This post is in tribute to the Bay Area Writing Project for 40 years of Excellence
The Bay Area Writing Project has nursed my practice from its infancy to now. I have come to know the real strength of the Writing Project is in the huge reach both formal and informal of its network of teacher consultants and their shared beliefs about the teaching of writing.
I chose to get my credential from Mills College and my first student teaching placement was with BAWP consultant Mary Hurley. Although I don’t remember Mary and me having formal conversations about the writing project, I observed Mary using strategies like Show Not Tell during her writer’s workshop. More importantly though, Mary modeled what it meant to take an inquiry stance and to ask the difficult equity questions. My relationship with Mary was the beginning of BAWP’s influence on my teaching.
During my second year teaching my school contracted a professional development series with BAWP. After a few sessions on different ways to engage students in the writing process and ways to strengthen student’s use of language I requested a session on conferencing and revision. In a crazy twist of fate I ended up sick when the TC presented the session on conferencing.
That summer Mary was leading a week long institute on Elementary Writing in OUSD in partnership with the writing project. Of course, I signed up. I remember all the energy in the room as BAWP TC’s presented their practice. Opening up their classrooms practices for other teachers to take from, modify, reshape, and make their own. Not peddlers of perfect practices, but practitioners generously sharing ideas and inviting critical thinking. This summer session began a spark that my own invitational summer would forever ignite in me. These teachers were not saying here is the best and only way to do this, so do what I say. These teachers were saying here is what I do and this is what my students produced. They invited us to take what we thought we could use, to modify the strategies they presented in ways that would meet the needs of our unique learners. They modeled deep thinking and inquiry. Teachers teaching teachers. I remember thinking, this could be me. It was also at this institute that I met TC Stan Pesick, who I would spend 3 summers with thinking about the integration of social studies curriculum and writing. The work of these amazing BAWP TC’s just seemed to call out to me.
Fresh off my summer institute at BAWP I still had this lingering question about the best ways to engage students in peer conferencing. I’d participated in conferencing sessions with other teachers during OUSD’s mini institute, but when I asked my students to talk to one another about their writing overwhelmingly they would read, talk about something, and then say to one another well you really should add more details. More often than not that led to nothing. The writing would go unchanged. But I believed I could figure this out. For an entire school year I listened closely to students having conversations about their writing. I recorded conversations and made adjustments to my teaching to encourage the kind of writing discourse that would help students make revisions to their writing. I was sharing this work in my Mills Teacher Scholars inquiry group with another BAWP TC Annie Henderson. As she listened to me talk about my work she offered to nominate me for the writing project. As if it was my fate to become a BAWP TC, Annie let me know that by the time she got to it Mary Hurley had already nominated me.
I went into my interview, charged by the work of all these amazing BAWP TC’s and a year’s worth of data from writing conferences I’d collected during my Mills Scholars inquiry. BAWP TC Adela Arriaga would coach me through taking a mountain of data and practice and honing it in to my first teaching demonstration. She helped me shaped the practices honed through data collection into a professional presentation. She coached me to make sure to leave time at the end to give my institute colleagues a chance to share how they may take and modify my presentation for their grade levels and subject matter. Wow what an awesome resource this would be for me. I look back and reread suggestions from these colleagues when I need new ways to connect students with the process of conferencing.
By the end of the summer of 2009, I had a year of data turned into teaching demo, and then I spent a year doing inquiry with TC Betina Hsieh who helped me turn a year of inquiry into a piece of professional writing.
The names mentioned in this tribute are few among many BAWP teacher consultants that have influenced my practice. Marty Williams who took me on my first writing retreat. Lanette Jimerson who led me through my first week long institute. Mary Lugton who co-planned, coached, and spent time with me reflective on the success of that institute.
Why name all these names. Because for me these teachers, these teacher consultants are the face of writing project. They are the embodiment of a set of beliefs that inspire the teacher in me. Generations of expertise saying to a new teacher you can do this. You canfigure this out and you can contribute to the greater body of teaching. Teachers teach teachers. Teachers of writing write. Student data must be at the heart of innovative teaching. Inquiry is essential to equity. When I say I am deeply grateful to BAWP for its contribution to my career as a teacher, what I am really saying is that I’m deeply grateful to every single TC who embodied the beliefs of the writing project and shared them with me.