A Short History

Here’s how it started.

Founder Jim Gray organized the first summer institute at UC Berkeley in 1974, believing that successful classroom teachers are the best teachers of other teachers — and that teachers of writing should write.  Jim brought together 25 talented Bay Area teachers to share their knowledge about the teaching of writing – and founded the Bay Area Writing Project. This was the beginning of a professional development model for teachers that grew into the National Writing Project, with 195 university-based sites in fifty states.  


Jim Gray’s trust for teacher agency and respect for teacher knowledge changed the landscape of professional development. Now teachers teaching teachers is the norm for many successful educational groups who provide professional training, whether in literacy, technology or other disciplines. SJAWP’s Director, Jonathan Lovell, was one of those early participants in the Bay Area Writing Project, attending its Invitational Institute in summer of 1984.


Jonathan Lovell, SJAWP Founding Director

Jonathan was selected for a faculty position in the English Department in 1987, with the explicit charge of bringing the Bay Area Writing Project model to SJSU. Jonathan asked East Side’s Subject Area Coordinator in English Charlene Delfino to share responsibility with him as university and school-based co-directors of the project, and the program began with an Invitational Summer Institute in 1988.  Successful classroom teachers shared from kindergarten through college, and the San Jose Area Writing Project was launched.

Until recently, SJAWP’s invitational institutes met every summer.  Each year 20 or more teachers shared their expertise in writing instruction with one another.  These teacher consultants in turn offered workshops for other teachers during open programs, on Saturdays and at district in-service events.  Independent research data collected nationally by Inverness Research Associates showed the efficacy of the summer institutes. They brought good writing instruction to students and developed teacher expertise and leadership. The ISI was intensive and transformative, and rewarded the time that teachers were willing to devote to this sustained summer program in both writing and the teaching of writing.

Summer after summer, these ISIs were rated by participants as “the best professional development” they had ever experienced.  These summer institutes also provided participants with the option of gaining 6 full semester units of graduate credit or an in-pocket stipend, in addition to the community and camaraderie–all funded by state and federal sources obtained though annual grant requests.

Redefining Ourselves

Due to the “Tea Party Revolt” of 2010, President Obama was persuaded to sign a bill in March 2011 eliminating direct federal funding for the National Writing Project. As a consequence, SJAWP’s funding was abruptly reduced, leaving the program unable to support an Invitational Summer Institute in 2014. Unwilling to abandon this crucially important program, however, the SJAWP has been holding Invitational Summer Institutes, somewhat less well funded, each odd summer since 2015.

In the spirit of carrying on the mission of the SJAWP, the site teacher leaders celebrated with a 25th Anniversary fundraising dinner in the spring of 2013, bringing together remarkable educators and supporters.  In addition, the following summer Jonathan launched a week long Advanced Invitational Institute, which have continued every summer since. These institutes center around recent books in the teaching of writing, and writing responses in unique formats.


Two years ago the teacher leadership team blended the writing instruction for teachers and students into a Saturday lab school model.  SJAWP is committed to making writing instruction accessible, affordable and relevant.

With the advent of Common Core, digital machine-scored writing tests, and the prolific growth of digital media, the SJAWP continues to act on the premise that successful classroom teachers are the best teachers of other teachers and that teachers of writing should write.  The SJAWP continues to actively seek teachers who are willing to share their expertise, learn from others, engage deeply in professional reading and writing, and practice their personal and professional writing.

Come join us.