Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Slice of Life: 13 Mini-Slices of 2013

Reflections of 13 big happenings in my 2013—professional, personal, and other.
(In chronological order, mostly.)

(1) Beauty & the Beast The Disney classic, a favorite of mine, was the musical staged by the Oxford Elementary School Drama Club in May. This was my seventh production as the director of the club, it was no less magical than the first. Every year I wonder if it will come together, if maybe the project is too much for the students. And every year I am taken by how beautiful the experience is—beyond the show. The new friendships, uncovered skills and talents, self-confidence and pride. This was one of my favorite things I did for students this year.

(2) The Donut Day GiveawayI was still new to Twitter in the spring, and—as I let myself believe is true of all new Twitter-users—my early action was mostly retweeting and signing up for giveaways. When Linda Urban first wrote me to say I had been selected to receive a copy of her brand-new book The Center of Everything, a Skype visit with her, and donuts for my whole-class on National Donut Day, I thought I had been pretty lucky. After our Skype, I floated on air, knowing in my heart that I had just witnessed a most incredible interaction between a gold-hearted author and some authentic readers. (When did that happen, I found myself asking. When did my kiddos become so good at talking about reading?) I got to meet Linda in person at NCTE, and I’m excited about connecting with her.
With Loree Griffin Burns, Kate Messner, and Linda Urban at NCTE '13.
(3) One Amazing Class This year brought one of the hardest ever end-of-year goodbyes. After a second year with more than half my 4th grade class, it was time for the 5th graders to move on. This group of students taught me so much, and they gave me more than I can adequately express. They taught me about relationships with students. They taught me about perseverance and taking a different route. They taught me that there was still a better teacher residing within, and they brought it out. This class underwent an amazing transformation, and they have lots to be proud of about themselves.

(4) Denver - Keeping this “mini,” I hopped on a plane the day after school finished for the year and flew to Denver, Colorado—solo.  Fresh off the plane, I caught up with Joey, a friend from high school who I had not seen since 1998. I rented a car and navigated Denver on my own. Later that night, I met up with Amy and her husband, Ed, who were kind enough to let me stay with them on my quick getaway. I had not spent time with Amy since she graduated from Saint Mike’s in 2000. In both cases, it was easy to pass time with Joey and Amy, making it hard to believe any time had passed at all. The next day, I drove myself north through beautiful Colorado to meet up with my GPN friend, Trish, and we spent most of the day driving the heights of Rocky Mountain National Park. Everything about this dash to Denver was incredible, from the friendship to the freedom of being independent.

(5) Red Rocks(I had to break Denver up a little to avoid a “maxi-slice.”) On my last night in Denver, I had tickets to see Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play Red Rocks. My ticket was a birthday gift from David and good for a seat in the center of row 30, which was about halfway up the venue. Thanks to some other generous fan friends who had waited in line (while Trish and I were gaping at the beauty of the Rockies), we were summoned to the third row during the break between the opener and GPN’s set.  I was simply in awe of the whole experience-music, surroundings, and company. Of the 22 shows I’ve seen, this may be the GPN show I remember the least because I remember everything else about it the most.

(6) Less Pain & More NormalcyIn what is perhaps my most personal mini-slice (skip to #7 if you want), this summer I had many large tumors removed from my uterus. I had experienced a lot of pain and inconvenience for as long as I can remember. I was fearful of surgery and possible risks and prolonged the inevitable for two years while the tumors’ measurements were monitored. However, the June surgery and my recovery were picture perfect, and the results were immediate. I was blessed with a very patient and skilled doctor.

(7) TanglewoodTanglewood was the second stop in my bucket-list venue summer. I traveled to western Massachusetts to meet up with Trish. The venue was picturesque, and so were we as we shared a pizza picnic style on a blanket from her car. We took in the sights and sounds of his historic location and greeted old friends—other longtime fans with more Grace Potter & the Nocturnal shows to their names than me. But this was one of those times when I felt aware that I’ve found my place among them, and I’m part of a bigger community of devoted fans. (It was three years ago this night that I first met up with Trish to attend a GPN show solo—I guess it was inevitable?)

