Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way (NWP edition)

So, what's my problem with the National Writing Project?

I went last night and will go again today to a conference hosted by the Seven Valleys Writing Project (7VWP), a local site of the National Writing Project (NWP) that I helped found and co-directed for three years. I enjoyed myself and felt like it energized me as a teacher to just be there for a few hours last night. I can't wait to go present today and attend all the sessions I can get to. The writing project is a great thing.

And yet...

I don't participate in the project nearly as much as I used to. Several years ago before President Obama zeroed out the funding for the NWP, I was doing something writing project related almost daily. I planned events, I worked with NWP colleagues, and I was on the NWP website reading and interacting with people there. I don't do much of that any more and I found myself lying in bed this morning enumerating the reasons.

The withdrawal of federal funding hurt. I used to co-direct our summer institute in July but had to stop because there wasn't enough money in it to get my family and me through the summer. Instead of going for four weeks of enrichment and professional development, I now teach summer school for seven weeks. I like the teaching, but I loved the ability to grow as a professional with the NWP and I miss it dearly.

Still, there are other ways to be involved and active with the NWP but I'm not. How come?

The appeal of the organization when I got in was its emphasis on teachers as leaders. I like that idea. I'm a teacher and I have a lot of ideas about how learning works and how school should work. In my school system the opportunities for leadership are few and insubstantial. The only ways to really lead are to become an administrator or cozy up to one. I don't mean that to sound quite as bad as it does, but the fact remains that teachers don't make leadership decisions in my school. I don't imagine that my situation is unique.

Leading through an organization such as the NWP was good for me as it had me thinking about larger issues than what to teach on Monday. The NWP was forward-thinking and I found kindred spirits within it. I still do find those kindred spirits, but there's a problem with the directions in which the organization has gone.

There's an old phrase that says lead, follow, or get out of the way. Obviously, I come down on the "lead" end of that scale. The NWP has switched to "follow" in a big way.

The Common Core Standards are the rabbit the NWP (and many others) are following around the track. The Common Core happened to come along just as funding was withdrawn from the NWP and is tightly entwined with the Obama Race to the Top garbage whereby states who choose not to sign on to the Common Core lose all the money. Nice.

The NWP lost its money and like almost every state they jumped on the Common Core bandwagon hoping to make a few bucks in the deal and stay alive. I understand the desperation that NWP leadership felt. Hell, I'm teaching summer school trying to make a few bucks so I'm no different. However, it is the following of the Common Core and Race to the Top that has pushed me away from the NWP.

At today's conference I have a menu of choices for presentations to attend. I did my selections as I might take a standardized test straight out of the Common Core. I crossed off anything that said "Common Core" in the description. From there it was easy to choose because there was only a choice or two left. I don't blame the organizers for this. In fact, I'm impressed that there were so many non-Common Core choices available. I just don't want anything to do with following the Common Core.

I would like for the NWP to lead again. The Common Core is not good for learners, teachers, or schools. It's not good for the National Writing Project. Like teaching summer school, chasing the Common Core might make a few bucks, but it's not satisfying. It's not good work. And it costs us too much because it costs us our leadership.

I'm going to the conference today and I'm still excited to be there. I won't follow the Common Core though. I'm too busy figuring out ways to lead.

Write on.