It was almost a year ago that Theresa Behnke and I attended the Recruiting for Diversity (RFD) Conference in Minneapolis, MN, as part of NWP’s larger Project Outreach Initiative. We didn’t really know what we were getting into, the friendships that we would develop or the courageous conversations that would be had. What we did know was that we needed guidance and resources for examining our summer institute selection practices and the continuity programming at MWP.
The June 2010 Recruiting for Diversity Conference proved to be very helpful in providing a space for thinking critically about our programming in terms of what’s working, what needs further development, and what’s missing completely.
We entered the June 2010 conversations with a somewhat limited understanding of how “diversity” is recruited and maintained in writing project work. Through thoughtful conversations with other writing project leaders (a special shout out to the crew from Bisti National Writing Project) and from poignant readings we attained new lenses for looking at our site’s work. The notions of access and relevance deepened our understandings of the structural constraints and habitual practices that often limit the diversity of participation in ways unseen.
Seeing recruitment as merely a single tool to approach diversity, Theresa and I returned to our site leaders determined to pose important questions about the “relevance” of our programming. In other words, how might we shift the emphasis of our programming so that it becomes relevant to the needs of a more diverse set of teachers with varying cultural and disciplinary backgrounds? Furthermore, we were inspired to explore how our programming might also shift to meet the needs of teachers working with diverse learners.
This exploration into the relevance of MWP programming began shortly after our return form the RFD meeting in Minneapolis. First we met with our site’s core leaders on July 15th for a two and a half hour meeting. In this meeting we did an abbreviated review of the site data research we had done for RFD, which lead to discussion of different things that could be done in the realms of Summer Institute, Continuity, and Inservice. This leadership meeting was then followed by an Advisory Board Meeting which harnessed the reflective power of the “Four Faces” activity to discuss the many identities of MWP and how these identities may or may not be seen as relevant or accessible to teachers from different disciplines and backgrounds. These initial meetings allowed for important conversations and questions to be raised. After meetings with leadership, sharing questions and concerns we made several small changes. Some of these changes and/or additions are listed below. Included with them are links to related publicity and documents, which may be useful as resources for other sites.
July 2010 – Our first implementation in regards to relevance and access was to make it more clearly known to incoming TCs that there are various opportunities to stay involved, some of which invovle leadership roles. To do this we created a leadership opportunity survey to give out to 2010 summer institute participants. This form was inspired by the survey created by Thomas Ferrel and Katie Kline of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project. For more ideas about how the summer institute can be used to forge a diversity of leadership and continued involvement read Kline and Ferrel’s short article “Changing the Face of Leadership“
October 2010 – In terms of relevant programming, we selected a topic for our annual Fall Workshop that addresses the needs of Diverse Learners. We titled the event “Expanding the Boundaries of Literacy” and invited local experts and artists, including spoken word artist Frank Sentwali to discuss the many faces of literacy. See specific event posting on MWP Website for more information.
October 2010 – To forward the thinking about access, relevance, and diversity, we needed to create a space within MWP of like-minded educators to come together, talk and plan. To do this we re-established the Urban Sites sub network within MWP. This involved making Theresa Behnke the Program Leader for the group.
November 2010 — Theresa and I attended the follow-up workshop in Orlando, FL–a time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished.
January 2011- June 2011 – To keep our newly established Urban Sites group in tact, Theresa Behnke organized a book study group. Teachers involved include TCs who stated an interest in being part of the urban sites and/or diverse learners sub-network. Also select TCs were invited to participate based on their work with diverse learners. The book selected by the group members was Becoming Otherwise: Enhancing Critical Reading Perspectives by Ruth Vinz et. al. We will select our next book at the final meeting in June.
March 2011 – Efforts toward relevant programming continued through providing a winter workshop that addressed the needs of diverse learners. This workshop was offered within a series of four workshops done in partnership with the MN Department of Education. All of the workshops focused on implementation of the newly revised MN 2010 English Language Arts Standards. (See specific event posting or visit MWP News & Events page on Website)
Fall 2010 – We redesigned our brochure for the 2011 Summer Institute. Revisions included changes in images to reflect a more diverse participant population, including men who have been very strong leaders in our site yet are not always visible. Also we made significant changes in the language we used to describe the activities and goals of the institute (see excerpt). These changes were done to be more inclusive to teachers who may not see themselves as writers per se and to welcome teachers from disciplines other than English Language Arts. The complete revised brochure can be downloaded at the bottom of the MWP Summer Institute Page.
April 2011 — Theresa attends the Urban Sites Conference in Boston, MA — a much needed time for intellectual rejuvenation and inspiration.
Working Through Challenges
While we definitely have run into challenges in our efforts to bring access, relevance, and diversity to our site, especially given the national funding crisis of recent, I still believe that transformations can occur. While these changes may be occurring primarily at the level of publicity documents, they have opened up avenues of discussion that were not present beforehand. These avenues are becoming more established in our larger leadership conversations, making more space in our mind to examine our existing habits and imagine new ways of doing things.