The season is upon us, boys and girls. A time for calls to the Butterball Hotline (1-800-BUTTERBALL if you need it). A time to smile at Grandpa’s snoring after dinner. A time for gifts and giving and possibly some figgy pudding.
After my first trip to the Annual NCTE conference, it’s also a time to be thankful.
It’s difficult for me to put into words how thankful I am for the opportunity to meet with and learn from so many amazing educators.
Amy, Shana, and Jackie, presenting with you was an incredible experience. Your passion and expertise around workshop is a gift that I will take back to my department as we continue our own workshop journey. Your believe in the power of choice, challenge, reading, writing, and speaking makes this shift in delivery easier and more rewarding each day.
Beyond our own presentation, the sessions we attended have my heart and mind bursting with enthusiasm for the work we do with kids. I am watching some of them read right now (I promise to confer in a moment) and the promise that they hold is the reason for all of this. NCTE 2016 refocused my attention on the core of my purpose in the classroom…to inspire connections. Connections to one another, to great texts, to authors, to the written word, to what they believe in.
As if that weren’t enough, the past few days has me thankful for:
Spending time with like-minded professionals.
My girl Shana Karnes introduced me to this phrasing over the weekend. Spending time with people who are pursuing a common goal is enriching, invigorating, and downright fun.
My weekend started when I met Winifred as we were in line to pick up registration materials. One of the Coordinators for Special Education Services in Georgia, Winifred and I got to talking about her garden. She pulled out her phone and showed me a video of her abundant harvest and we talked about trips planned around picking your own food right off the tree/vine/stalk. She showed me pictures of her fiance, as she is getting married after being widowed for years, pictures of her grandchildren, and her salmon on the grill.
And then we talked about hope for the future (left turn). Using the opportunity of the weekend to fuel our hope around the power of education. Well, if Winifred’s passionate character is any indication of even half the educators this country employs, I have renewed hope too.
Then, this fangirl met some of the biggest names in education. Amy and Shana introduced me to Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher.
I sat between them at a table and had a cocktail.
I casually chatted with Penny and Kelly (Can I say that? It feels weird), like I belonged there. Like I had anything of value to contribute to conversation.
And yet…once I got over my shock and awe at where I was sitting and who I was sitting with, Penny and I talked about the work I’m helping to lead in moving the Franklin High School English department to workshop. Kelly and I talked about the power of promoting educational philosophy and policy while still in the classroom, working each and every day with students in order to refine our own craft and reinforce our philosophies for the betterment of our kids.
When thought that benefits the advancement of students becomes purposeful practice, magical things can happen.
Maybe it was the Moscow Mule I was sipping, or maybe it was the fangirl phenomenon, but sitting with those great thinkers and discussing what’s best for kids, may be the professional development highlight of my career so far.
The Opportunity to Hear from Passionate Voices Who Support Our Work
Over the course of the past several months, we have all dealt with division on a daily basis in a ways that feel intensified and frankly, frightening. Understandably, this is something many of our students have intensely felt too, some for a very long time.
During a session on Equality in Education, Cornelius Minor (who proclaimed himself a black nerd, but I think he might be one of the most powerfully tolerant and inspiring voices of our time – in fact, I hugged him after his session) suggested that it’s our job as educators to teach children how to “maintain partnerships” in order to “define our culture.” Among countless other profound and inspiring quotes from that session, this stuck with me.
My job as a teacher can be defined in countless ways: facilitator, psychologist, content specialist, reader, writer, engineer, surrogate mom, cheerleader, conflict resolution specialist, event coordinator, nurse, lesson planner, assessor, tour guide, bookkeeper, data systems specialist, actor, career counselor, bailiff.
But, at the moment, advocate is my personal goal. In my humble opinion, as teachers, we are charged with shaping the future (no small task), so the partnerships we build with students and the partnerships we help them create with one another, might be some of the very best work we can do to promote social change and unity.
I’ve long advocated for students to be readers and writers. In the workshop model, I’ve learned that choice and challenge are additional areas of advocacy I can promote.
However, teaching my students to advocate for themselves, as informed, collaborative, and responsible citizens is my most important task right now, and it starts with building partnerships that bring us together to work toward common goals of kindness, respect, and the respectful promotion of educated opinions.
The insights of incredible thinkers
Can I name drop, for a minute? Before I left for NCTE 2016, my best friend on the planet, and teaching neighbor Erin, congratulated me on Facebook for my upcoming speaking engagement at what she coined as the “Super Bowl of English teachers.”
It made me chuckle when I wrote it, because I think she might have been implying I’m super, but as it pertains to those that I heard speak at the convention, it was spot on.
I have a notebook filled with quotes from the likes of Jason Reynolds, Pam Allyn, Donalyn Miller, Kylene Beers, Kwame Alexander, Ernest Morrell, Tom Romano, Cornelius Minor, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Amy Rasmussen, Shana Karnes, Jackie Catcher, and many, many more.
I will have to write more on these quotes. Dig into them. Flood my classroom with them. But here is a taste:
On issues with equality in education Cornelius Minor said,”It’s not the students that are disabled, it’s the curriculum.”
Speaking to our current national focus on division and divisiveness, Kwame Alexander said, “We [educators] have to be the manufacturers and purveyors of hope.”
Pam Allyn added, “Be vigilant and aware and active in defense of words that heal, not words that wound.”
Ernest Morrell incited that we must have students consider how they “speak back to the book.”
And one of my favorites, was Kyleen Beers suggesting that if your inclination is to test students knowledge on the content of a book. she would “prefer you didn’t give them the damn book” (Beers).
Food for thought. Food for fuel. Ideas to motivate and captivate. I love my job…
Have you ever seen the videos of The Running of the Brides? Matrimonially incensed women trampling each other to secure the dress of their dreams in a wedding dress-laden warehouse turned streets of Pamplona? A place where otherwise calm, rational, respectable people turn into Black Friday bargain hunters with cutthroat tactics and pitiless elbowing skills?
Now, swap out the brides for savings-fueled educators, who are not only passionate about saving money on books, but particularly prideful of stacking those free treasures into towers of savings that stand taller than the students they teach.
Add Curious George, countless authors signing their books (Matt De La Pena? Neal Shusterman? Ann M. Martin?!), a hot dog stand, and free book totes, and you’ll see English teachers practically stab one another to get free texts.
It made me smile to see so many teachers literally fighting (friendly competition fighting, not literally throw a punch to grab a copy of The Association of Small Bombs fighting) to support their classroom libraries and their commitment to putting books in the hands of teachers.
So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone. I have enough notes, inspiration, and red hot passion for this profession right now to fuel another dozen or so posts on the incredible opportunity that was NCTE 2016. I’m so very thankful I could attend. So very thankful to my district for supporting this work. Thankful to my department members who are working their tails off to support our students as growing readers and writers. Thankful to my students for exploring their deeper thoughts though books. Thankful that the Heros and Villains Fan Fest was starting, so we briefly shared the convention hall with roaming bands of beautifully costumed characters. Hey, we all have passion for different things. I find Thor’s passion to be particularly commanding.
I emailed Penny Kittle to thank her for talking with me and for sharing her insights on this powerful, albeit extremely challenging move to workshop, and I want to leave you with a quote that I think we can all give a little thanks for as we walk down this workshop path and learn how to do what’s best for our kids. The message is…workshop is simple.
We just need to, as Penny said, “be sure that students have time to read every day so [we] can confer, write every day to build volume, and study texts that help them learn the craft.”
If you attended NCTE, what are you thankful for? If you couldn’t join us, which of the quotes above speaks to your practice? We LOVE to hear from you. Please join the conversation in the comments below.