Here it is. My NCTE blog post, at long last. I’ve put off writing about NCTE, and though I’m ashamed to have struggled to write, I know the struggle has come as a result of fear: I know that a single blog post will not represent the worth of this experience for me, and I’m afraid I lack the words or writing skill to adequately share the magic.
Magic...yes. With that I have your attention? NCTE wasn’t full of pixie dust and mythical creatures (On the contrary, larger-than-life personalities became even more real!), but the air in and around the convention center in Boston shined with a unique and special spirit. I’ve scribbled and scratched through pages of my notebook trying to grasp what was responsible for said magic, and I’m going to suggest that the spirit of NCTE lies in connectedness.
I attended NCTE in Boston as a first-timer. I was doubly fortunate that the conference location was within driving distance from my home in western Maine and to have a joint-proposal about reading communities accepted for presentation. Excitement around attending NCTE snowballed from the date the proposal was submitted in January. By the time the November arrived, I looked forward to the weekend “away” with great anticipation, but I was tentative also. The nearer the conference came, the more overactive my introverted character grew. I was nervous about navigating the conference on my own and unsure I’d get the most out of my NCTE experience if I was too reserved. I expected to be a very small fish in a large pond…a pond much larger than I am accustomed to and full of literacy greats. The truth is I couldn’t possibly know what I was in for.
And I didn’t. In the last week, I’ve often found my mind rewinding to parts of the NCTE weekend, and I realize no one could have prepared me for the magic.
It was magical to share time and space with renowned authors whose professional publications have shaped and influenced my practice. These people imparted wisdom and issued challenges in their presentations. The presenters who were accessible, engaging in conversations about our real classrooms, and offering inspiration and encouragement in our work developing literate students were magic.
It was magical to meet talented authors of remarkable children’s books that have lasting impacts in kids’ lives. Authors who were giving of their time and listened with their hearts to the stories shared about individual readers who have been impacted and/or turned on to reading because they shared a talent generously. Authors who indulged in post-it note autographs and photos, who expressed gratitude for the reading audiences of our classrooms, and authors who attended each other’s signings with mutual respect glowing in their faces were magic.
It was magical to experience the Twitter-verse coming to life as colleagues from across the country met or reunited. Colleagues whose interactions are usually limited to 140 characters amicably joked about real-life resemblance to Twitter avatars and introduced ourselves to others with the caveat, “I follow you on Twitter!” Kindred souls in the flesh with whom we have felt solidarity and camaraderie; teachers, librarians, and administrators who are a lifeline when we want to share professional thinking outside our geographic circles are magic.
But the greatest magic was witnessing the interconnectedness of all these parties. I immediately felt a sense of belonging in this larger community as I was greeted, embraced, and introduced to new connections. I found people—lots of them—who were “like” me! Enthusiasm and passion for all things literacy and children were shared liberally among colleagues, authors, and presenters. Regardless of individual credentials and roles or the states and regions we represented, it was undeniably clear that those gathered joined together to work towards common goals for students everywhere. And—to take this awesome magic one step further—the end of NCTE was hardly the end of the spirit. The magic is seeping into each and every young person we work with and every colleague we share our stories with…in short, whoever we invite into the extended NCTE community by sharing our connectedness.
In his panel presentation on close reading, Chris Lehman reminded us that we can choose a lens through which we look at our profession, and we should choose to look for the people we need to "see" collaboration, compassion, and joy. I am grateful for the backdrop that NCTE provided me in refocusing my lenses and acquainting me with the people I need to increase my connectedness and expand my collegial support net. You are magic to me.