(8) NERA Author/Illustrator EventFor more than a year I helped plan the New England Reading Association conference that was held in Portland, Maine in September. Early on, I assumed responsibility for organizing an author/illustrator meet and greet style event. We were overwhelmed to have 27 authors and illustrators accept the invitation to attend. Guests happily milled about, visiting tables, purchasing books, taking photos. It was special to be breathing the air of literary excitement, and I was proud to have played a part in the orchestration.

With Donalyn at dinner in September
(9) Blogging for Nerdy Book ClubWhy didn’t this happen sooner? I suppose this was a text-book case of “the right thing at the right time.” In September I was lucky to join Maine Reading Association friends at dinner with Donalyn Miller and Penny Kittle. In conversation with Donalyn that night, she asked why I hadn’t written something for Nerdy Book Club, and when was I going to? It was a challenge I couldn’t leave unanswered, but more than that, I knew deep down it was a chance I needed to take. But I was afraid! What did I have to share? Would anyone be interested in reading what I wrote? I sat with it, quietly, introspectively. And then my post fell in my lap. The composition came together quick, and it was posted, and…now I’m awaiting inspiration to write for Nerdy Book Club again. (See my post here.)

(10) NCTEThis past NCTE in Boston was my first experience attending a national conference, and I was doubly fortunate because I presented material about reading communities with two colleagues from my school district, also. I am grateful for the day my friend Justin insisted I/we had something worth sharing and asked me to help with a proposal. My maiden blog post about my NCTE experience captures more of the spirit of the weekend, but suffice it to say it was incredible to feel connected and embraced by a wider, literacy-oriented community. There ARE other people like me, and now I know where they hang out.

(11) NBCT – I did it. It: I achieved National Board Certification for Teachers. I completed the Middle Childhood Generalist certificate. I am one of 254 teachers in the state of Maine who hold this certification. It took me two years and a whole lot of energy, tears, and plain ol' umph to get there, but I did it, and I’m all the better for the journey. (Blog post to come, someday, when I can put words to the experience.
With colleagues Justin & Jenn, who also achieved!

Brandon's Benefit Quilt
(12) Benefit Quilt RaffleIn May my cousin (read:  a third little sister) and her fiancé learned he had testicular cancer. He has fought courageously all year through chemo, transfusions, and stem cell treatments. A lot of the time we feel helpless because there isn’t much we can do, but it was a gift for me to be able to make a quilt in their honor that could be raffled as a fundraiser to support their expenses. There are no words for the gratitude I felt as family and friends stepped up to help sell tickets, when donations rolled in from friends near and far, even those who have no connection to Kassie & Brandon other than through me, and when we finally gave them $2,675 the weekend of Thanksgiving.

(13) FamilyTime spent with my family is dear and there are too many varied options to choose from to pick only one memory to feature. My family is fortunate to have two young, spirited boys in our lives—my nephews who are 2 and 5. To see their joy in our outing to the beach or the adventure we had at Storyland is a gift of 2013. Time away with my parents and one sister in Rangeley for a cousin’s wedding was quiet, calm, and too infrequent. Busy holidays, graduations, birthdays, and other excuses for getting together are irreplaceable and will, always, have a spot in my mini-slices of the year.

Honorable Mentions:
  • The Donald Graves Legacy Breakfast
  • Champion the Cure Challenge with Team Fishing for a Cure
  • Submitting my first co-authored manuscript
  • Skyping with Sarah Aronson
  • The First-ever OES READS!

Thank you, to all of you who have shared in my 2013. I'm hopeful for what 2014 may bring!

Monday, December 30, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (12.30.13)

What a week! For a good part of the week, I feared I was going to have only board books and word books to report as "reading." It was one of those times when reading took a backseat to capitalizing on time with my young nephews (ages 2 and 5). But, alas, I managed to squeeze in a few gems.

What I Read This Week:

The Matchbox Diary, by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
(Candlewick, March 2013)
     A little girl visiting her grandfather has the opportunity to hear his stories and get to know her family's history through his "matchbox diary." Each of the collected matchboxes stores a small object that represents an significant moment in grandfather's immigration story. His granddaughter is inspired to document her own stories.
     Wow. Just wow. Something about this book struck me, and it quickly jumped to the top of my list of favorite historical fiction picture books. The book is really an intimate invitation to experience grandfather's journey alongside the child. Objects that could be mistaken as meaningless (for example, an olive pit or a bottlecap) evoke emotion when paired with stories of what was endured by immigrants in their journey and while settling in America. Fleischman portrays a realistic recollection by the grandfather, and paired with the illustrations of Ibatoulline (whose work I also loved in Crow Call), the tales of history become "ours," too.

