Walking into the lobby of Disney’s Contemporary Resort hotel, I find myself awestruck. It is true that it is lavishly decorated, with high extravagant lighting, and true still that the lobby is bestowed with elegantly polished marble and rich carpeting. However, the décor is not the reason for my marvel. Instead, it is the profuse number of people meandering about in the lobby, and the significance of our unification. We are all teachers, from different states, even different countries, and we are all connected in a way that is uniquely Writing Project. Surveying the vast lobby, I realize that I am part of a network of teachers making a difference. Amid this organized chaos, there are clusters of tables, littered with bagels, napkins, coffee, journals and pens. I stand there, still for a moment, allowing the enormity of the National Writing Project to descend upon me. We have all been through Summer Institutes. We all understand the value that writing to learn adds to our classroom repertoire. We are all there to learn more.
And learn more I do. My first session is in part of the enormous Fantasia ballroom, and it is packed. In authentic Writing Project style, we write a little, we discuss our Summer Institute formats and we end up laughing a lot. We circulate in the room, counter-clockwise, answering questions about our Summer Institutes: What texts do you use? How do you select your fellows? How do your writing groups function? How do you select texts? What kinds of writings do you do? How do you integrate continuity? Curious about the latter, I pay close attention to what my session-mates write. Some reconnect by way of parties or planning sessions. Some require their fellows to sign up for committees before they leave their SI’s. Still others require that in exchange for their tuition, they make themselves available for in-services or other such projects.
Next, I focus my attention on grants. More specifically, writing mini grants. By sheer luck, I sit at a table with a member of the TIC Network, who is on the grant review committee. Accompanied by Manny, we inundate him with questions: What do you look for in an application? What kind of applications gets approved? How can we make our application more appealing? It was during this session that the thinking behind our recent TIC Network grant proposal got its start.
Further sessions dealt with classroom games, classroom writing, inquiry during the Summer Institute, recruitment and continuity programs. Many times I felt the validation that can only come when one realizes that their Writing Project site is completely on track, even ahead of the game, and it was fun sharing ideas and concepts with other sites. Other times brought genuine interest in what was working for other sites. In between sessions, reconvening in the lavish lobby to discuss our findings and network with teachers from other sites emerged as an essential part of the Annual Meeting.
Friday evening found me back in the Fantasia ballroom, this time visiting with our team and others I had met at the Annual Meeting. Evaluating the scene around me, I still felt an air of union, but it was relaxed. Journals and pens were packed away. People were milling about, setting up connections and making arrangements before traveling back to their destinations. It wasn’t long before it was time to gather my own belongings and depart. Walking across the marbled lobby floors, I took one more look around, knowing that this would be the last time I would here during this meeting. It was almost empty, completely devoid of the organized chaos I had witnessed early. Nevertheless, the feeling of belonging to something utterly larger than me remained. Indeed, the importance of being allied with so many people as part of the larger National Writing Project will remain with me for a long time to come. Walking out into the cool Orlando night, I left Disney’s Contemporary Resort lobby behind, appreciating what had been accomplished and welcoming the possibility of what was still to come.