The Central Texas Writing Project
I am still in awe of my experience this summer.
Let’s be clear. I was not touring Europe or sipping a beverage with an umbrella on the beaches of St. Lucia. I surely was not sleeping in until ten o’clock and binging on Netflix. And of course, all of those sound AMAZING.
But I was doing what I love—writing.
Writing five days a week in a summer institute hosted by the National Writing Project alongside other like-minded teachers across all grade levels and backgrounds. Yes, that meant waking up early and driving, parking and walking a mile to campus (in the Texas heat!), working on assignments outside of class, and missing out on lazy days at home.
However, the payoff was magical.
The Writing Project fueled my teacher fire. It validated what I already believed in with research and passion. It gave me time to do something I often do not let myself do, write freely and without apology. I met amazing authors and had deep pedagogical conversations with invested educators. Oh and to top it, I gained 90 hours of professional development and now serve as a Teacher Consultant for the Central Texas Writing Project !
I think I’ve painted a pretty clear picture of how big of a writing nerd I am. But, what does this mean for MY STUDENTS?
During the school year, I implement Writer’s Workshop in my classroom every day. This summer, I was a living, breathing piece of an adult version of Writer’s Workshop. I built stamina, I went through the writing process on my pieces and I used mentor texts to inspire me. I became frustrated; I suffered from Writer’s Block. I reflected on MY childhood writing experiences. I stretched my creative self. I launched this blog, a dream I’d been putting off for years. I wrote: a sonnet, a poem, a memoir, a script, a letter to 18 year old me. Some days I was at a loss for words and stared blankly at my paper. I learned how to create digital storytelling. I made a list of “must read” suggestions so long it could scroll for miles. And last, I read books, LOTS of them! To say that it grew me professionally is an absolute understatement. Most importantly, I built empathy for my students. I EARNED the knowledge I would be passing on to them. I found my writer’s voice and I reflected on theirs.
Why should teachers write?
#1 Research backs it
# 2 Build Empathy for our students
We literally sat in an Author’s chair, just like our students, and read our work. We shared, peer conferenced, and wrote until we had calluses on our fingers. Next year, when my students are frustrated, I won’t be so quick to get frustrated back. When they are eager to share with me, I’ll listen whole-heartedly and give immediate feedback.
#3 Writing Community
We were all hesitant at first. We were quiet when offered time to share. We quickly went from strangers to friends through partnerships and writing structures. Is this not unlike building a writing community in our own classrooms? We spent plenty of time talking about our writing and working through the kinks together. Laughter, joy and tears. We will always have that in each other now, a forever writing home.
#4 Authentic Audiences
At the end of the institute, we hosted a Writing Project Celebration. We published an anthology of our writing by selecting our best pieces to share. We presented our independent research. We clapped, we listened and we felt proud. We must celebrate our student’s writing in the same way, for audiences outside of the classroom as well as inside.
#5 Build Writing Craft
The more I worked on my own ideas, voice, conventions, word choice, sentence fluency and presentation- the more I thought about ways I could create lessons for my students. Every teacher presented a demonstration; I left with a toolbox of writing ideas for the upcoming year.
There is a plenty of research behind the power of mental and emotional healing through writing. Not everything that we write goes to the public eye or gets revised and edited. I worked through some hard topics that were on my heart during the institute. Some days I wrote playful and light while other days I wrote dark and twisty. I know that when my students are going through hard times and cannot seem to vocalize it, writing is an outlet of expression and healing.
How can I get involved in the National Writing Project?
Founded in 1974, The National Writing Project is one of the most esteemed professional development institutes for writing among teachers. The summer institute recruits and prepares approximately 3,000 teacher leaders each summer. If it were up to me, every writing teacher would go through its doors!
“The NPE is a network of sites that serves teachers of all ages at local universities and colleges. The mission is to improve writing and literacy at all levels and across all disciplines. The goal is to support educators as they learn from each other and develop their own writing and teaching strengths. The institute is invitational, so teachers must apply to seek an invitation. Co-directed by faculty from the local university and from K–12 schools, nearly 200 local sites serve all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sites work in partnership with area school districts to offer high-quality professional development programs for educators.” www.nwp.org
I attended the Central Texas Writing Project at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas through a scholarship from my district. Check with your district to see about your local institute and funding available. In addition to the summer institute, the NWP host Young Writers’ Camps, Annual Teacher’ Conferences and writing retreats for past participants to continue in the Writing Community.
I am forever grateful for this experience. Thank you Celeste Burns for recommending me to the CTWP and attending the writing celebration along with my principal Stacy Wilkie. Big shout out to COMAL ISD for selecting me to participate and funding my experience! Thank you to CTWP for inviting me to be a part of the institute and most importantly thank you to Liz Stephens and Mandy Taylor for teaching with such wisdom and passion. You two are among the writing saints!
In the words of Pam Allyn,
“Reading is like breathing in, writing is like breathing out.”
So my dear writing teachers: grab a pen, breathe out and start writing. Your voice deserves to be heard, in fact—it needs to be.