On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne, illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky
(Chronicle Books, April 2013)
    This book is a picture book biography of Albert Einstein that touches lightly on the youth of Einstein and emphasizes more heavily the power of an inquisitive spirit.
    I suspect this book will resonate with students who can relate to the character of Einstein--those who are thoughtful, questioning, and imagining of possibilities. The book could be encouraging and inspiring to students who dream of non-traditional approaches to learning and learn best through experiencing and engineering their learning. The book paints a picture of Einstein as a tangible person with gifts, like us, but whose talents were exceptional.

Mouse was Mad, by Linda Urban, illustrated by Henry Cole
(HMH Kids, 2012)
    When Mouse gets mad, he tries doing what other creatures do to emote, but the feedback he gets is that these things don't work for him. When he finally stops and is still to deal with his madness, the other animals become curious about his stillness. They try Mouse's approach with little luck.
     You can't help but feel for poor little Mouse as he looks for a way to express his madness! With a series of animal actions (ie. stomping) that young readers can imitate (like Mouse!) this book is sure to win favor, and tucked away is a reminder to honor ourselves and our emotions.

Kepler's dream, by Juliet Bell
(Puffin Books, 2012)
    Her parents are divorced, and she rarely sees her father, so this summer, Ella will spend months with her estranged grandmother (her father's mother) while her mother undergoes a stem cell transplant to treat her leukemia. Ella struggles to acclimate to life in Albuquerque in the home of her rigid and traditional grandmother. Ella's grandmother has a strong emotional attachment to books and stars, and when her prized copy of Kepler's Dream goes missing, Ella and her new friend, Rosie, go on a mission to find it. But what they ultimately find is so much more and may bring peace where relationships are broken.
    Ella is a new friend of mine who will sit with me for a long time because of the way she makes peace with the imperfections in her world. She is a likely friend of many intermediate aged girl-readers. The symbolism of astronomy and Kepler's Dream is woven thoughtfully into the characters' plights. Many small messages reside within making it likely that most readers will come away with something that tugs at their heart. I'm eager to read this with some of my Breakfast with Books club members before the vote for Maine Student Book Award.

Zane and the Hurricane, by Rodman Philbrick
(The Blue Sky Press, February 25, 2014, based on an Advanced Reader Copy)
    Zane's father, who died before he was born, had roots in New Orleans, Louisiana, and at the request of his great-grandmother, Zane visits in late August of the fateful year of Hurricane Katrina. A story of devastation and survival ensues when the hurricane strikes and Can Zane survive and make it home to his mother who waits in New Hampshire?
    Everything about this book is vivid and alive. Philbrick captures the horrors and realities of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a way that will captivate readers and trigger emotions ranging from empathy to outrage. Zane's story is a story of survival that will keep the pages turning and the book will be passed frequently from the hands of one reader to another. 

What I am Reading Next:
See, this is tricky. According to my "vacation TBR list" that I made with my students, I should be tackling

  • The Literacy Teacher's Playbook, by Jennifer Serravallo
  • Zane and the Hurricane, by Rodman Philbrick
  • Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner
  • The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, by Megan Frazer Blakemore

All would be great options for my next read, however...

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell turned up under the tree with my name on it, and selfishly, I'd like to indulge.

So guess what? My students are about to learn something important:
TBR lists are constantly subject to rearranging and sometimes it's about going with what speaks to you!

Happy Reading!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Bringing Christmas to the Classroom

Friday. The long awaited day-before-Christmas-vacation arrived and not a day too soon. The previous two weeks were punctuated with report cards, an article deadline, Christmas chores, and a family event with the students. There were 26 student personalities and one teacher personality getting squirrelly, and each school day was sadly feeling like more of a test of survival than a concentrated opportunity to carry out my vocation.

And then there was Friday.

