Am I the only person who feels super awkward meeting new people?
So I’m standing in the “New to ILA!!!” section of the Austin Convention Center early Saturday morning. Several well spoken women and men address the throng of newbies and supply us with important information about the conference. Remarks concluded and we are encouraged to visit with those around us, meet new people, and hang out.
I’m there by myself waiting for Gretchen Meyer, my fellow literacy advocate, to arrive. She shared this conference experience with me and I couldn’t ask for a better guide.
So I’m scanning the crowd looking for familiar faces, assuming there won’t be one. I’m an award winning people-watcher and for those of you who aren’t, teachers can be incredibly fun to observe. Anyways, Marcie, an incredibly nice women with a bright smile introduced herself to me and we talked about the conference and how excited we were to listen to the speakers at the General Meeting that was to begin shortly.
Both of us, my new ILA friend and I, massively underestimated the level of brilliance that was about to wash over me. I listened to Adan Gonzalez talk about his success in the face of poverty and bigotry and how he works to fight those demons today. Nadia Lopez blew the crowd away with the statement, “I opened a school to close a prison.” So…um…wow. If that wasn’t enough, we got to experience the passion of Cornelius Minor and his charge to consider, “How can we not stand for our children…when the traumas of the world weigh them down in our classrooms?”
I had to pinch myself. Was the rest of the conference going to be this amazing? (It was.) Was this euphoria and uplifting feeling of being re-energized going to fade as I left this hall and moved on to the other presentations? (It didn’t.) Was I ever going to see my new friend, Marcie, again? (I did, on the big screen, at the end of the general meeting.)
Even now, back in League City, I can’t stop reflecting on the lessons I soaked in at ILA. Maybe the biggest realization I came to, and there were many, wasn’t about books or kids or literacy. This realization encompassed all those ideas, but was really about me.
I realized that above all else, I’m a “culture” guy.
I’ve identified myself by so many labels over the years: Football guy, Coach that can teach, Book Lover, Literacy Advocate, Student First Teacher… all those things. But, when its all said and done, after 16 years in the classroom, culture means everything to me. The culture in my classroom is, obviously, important. Just as important, perhaps, and, for the most part out of my control, is the culture of the people around me. I want to be around teachers that are happy people. I want to feel like we are all in this together and that the kids will be the big winners in this world.
I think this seed might have been planted by this blog post by Lauren Ambeau, an intermediate school principal in my school district that posts on her own blog. Or it might reach all the way back to my first two principals, Marlene Skiba and Deanna Daws; two women that made me feel confident and valued in my teaching role.
I think, also, the people I learned from at my most recent, and longest, stay had a lot to do with it. I have the honor of presenting with the brilliant Jenna Zucha next week and this woman took time out of her summer, twice actually, to visit with me about our upcoming opportunity to present about writing to the leaders and stake-holders of our district. She guest posted on this blog back in May. What’s funny about our second meeting, is that one of my best friends happened to be at the very same Starbucks. He’s a genius, and famous. You might have heard of him… Ashton Kutcher thinks he’s cool.
This summer’s Literacy Institute, our own sort of ILA, comes to mind as well. Billy Eastman and Amy Rasmussen build a culture of respect, trust, and love that I try to recreate in my classroom. The huge win came from spending three weeks with the beautiful souls whose teaching team I’m so looking forward to joining. We laughed enough to get stares from the other groups and cried buckets on the last day as we bared our souls through our writing. Sarah Roy guest posted about that process just two weeks ago and then Austin Darrow guest posted for Amy the next day!!! Amanda Penny is one of the most fun loving people I’ve ever met. Looks like the culture I’m joining at my new place is strong, and, having gotten the opportunity to interact with the instructional leaders there, I know this is by design.
Kylene Beers, Sunday afternoon, said, “Our democracy requires that we hold onto our own literacy and not turn it over to a few pundits on this network or that one.” This statement reminded me that I posted about this very same idea back in February. Thus I’m reminded further that this blog, this digital workshop, is a culturally supportive space for teachers like me.
There is so much more to write about. I plan to sprinkle those tidbits through my posts this year.
Understand this: I’ll fight for culture. I’ll seek out good people and happy teachers for the rest of my teaching career. The kids deserve it.
Charles Moore has his pool looking as clear as crystal. He’s done a horrible job being a reader this summer. His kids spend most nights sleeping in a blanket fort in the boy’s room (thick as thieves, those two.) He’s looking forward to sharing the experience of discovering a new school with the incoming 9th graders at Clear Creek High School.