University of Rochester

Teachers Are Not the Only Ones Benefiting from Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute

July 6, 2011

Deborah Murray's students at Geneseo Elementary School are benefiting from their teacher's participation in the Genesee Valley Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education.

Murray recalls sharing a reflection piece that she wrote on her early teaching experiences with the community of teachers participating in the 2010 Invitational Summer Institute. Once she saw how her own words had touched others, she truly discovered the power of sharing writingóa practice she impresses upon now with her own students back in the classroom as an elementary reading teacher and literacy coach.

This is the fourth year the Warner School is hosting the Genesee Valley Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, running four days a week from July 5 through 29. Eight local K-12 teachers will hit River Campus this summer to explore, learn, and write. The intensive four-week program, the heart of the Genesee Valley Writing Project (GVWP), will equip teachers with innovative strategies for helping students to improve their writing back in the classroom.

Summer Institute participants, representing elementary, middle, and high school teachers from various disciplines, teach in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, Brighton Central School District, Webster Central School District, Churchville-Chili Central School District, Pittsford Central School District, and Norman Howard School. Warner School Professor Joanne Larson, a leading scholar in new literacies who works toward empowering students to construct the kinds of literacy practices needed to be productive in everyday life, will direct the Summer Institute again this year.

The GVWP's successful model for professional development helps teachers across all subject areas and grade levels, from pre-kindergarten to university level, learn strategies to teach students to become accomplished writers and learners. The program also creates professional communities that help teachers keep instruction fresh and vibrant in the classroom and prepares teacher-leaders who can provide professional development within their school districts.

Using a teachers-teaching-teachers model, the 2011 Summer Institute will allow participating teachers to hear from fellow educators and writers, and work through daily teacher demonstration workshops, collaborative writing groups, reading research groups, and presentations that draw from local and national literacy expertise. They also will have the opportunity to study the latest research on the teaching of writing, share knowledge, expertise, and effective classroom practices, and explore current issues related to understanding the power of writing to support social justice work.

The GVWP experience has been transformative for Murray both professionally and personally.

"The Summer Institute was the best professional development that I've had in my career as a teacher," said Murray. "I learned so much from the other teachers in the groupóit was truly teachers teaching teachers. This experience not only promoted my own self-discovery, but armed me with lessons that I can share with students and teachers."

Doing her own writing, she said, has helped her to understand what her students go through when they are asked to write. "I now know what it feels like to have writer's block and to have to revise and get feedback from peers," added Murray who took her experience last summer and started a teacher writing group at her school that is continuing into next year. "I am able to take this perspective and share it with teachers in my school and in our teacher writing group to help teachers share in their own writing experiences."

The GVWP also will hold a two-week youth writing camp, led by Murray, at Rochester's Freedom School this summer where teachers participating in the Summer Institute will have the opportunity to spend a day working directly with Rochester City School District students to help them improve their writing.

Sponsored by and housed within the Warner School, the GVWP serves teachers and students from urban, suburban, and rural regions of Monroe and surrounding counties. The GVWP, funded by a grant from the National Writing Project (NWP), is a collaborative school-university partnership that is dedicated to advancing and supporting writing and literacy development throughout area schools through teacher-centered professional development. All follow-up programs and activitiesócommunity outreach programs, mini-conferences, school-based inservice workshops, collaborative partnerships, and teacher study groupsówill evolve from the centerpiece of the Summer Institute and will take place throughout the remainder of the year.

Multiple studies have shown that students of teachers who have been through NWP programs on average write significantly better than students of teachers who don't. Especially compelling, evidence suggests that NWP sites help narrow the achievement gap in writing between white students and students of color.

The NWP is a nationwide network of educators working together to improve the teaching of writing in the nation's schools and in other settings. The NWP provides high-quality professional development to teachers in a variety of disciplines and at all levels, from early childhood through college. Through its network of more than 200 university-based sites, the NWP develops the leadership, programs, and research needed for teachers to help students become successful writers and learners.

For more information about the GVWP, visit, or contact Joanne Larson at (585) 275-0900 or by e-mail at

About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester's Warner School of Education offers master's and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, counseling, human development, and educational policy. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform.