The Writing Project Way:
A Dozen Years of Teacher Leadership

Since becoming a teacher in 1995, I have expe­rienced the “next great thing” make its way across the educational landscape several times, impacting the profession and requiring me to continuously assess and adapt my classroom practices. Multiple intelligences, brain-based teaching and learning, differentiated instruc­tion, technology integration, IDEA for students with special needs, curriculum reform in Michigan, the large-scale school reform of No Child Left Behind, and now the Common Core Curriculum, among others, have all required that I approach teaching as work in progress, and that I always remain a student of my profession.

This on-the-job-training has never been a prob­lem for me. In 1996 I was a fellow in the Third Coast Writing Project (TCWP) at Western Michigan University, and that experience set in motion a continuous-improvement approach to teaching, and also connected me to a network of the most creative and committed educators in Southwest Michigan and across the country with whom I would share ideas and learn to think big about our own contributions to improvement in the profession.

What began in 1996 with four weeks of intense study of writing pedagogy and the spirited sharing of best practice at WMU has turned into more than a decade of really good work.

In 1997 I joined seven other TCWP fellows and almost fifty teachers from across the country for the Rural Voices, Country Schools project, a three-year study of the best teaching practices in America’s small-town and rural schools. That experience then turned into the Digital Storytelling Project, a three-year effort to share a powerful technology integration practice with teachers and professors in Southwest Michigan. I am now in the third year of a study of Holocaust and social justice education, and with the support of the National Writing Project and the Memorial Library, I am developing a statewide network of teachers in Michigan who share a commitment to these important topics. This project stretches into the foreseeable future.

I have presented my work with TCWP locally, across Michigan, and across the country. I have worked with other TCWP fellows to publish an anthology of writing, a half-hour public radio broadcast, professional articles, personal writing, and multiple other publications, projects, presen­tations, and professional gatherings of teachers. I have developed original professional development programs for teachers, including a two-week seminar on technology integration, and now a week-long seminar on Holocaust education for Summer, 2011. TCWP has kept me busy, but it has always been fun, challeng­ing, meaningful work, and work that I’ve shared with the best teachers anywhere.

I know that my profession will continue to change, and I know there are challenges to come and problems to solve as classroom teachers. But the orienta­tion I bring to my work, thanks to Third Coast Writing Project, means I will remain on top of school and teach­ing improvement efforts, I will take a best practices approach to everything I do, and I will remain connected to a network of teachers in Southwest Michigan and across the National Writing Project network who approach each new challenge and change as the opportunity to do more good work.

Reform is not something that happens to a writing project teacher; reform is something that writing project teachers welcome, and often initiate and lead in their classrooms and schools. It is the National Writing Project way, and the reason the Third Coast Writing Project has been so powerful for me and my colleagues for more than a dozen years.

A colleague in the writing project said her husband often asks "when does this writing project end"? We laugh about that. The writing project is an approach and a commitment to teaching. It is a network of teachers working together who all want to be effective and to meet the needs of students in the ever-changing environment of education and educational reform. It is continuously adapting best practices centered on both traditional literacy, and on the emerging literacy of media and technology, social justice, and thinking and comprehension.

As long as there are students being asked to write, read, speak, and learn to use technology in meaningful ways, writing project teachers will be at the front and in the middle of making it happen.

-Corey L. Harbaugh, Gobles Middle/High School