With all the talk of reform roiling around in the education world, I have yet to see a program as transformative and lasting as the work done by the National Writing Project. Like Occam's Razor suggests, I believe its power lies in its simplicity. Over my years of teaching I've found that the fewer goals I have for my students, the easier it is to direct them to their own learning. The same holds true for the work of the project. The precept is simple.
The NWP model dictates that reflective teachers join with one another in examining a best lesson. Though most teachers can identify a high point in their teaching year, that is just the starting point for the deep work they engage in as they discover the underlying principles of effective pedagogy. It is one thing to read about pedagogy in a pre-service textbook, it is quite another to incorporate those theories into daily practice.
The simple premise of self-study is often the hardest work these professionals encounter and results in professionals who can speak confidently about what works with their students in their chosen subject area.
It is empowering.
The best conversations of the summer, in my opinion, center around the evaluations of the presentations done with small groups of professionals who have observed the lesson and are willing to dive into a focus on "What worked?" "What didn't work?" The conversations sometimes cover wide areas of practice but are often one of the few times these professionals have been involved in a deep discussion with other practitioners about teaching rather than the usual focus on system or school-wide politics.
The emphasis of the summer is to always return the inquiry questions back to the learner, in this case a teacher. New knowledge is then constructed by the teacher and ultimately changes their view toward both their classroom work and their image of themselves as professionals.
The key to reform will always be in improving the quality of our teachers and their teaching. To heck with all the other mandates. (Back to Occam's Razor: Keep it Simple Stupid.) Just ask Bill Gates, who spent 4 Billion figuring out that we need high-quality teachers.
As a classroom teacher I know that getting teachers to collaborate during their working day, properly done, - which would mean less time in the classroom and thus a call for more teachers - can grow good teachers and create a solid, sustainable profession. It would take training in how to work with one another, but I've seen it work in other professions. (Nursing, for example. I watched many health care professionals work effectively in teams for the benefit of patients. We can do the same with the focus on our students' achievement levels.)
Reform dollars can be spent on developing a quality teaching force. The model is already out there. We don't need to reinvent the wheel.