National Writing Project

SNAP Aims to Strengthen State Networks

By: Sherry Swain
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 8, No. 1
Date: January-February 2003

Summary: State network directors and site directors from the five NWP state networks selected for the State Network Action Project (SNAP) met in Atlanta to launch the two-year initiative to develop and strengthen state networks.


Congratulations are due the five National Writing Project state networks selected for the State Network Action Project (SNAP): Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Collectively, these states represent 32 sites that will be involved in the two-year initiative to develop and strengthen state networks. All of the SNAP networks have a history of using minigrants to further collaborative work within the states. All have stable and committed leadership at the state level. All have developed a collaborative vision for their networks. All have the potential to increase service to teachers and schools within their states.

Meeting for the first time in Atlanta, the state network directors along with site directors and co-directors dug into their five SNAP proposals, searching for common themes, appreciating the special circumstances of each state's educational landscape, posing questions, and making observations. Common themes included budget shortfalls, new populations of English language learners, high-stakes testing, state level K-12 policy decisions, new or out-of-content-area teachers, rural/urban and other diversity, and the impact of private or religious schools. With the assistance of Mark St. John and Judy Hirabayashi of Inverness Research Associates, the group also began to consider the need to become familiar with the reform efforts endorsed by their states, and the need to gather data reflecting teacher and student demographics, educational power structures, and writing project strengths and needs.

The National Writing Project's investment in SNAP reflects a growing awareness that collaboration among sites within a state can lead to closer connections to the NWP as well as increased service and leadership capacity. With educational policy often being made at the state level, sites collaborating within a state can position themselves to address state testing and reform issues that affect teaching and learning. Whether a state network decides to carve a niche for itself within the reform effort, embrace it wholeheartedly, or work outside the reform effort to improve teaching and learning, it is the strength of the collaborative decision that can define the state network.

The NWP State Networks Leadership Team developed the concept of SNAP, a cohort group of emerging state networks working toward strengthening their own networks while providing the National Writing Project with case studies of developing state networks. The purposes of SNAP were developed to align with the NWP goals of increasing the number and capacity of sites, increasing scholarship and service to the field, visibility, and fundraising. The leadership team also identified a number of questions related to state networks and to sites within state networks.

One question to be explored through the SNAP cohort is similar to the old chicken and egg query. Which comes first? Is a strong state network dependent on strong sites? Or can the collaborative work of the network strengthen sites? Other questions include the following:

  • What goes into creating a state network?
  • How do state network sites learn to invest in each other?
  • How does a state network develop vision and identity?
  • How can SNAP help define and create links between NWP and state networks?
  • What kind of support do state networks need from NWP?
  • What is the work of a state network as opposed to the work of a site?
  • How do sites within state networks mentor each other, share expertise, and develop strategies for addressing issues?
  • How do sites within state networks develop leadership capacity?
Finally, what is the place of a state network in the writing project? Although established state networks such as California, Kentucky, and Mississippi have a history of accomplishments within the National Writing Project community, currently there is no NWP mechanism for gathering data and reporting results. The State Network Action Project will serve as a platform for the design of instruments for state network reporting.

The second official gathering of the SNAP cohort will be a four-day retreat February 25-28, in Tucson, prior to the NWP Rural Sites Spring Retreat.

About the Author Sherry Swain is director of the Mississippi Writing/Thinking Institute state network and chair of NWP State Networks.

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