adults…in spite of my dad’s lessons that extended well beyond that trip so long ago. And I wouldn’t trade my Writing Project experiences for anything. They continue to nourish me, stimulate me, provoke me, and support me. The Writing Project isn’t an organization…it’s a community, a professional home…it’s people…we are the National Writing Project.

DouillardKim Douillard is the director of the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) and also teaches a multiage class of first, second, and third graders. She blogs regularly at Thinking Through My Lens where she uses photography as a catalyst for writing (all photos taken with her iPhone). You can also find Kim on Twitter at @kd0602 tweeting about teaching and learning.