Much of the current funding for professional development focuses on high needs schools, often defined as those schools that have over 50% of the student on free or reduced lunch. With an eye on this prize, a group of twenty-five writing project leaders met at the Spring Meeting in Washington D.C. to explore work in high need schools. The group began by writing and responding to this prompt:
What has been the experience of your site working with high-need schools? What challenges have you faced? What resources (human, knowledge, and monetary) have you discovered? What surprised you?
Most of the writing projects represented in the room had experience working in high needs school and had a lot to say about their work. There were no shortage of challenges: rotating administrators, scripted programs designed to improve test scores at the expense of real learning, competing reform agendas, low teacher morale, too much professional development, too little professional development, districts in crisis, among others. However, these challenges were more than outweighed by the strengths of the students, their rich and important histories and cultures, the committed teachers who choose to work in these challenging environments, and the role the writing projects can play in creating a welcoming space for thinking and renewal.
To guide our discussion we used the articles listed below to inform our thinking and the template to guide plans for new work in high need schools at local writing projects.
Check, Joe. “Mandated Reform vs. Classroom Reality.” The Voice (The National Writing Project) 5:4 (September-October 2000). Web. 26 March 2012.
Fanning, Molly and Brigid Schmidt. Viva la Revolución: Transforming Teaching and Assessing Student Writing through Collaborative Inquiry.” English Journal. 97:2, 29-35. Web. 26 March 2012.
Fecho, Bob. “Integrating Writing Project Practices into a Mandated Program.” National Writing Project. March 2008. Web. 26 March 2012.
Houk, Lisa M. “Demonstrating Teaching in a Lab Classroom.” Educational Leadership. Volume 67 (June 2010). Web 26 March 2012.
Jackson, Anthony. “High Schools in the Global Age.” Reshaping Schools. 65: 8, 58-62. Web. 26 March 2012.
Linebarger, Suzanne. “Creating a Culture of Inquiry Through the Use of Model Lessons.” National Writing Project. 8 January 2010. Web. 26 March 2012.
Little, Judith Warren. “Contested Ground: The Basis of Teacher Leadership in Two Restructuring High Schools.” The Elementary School Journal. 96:1 (1995), 47-63. Web. 27 March 2012.
Smith, Mary Ann. “It Takes a School.” The Voice (National Writing Project). 9:3 (2004). Web. 26 March 2012.
At the end of the session, we used thist template for thinking about our sites’ work:
What to Think About
Possible Program Design
Resources and/or Materials
What has been your site’s experience working with high need schools? What lessons have you learned?