National Writing Project

The Role of Early Recruitment in the Year-Round Work of a Site

By: Katherine Frank
Date: June 15, 2010

Summary: Drawing on lessons learned at the New-Site Leadership Institute, Katherine Frank, director of the Southern Colorado Writing Project, reflects on how her site developed successful models for summer institute recruiting.

 

It was during our first leadership team meeting of the new year that Co-director Lynette Lievers expressed the frustration we were all feeling: "Here we are again. It's February 15, applications for the invitational summer institute are due in three weeks, and even with all the extra effort we've put into recruitment, we still have only a handful of applications."

As director of the newly formed Southern Colorado Writing Project (SCWP), I realized that the strength of the teachers who participate in the invitational summer institute would be critical to establishing a strong foundation for building an NWP site.

Nonetheless, during our first three years we focused what sometimes seemed like a disproportionate amount of time and energy on recruitment. We were doing what seemed like all the right things: we established a recruitment team, developed professional marketing materials, and worked to establish the Southern Colorado Writing Project's reputation for quality professional development in our service area.

During that time, we also worked with our teacher-consultants on one-on-one recruiting techniques, issued press releases to local newspapers through our university's press office, sent out mailings, and followed up with phone calls to schools and district offices to ensure that Southern Colorado Writing Project materials had found their way into teachers' hands.

Beyond that, we promoted the summer invitational at inservice events and professional conferences, attended administrators' meetings, gathered nominations from teacher-consultants and school contacts, sent out personal letters, and followed up—again and again.

In fact, the primary focus of the Southern Colorado Writing Project leadership team's energy each year, from August through late February—and sometimes March or even April—was on recruiting. As a consequence, by the time we had selected our new cohort of fellows, not only had we little energy left to invest in the important work of supporting continuity, inservice, and community outreach, we had little time to get to know the needs of our summer fellows.

While we managed to recruit at least sixteen teachers each summer, we found we had little time to take their interests into account in our invitational summer institute planning or to adequately prepare them for the work ahead.

A Better Way: Early Recruitment

We realized that our calendar would open up for . . . year-round programs.

And so, despite having developed a number of successful recruiting strategies, by our fourth year as a site we knew we needed a recruiting plan that would balance our efforts and allow us to invest our energies in developing and supporting the year-round work of the site. Looking for a plan, we returned to the NWP monograph A Work in Progress: The Benefits of Early Recruitment for the Summer Institute, a resource we had read earlier as participants in NWP's New-Site Leadership Institute.

Although we had set the monograph aside for a time, preoccupied by the pressing work of establishing a foundation for our new site, what finally drew us back to our conversations at the New-Site Leadership Institute and to the Southern Arizona Writing Project model was the timeline of early recruitment.

We realized that concluding the recruiting process by the end of November would not only open up our calendar for work on year-round programs, it would also open up almost six months to plan for the invitational summer institute with the needs and interests of our newest cohort in mind. That would give us time to introduce new fellows to the Southern Colorado Writing Project community and the work of the site and time to support and mentor them as they prepared their teaching demonstrations.

By early Spring of 2008, our fourth year as a site, we had developed the following recruiting calendar:

June: Incorporate discussions of recruiting as part of "Continuity Corner" during the 2008 invitational summer institute and coach fellows regarding nominating and effective recruiting strategies.

July: Revise and print 2009 invitational summer institute brochures and update the Southern Colorado Writing Project website.

August: Update the database and mail personal letters and invitational summer institute application materials to past applicants and teachers who had attended SCWP events and expressed interest in the invitational summer institute.

September:
- Contact all Southern Colorado Writing Project teacher-consultants regarding the new recruiting calendar and forthcoming mailing of recruiting packets.
- Mail recruiting packets to Southern Colorado Writing Project teacher-consultants including reminder of effective recruiting techniques and deadline for applications.
- Mail recruiting packets to principals, assistant principals, and curriculum coordinators with personal letters inviting them to nominate strong candidates, and follow up with phone calls.
- Mass-mail brochures to school districts and follow up with phone calls.

October: Follow up with nominated teachers; plan interview session.

Planning, Not Recruiting

As a result of our revised recruitment plan, we received twenty-five applications for an available twenty spots by the November 8, 2008 deadline. Our 2009 cohort comprised seven high school, four middle school, four elementary school, and four post-secondary teachers, and one administrator—representing the content areas of mathematics, library science, language arts, music, reading, ELL, journalism, and fine arts.

Not only had our revised recruiting effort produced a strong, diverse group of teachers, it had also freed Southern Colorado Writing Project leaders to attend the NWP Annual Meeting in November with the energy to invest in thinking about site work beyond recruiting and with a focus on developing the year-round work of the site.

When we met as a leadership team in late November, we debriefed what we had learned at the Annual Meeting and began planning the work ahead, which included a priority of getting to know our 2009 fellows and introducing them to the SCWP community through a variety of opportunities throughout the spring semester.

As a first step, our post-acceptance interviews in November provided us with information about areas of interest that would guide our planning for the summer institute, including reading selections. Our revised calendar illustrates the ways in which we refocused our energies to create opportunities to welcome and orient new fellows to the Southern Colorado Writing Project professional community:

November: Teacher-consultant mentors conduct post-acceptance interviews with summer fellows, introducing themselves as mentors, learning about fellows' teaching strengths and interests, and previewing the invitational summer institute and spring semester opportunities.

December: Invitational summer institute planning team (one director, four coordinators, five teacher-consultant mentor/coaches) begins planning for pre-invitational–summer institute orientation meetings January–May.

January: Southern Colorado Writing Project 2009 Spring Professional Development Day (teacher-consultant workshops, Tom Romano keynoter) offers continuity for teacher-consultants and orientation for 2009 fellows.

March: Spring Community Writing Marathon open to teacher-consultants, 2009 invitational summer institute fellows, schools, and community members.

April:Pre–invitational summer institute meeting number 1: Model demonstrations and debrief. For more, see the Agenda for Session One (PDF).

Mentoring/Coaching of 2009 Fellows begins: four teacher-consultant mentor/coaches working with five fellows each. For more, see the Coaching Guide (PDF) and Coaching Protocol (PDF).

May: Pre–invitational summer institute meeting number 2: Model demonstrations and debrief. Continue coaching fellows on their demonstrations. For more, see the Agenda for Session Two (PDF).

Our goal throughout the spring is to introduce new fellows into the culture of the site. As they work with teacher-consultant mentor/coaches, who model and talk about taking on leadership roles, they learn through experience about the ongoing opportunities for Southern Colorado Writing Project teacher-consultants after the summer institute. And by the time the invitational summer institute begins, they have experienced much of the cycle of the year-round work of the site.

This revised recruiting calendar, by bringing the voices of our newest fellows into our conversations early on, has strengthened our efforts to keep teachers at the center. While our new recruiting plan has been successful, we know we still have work to do. We want to continue to expand and diversify our applicant pool and streamline our process to make recruiting a shared site endeavor.

What we have learned, however, is that recruiting is a process that requires ongoing practice, reflection, and revision—much like that other process that most of us practice and teach almost every day.

About the Author Katherine Frank is the director of the Southern Colorado Writing Project and teaches language arts at Colorado State University-Pueblo, where she is an associate professor and chairperson of the English and Foreign Languages Department.

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