Professional Learning Teacher Inquiry

Sustaining Work with New Teachers

If improved literacy skills are vital to our nation’s future, orienting new teachers in the ways of successfully teaching these skills must be at the heart of the writing project’s mission. NWP’s New-Teacher Initiative (NTI) has grown from this premise, funding sites to specifically address the needs of new teachers.

From the outset of the New-Teacher Initiative, the National Writing Project intended that the funded sites would find ways to sustain their work with those new to the profession. With focused support from the national leadership team guiding the NTI work, many of the participating sites have effectively integrated NTI programs into their local site work.

What follows are glimpses into ongoing work with new teachers at four NTI sites, models of summer and school-year programs that provide professional development and leadership opportunities to new teachers in their service areas.

Greater Houston Area Writing Project: Extended Writing Workshops

The Greater Houston Area Writing Project (GHAWP) has made its Summer Institute for New Teachers one of its annual offerings for educators in the Greater Houston area. In the summer of 2007, through a generous donation to the program, GHAWP offered the two-week New-Teacher Summer Institute (PDF) to 11 teachers from Greater Houston Area schools.

While the majority of participants had from one to three years of teaching experience, there were some more experienced teachers who were new to teaching language arts and wanted help in becoming effective teachers of their new subject area. Others wanted to learn how to implement a writing workshop.

All wanted to improve their skills as teachers of writing. Keeping an eye on this shared goal, site leaders organized the institute so that teachers would experience all aspects of the writing process, including the use of writer’s notebooks, the implementation of read-arounds, and, finally, the publication of two pieces in an anthology.

By having teachers experience the writing workshop daily, as their students would, the program helps new teachers understand their role from the inside out.

Also, understanding that new teachers have both shared and individual needs, the Houston project set aside “open spaces” where the varied concerns of these teachers could be addressed in dialogue.

The participants earned three graduate credits, and many are continuing their involvement in the professional activities of the site. Project Director Kathryn Matthews continues to seek funds through a variety of sources to continue what she views as this “important work” of the site.

Delaware Writing Project: Focusing on Teacher Inquiry

The Delaware Writing Project’s (DWP) school year and summer NTI programs (PDF) were conceived and developed in collaboration with the Delaware Department of Education, from which the DWP receives funding for its professional development work.

Through the NWP New-Teacher Initiative focus on supporting new teachers in high-needs schools, the site reached out to some of the under-resourced school districts. It then developed partnerships with the schools, and now serves targeted grades and works with both new and experienced teachers.

The programs emphasize teacher inquiry and provide a structure that supports these teachers as they inquire and reflect on their practice. All participants maintain a reader response journal and a portfolio documenting classroom implementation of the teaching strategies they experience working in the Delaware programs.

Through guidance and reflection, novice teachers can try out new ideas and make them their own.

Southern Nevada Writing Project: New Teachers, New Schools, New Students

Las Vegas’ booming economy has created big challenges for the area’s schools. The Clark County School District, which stretches across 8,000 square miles in southern Nevada, is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the country. It faces the annual challenge of building approximately twelve schools, hiring 2,000 teachers, and accommodating 12,000 new students.

That challenge is why the Southern Nevada Writing Project (SNWP) developed its NTI program (PDF) to support new teachers through collegial groups that meet in their own school settings—in order to honor teachers’ diversity and local knowledge. In most schools, the groups are study groups, but some have also developed writing studios. Both are grounded in inquiry.

The school site–based Nevada program invites both novice and veteran teachers to join their monthly sessions. Teacher-consultants who have developed a reputation in their schools as knowledgeable resources are selected to become group leaders. Among the goals at these sessions is to reflectively explore substantive texts and to reinvigorate the writing lives of the teachers involved.

As a way of ensuring that the views and concerns of this heterogeneous group are given fair treatment, the site has implemented structured protocols that advance democratic dialogue.

Site Director Rosemary Holmes-Gull continues to build the teacher leadership that will sustain the site’s work with new teachers.

Winthrop Writing Project (SC): Embedding the Program in the Site’s Work

Due to the transformative impact the NTI has had on the Winthrop Writing Project (WWP) site, there was never any discussion about eliminating the program when the funding for the initiative ended, reports Co-director Vickie Brockman.

Throughout the entire funded cycle, the site’s NTI team worked to embed the program in the site’s work. Today WWP continues to offer a one-week summer institute for new teachers along with the yearlong monthly conversation dinner meetings (PDF).

At these dinner meetings the participants are grouped around tables, at each of which several new teachers are joined by one “conversation partner”—a more experienced teacher-consultant who is charged with focusing a discussion on matters relevant to new teachers. They’ll discuss, for instance, how to work with students and parents who live in poverty, what to understand about grant writing, or how to manage a class.

Of special note, report WWP leaders, is that because of the more casual format of the conversation dinner meetings, new teachers feel safe from judgment as they share their thoughts with one another.

Continuing to Support New Teachers

The national organization of NWP as well as these and other NWP sites understand the vital importance of working with new teachers. As Marci Resnick, the late director of the New-Teacher Initiative, wrote when the initiative was launched, “We know that despite all of the obstacles, the majority of new teachers have a passion for teaching….We also know that support for new teachers that is ongoing, practical, and meaningful makes a difference….NWP’s goal is work with neophyte teachers as they learn.”