My NWP is a force for equity, justice, and innovation. It is a national network of locally networked, passionate, caring educators, learning for the sakes of others. As we question, write, experiment, and reflect together, magic happens. Magnificent teaching practices, student accomplishments, works of art, and acts of persuasion emerge.
And here’s a story to illustrate: in 2006, there I was, a high school teacher-turned-NWP site director-turned-outreach director, sitting in a University of Michigan classroom. I was listening to a conversation between Hy Bass, a National Science Award-winning mathematician, Deborah Ball, the dean of the School of Education, also an outstanding mathematics researcher and elementary teacher, and a group of Algebra Project teacher-leaders gathered from across the country. There were representatives from places like Boston, San Francisco, Jackson, MS, and New Orleans. (The Algebra Project, founded about 30 years ago by civil rights organizer and mathematics educator Bob Moses, aims to serve students who have been placed in the bottom quartile, especially students of color and students living in poverty who are being poorly served by the current system.) The discussion was profoundly thoughtful, and the teacher-leaders more than held their own with the research team. I thought, Hmm…these folks remind me of the powerful teacher-consultants I’ve met through the National Writing Project.
During a break, I struck up a conversation with a leader among these highly reflective teachers, Lynne Godfrey, from the Boston Teacher Residency. I had heard Lynne worked closely with Bob in her classroom over several years to develop the pedagogy and practices of the Algebra Project. I asked, “Lynne, what was that like, as you and Bob worked together in those early years?” She answered that they sat at her kitchen table on a Sunday afternoon, and Bob asked something like, “What if we were to imagine mathematics classrooms where students were engaged in the ways they are in your English and social studies classes?” I then asked, “By chance, would you have any connection with the National Writing Project?” Lynne acknowledged she was a teacher-consultant from the Boston Writing Project!
I’ve come to learn that, dig below the surface of virtually any thoughtful, innovative, justice-oriented initiative in education, and you are likely to find National Writing Project connections—sometimes serendipitous, sometimes intentional and strategic. And in fact, that serendipitous conversation with Lynne has led to a series of intentional encounters and connections between the two networks—at my local site, the Oakland Writing Project—and at the national level. When National Writing Project colleagues Denise Patmon and Cheryl Logan attended an Algebra Project meeting in Princeton, they said it was strange, but they felt at home, as if there was some similarity in the culture or DNA of the two organizations. When Algebra Project colleagues Bob Moses, Bill Crombie, and Lynne Godfrey attended a National Writing Project Urban Sites meeting in Boston in 2010, they appreciated Ernest Morrell’s keynote, commented on the warmth of welcome they experienced, and sought additional collaboration with NWP.
The passion for equity, justice, and innovation leads teacher-consultants to places they never thought they would be, speaking about ideas they never imagined they would consider. Today, on a conference call, I listened to my new colleague, Pittsburgh teacher-consultant Joe Burke, admit he was uncertain at first about the collaboration between science museum educators and public school teachers through NWP and ASTC’s Intersections Project, but now was thrilled at what was emerging. He and his colleagues at the Carnegie Science Museum are playing around with awarding learning badges for the planned SmashJam science video workshop in July. He said he was learning to trust that if you showed up and engaged, wonderful things could emerge.
After many years connected with this powerful network, my trust in the process—of writing, of studying, of experimenting, of reflecting, of collaborating with diverse others—of tackling dilemmas of education together in this manner, is unshakable. Given the opportunity to engage more deeply, at a NWP site located in Pittsburgh, a city hosting a Summer of Learning, I leapt at it. If you put your faith in such networks, you can trust that the net will appear.