National Writing Project

Rocky Mountain Retreat Inspires NWP Directors

By: Sherry Swain
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 5, No. 4
Date: September-October 2000

Summary: Sherry Swain discusses how the annual NWP Directors Retreat mirrors aspects of the invitational summer institutes by providing directors with an opportunity to learn from each other and reflect on, and deepen their sites' best practices. Included with the article is an exercise directors used to take an in-depth look at three of the NWP's Basic Assumptions.


High in the Rocky Mountains near Colorado Springs, at the Nature Place Retreat Center, 31 directors, codirectors, teacher-leaders, and NWP staffers gathered for the fifth annual Directors Retreat in June. Nestling into our mountain home—cabins with lofts, decks, and a magnificent view of Pike's Peak—we began a five-day study of our writing project homes.

Two Mississippi performers, Dolyene Davis and Linda Allsup, kicked off the first afternoon with their own rendition of "Hello Mudder; Hello Fadder," after which Joan Taylor, NWP Nevada State Network director, invited us to write a "letter from camp" to our writing projects back home. She suggested that we begin with the stories of our trips since most of us had experienced air traffic tangles that begged to be told. Bill Broz of Iowa got the award for the most horrific tangle. Airline rerouting caused him to miss a 25th anniversary celebration with his wife, who surprised him with a bottle of champagne at the airport!

Jim Davis offered an inspirational reading about sycamores, helping us to think about the things we might need to "shed" in order to fulfill our commitment to focus on our sites for five days. We wrote again—and we shared, setting the tone for our time together.

Our days were filled with working sessions for questioning, visioning, writing, and planning, with on-your-own time for walking, talking, and writing, and with social time for sharing our stories and our writing.

We generated ideas for writing in the summer institute and strategies for contracting inservices. Joan Taylor and Dolores Johnson, director of the Marshall University WP in West Virginia, guided us in envisioning new uses of technology. Mary Ann Smith, NWP codirector, challenged us to consider continuity program options. Janet Swenson, director of the Red Cedar Writing Project and National Writing Projects of Michigan, encouraged us to think creatively about inservice options. Dolyene Davis and Kim Patterson allowed us to look in on a genuine demonstration coaching session. Mike Mathis, NWP finance director, clarified the budget process. A Thursday night outing to Cripple Creek netted a plethora of Friday morning stories and laughs, and the Saturday night read-around resulted in a poem (thanks to Dolores) that could only be appreciated by those who were there!

Why sponsor a retreat for writing project directors? The answer is a mirror image of this question: Why sponsor summer institutes for teachers? Because directors, like teachers, can learn best from each other; because directors, like teachers, need to establish communities in which questions and concerns can be discussed in a risk-free environment; because directors and teacher-leaders need time together to focus on their sites; because the NWP, like our local sites, can tap into issues, concerns, and talents of individual directors in a relaxed setting.

From Puerto Rico to Rhode Island, West Virginia to California, the fifth annual Directors Retreat participants surpassed these expectations.

About the Author Sherry Swain, director of the Mississippi State University Writing/Thinking Project, serves as one of the coordinators of the annual Directors Retreat.

"Back to Basics--Assumptions, That Is," by Sherry Swain, The Voice, September-October 2000.

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