Thursday, November 2, 2017

Drafting a Letter and Doing My Part for Democracy (& Advocating For What I Believe In)

Thinking out loud here: with news that the National Writing Project Supporting Effective Educator Development Grants were not renewed by the current administration, and with knowledge of the priorities they have named, I collect (draft) my thoughts here.

Docket ID: ED-2017-OS-0078 RIN: 1894-AA09

Dear Friends in the U.S. Department of Education),

I write to express support for research-based literacy initiatives, especially those that encourage communication excellence of K-12 youth and teachers. Since 1996, I have worked in a variety of schools, first as an urban educator in Louisville, Kentucky, then as a researcher of literacy in Syracuse, New York, and now as a professor in southern Connecticut. My 21+ years in classrooms, with experiences as a teacher and professional developer, continue to deliver me to the work I do with the National Writing Project. I am not going to exhaust this note t with an outline of research, but do wish to state that the National Writing Project model is the best professional development for teaching writing across the United States (this has been stated over and over again). Rather, I am going to share small parts of my story with testimony my own testimony: “The National Writing Project is magic.” 

I currently teach in a private, Jesuit University that has a mission to support local communities and to use best practices to help educators achieve reading and writing success. My 10 years as a high school educator, however, is where I want to start. As I began a profession in education after completing two Masters degrees, the greatest teachers and colleagues I knew stated one thing: “You need to get involved in the National Writing Project.” As a result, in 2002, I applied to take part in a summer institute for teaching writing. My cohort of 20+ teachers spent six weeks during the summer creating our own writing portfolios and sharing instructional practices with one another. We held our standards high, shared support for one another, and took our leadership out of the classroom and into the world. That summer, I began to write for publication (and I should admit, my students did, too). Soon after, I started to present at local and state conferences, and a few years later, I worked across the U.S. with some of the best teachers this nation has to offer. The National Writing Project model is also why I did a doctorate at Syracuse University (and studied writing instruction).

The mission of the National Writing Project (NWP) is to improve the teaching of writing and improve learning in the nation's schools. Through its professional development model, the National Writing Project recognizes the primary importance of teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership. 
The National Writing Project believes that access to high-quality educational experiences is a basic right of all learners and a cornerstone of equity. Through its extensive network of teachers, the National Writing Project seeks to promote exemplary instruction of writing in every classroom in America.
The National Writing Project values diversity—our own as well as that of our students, their families, and their communities. We recognize that our lives and practices are enriched when those with whom we interact represent diversities of race, gender, class, ethnicity, and language.
My students in Louisville began to excel as writers and we, as an urban school, quickly became one of the top scoring buildings in the state, both with reading and writing. Many of my colleagues were also National Writing teachers, and with strong leadership and vision with an outstanding principal, we put our school on the map. I’m proud to say that a decade after moving into higher education, the students at that school continue to wow with what they accomplish. Literacy excellence occurs when our nation invests in the professional development of teachers and provide resources to them. We know what needs to occur for students as they become writers in the 21st century and that is why I I believe in the National Writing Project model. It is a model that changed my life and, as a result, has changed the writing lives of 1,000s of students I’ve been fortunate to teach.

In my capacity as a National Writing Project director I have been afforded the opportunity to continue a tradition of instructional excellence through competitive grants that have been offered through Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grants from the Department of Education. As a result, my site has provided hours and hours of professional development to 100s and 100s of teachers in Connecticut (who are now finding the same success with teaching writing that I experienced in Kentucky over a decade ago). In addition, I’ve receive competitive grants that have allowed me to unite educators from urban, suburban, and rural schools to share resources with one another and to promote democratic conversations across their campuses, using diversity as a unifying force. Writing is the source of accomplishing everything as a learner – kids must learn to write in a variety of genres so that they are college, career, and community ready. As a National Writing Project Director, too, I’ve established numerous summer literacy opportunities for 100s of youth to counter educational loss and to uphold additional support when they are away from school. Finally, I achieved other competitive grants to bring the National Writing Project expertise into high needs schools and, with hard work, planning, training, reflection, and modeling, helped to turn these schools around.

In the data I collect from students, teachers, and administrators, the one glaring assertion that can be made is, “How can we provide more of the National Writing Project model in our schools?” Parents, too, are impressed by the work and write in search of more programming to help their kids. I like to share a question that a young man asked me after attending one of our summer literacy programs. “Hey,” the kid said. “You should teach our teachers how to do this. It’s awesome.” I looked at him and said, “That is exactly what we’re doing and have been doing for decades.”

I am a National Writing Project Director and I know that choice is key to meeting the needs of a diverse, democratic society. I stand for innovation, especially those that are outcome-focused and that promote flexibility in fostering knowledge and enhancing productive citizens. National Writing Project work does not discriminate; instead, it acts with a belief that all kids can achieve at high levels, especially in support of promoting literacy instruction in the classroom. To write is to have economic opportunities. A school that writes together establishes community and creates a positive learning environment that embraces the power of words.

The U.S. Secretary of Education would demonstrate stellar leadership by reaching out to National Writing Project Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl to learn more about our organization’s history. I’m one testimony of many, but I assure you that our network is one that the Department of Education should invest in and support. 

As I read the recent priorities established by the Department of Education, I couldn’t help but see that the desired priorities for action in K-12 education already exist. Although wheels need adjustment, tuning, renovation and sporty updates, a tremendous set of them already exist and have been trekking up hills for some time ( the best wheels I’ve ever experienced as an educator). The National Writing Project is a vehicle deserving of continued federal support and investment. 

Please advocate for the most effective model our nation has for teacher professional development and contact me if you’d like resources or contacts to continue the dialogue. National Writing Project colleagues have published widely on what works best with literacy instruction and I’d love to get these materials into your hands as you work to achieve your stated goals.



Bryan Ripley Crandall, Ph.D.

Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield, Director

Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions
Fairfield University - Canisius Hall
1073 N. Benson Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
Office: (203) 254-4000 x 3123
Fax: (203) 254-4241    

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