Over the last few years, I have opted to give books to the class as a gift-giving tradition in lieu of individual student gifts. In the weeks (sometimes months) leading up to Christmas, I stash some highly anticipated books or books I think will appeal to my particular cohort of students. On the last day before break, a stack of wrapped rectangles of various sizes appears beneath our classroom tree. Inevitably, students take note and are curious to know the person behind the mysterious presents. I don't tell, and their intrigue continues to build throughout the day. Later in the afternoon, once snacks have been shared and special events are over, I ask the students to put their name on a scrap piece of paper and collect these slips in a bowl. Then we gather around the tree, family style, and I explain to the students that these packages are presents for our whole class to share. I give them to the students so they will have something to look forward to returning to in the new year. To be fair, I draw names from the bowl and whoever is drawn will unwrap a present for all of us.

Even though I have-as I said-shared this tradition for a few years now, I seem to be overcome with it's true magic each year as if it were the first time.

The students were filled with anticipation, about who would be drawn to unwrap a present and what's beneath the holiday wrapping. They remark with knowing comments, and they can't hold back their excitement as titles and covers are revealed. Oddly more in tune than before, I made a conscious effort to observe my students' reactions and listen carefully to all I could overhear in their commentary so that I could capture what brought the unrestrained smile to my face.

Tyler, who struggled to participate in the classroom all week, was fully engaged and leaped to his feet when two new Bones graphic novels were unwrapped. "I call dibs! I call dibs on one of those!" he shouted.

When one student paused with some confusion after unwrapping Unusual Creatures, another confidently reminded his classmates, "It's on that list! The Maine Student Book Award!"

Olivia peeled back the paper to find Flora & Ulysses in her hands and immediately hugged it to her chest saying, "Can I read it first, please? Can I put it in my browsing box right now?"

A chorus of voices screamed, "Framed!" in unison when one showed the cover of another Gordon Korman book. 

Amanda, referring to another book that was being passed around, said to me on the side, "I need to read this. I'm going to finish my book over break so I can start this when I come back."

John said, flipping through Steve Jenkins' The Animal Book, "Look at these cool pictures!"

"Oh, I want that one!" Ben said of Tommysaurus Rex. "Me too," added another student at his side, "It's by the author of Cardboard!" (I later spied Ben apart from his classmates getting a head start on this book. He returned it to me later saying, "I couldn't help it, I read the first eight pages.")

All the while they passed the thirteen new books among themselves, talking about which books they were looking forward to and why. A genuine spirit of book buzz emanated.

Perhaps my most favorite comment of all came from Kyle when-between unwrappings-he reflected, "I can't think of a time before when I was ever this excited about getting books..." As he trailed off, another student finished, "...until we had Ms. Guerrette!"

I love the notion of being a book-bearing Santa for my students. Ho, ho, ho! What a gift it is to me to be able to pick and choose books that I believe are good matches for my students, to gift them books that will offer them pleasure, learning, adventures, friendships, and life lessons. Honestly, is there anything better?

Monday, December 9, 2013

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (12.9.13)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all! As I envision what this blog will grow to, I hope #IMWAYR will be a routine I can establish!

What I Read This Week (Or, close to this week...ahem.):

Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder
(Random House Books for Young Readers, January 28, 2014-based on Advanced Reading Copy)
By the way, this is the book I'm bending the rules for because I didn't read it in the last week, but a little before. My blog, my rules? Just kidding...
     Annie's grandmother is not doing well, and she travels with her mother to visit. In a twist of magic, Annie travels into the past to a time when her grandmother was her own age. She finds that Molly-her grandmother-is kept captive in her room because she is ill, and Annie discovers Molly's very real feelings of loneliness and a desire to experience the outside world. Through their story, readers are confronted with the effects that friendship can have in "healing" what ails us. And ultimately, Annie must consider her influence in the character-building of her grandmother.
    I have long awaited the companion text to Bigger Than a Breadbox. This was the ARC from NCTE '13 that I dove into before even leaving Boston. After waiting to see the book that Laurel herself described as connected, but a story ahead of the story, this book does not disappoint. Connections between the book seem subtle (and admittedly now I need to reread Bigger Than a Breadbox to test that theory), but are there almost like a whisper that allows the reader to feel like they know a secret of the way these books are related. I can't wait to find out what my former students-who were Breadbox lovers-will have to say about Seven Stories Up.

Duke, by Kirby Larson

(Scholastic Press, August 2013)
     When he makes the decision to volunteer his German Shepard, Duke, to Dogs for Defense during WWII, Hobie Hanson is conflicted between his sense of responsibility to contribute to the war effort and make his father (an airman overseas) proud and his adoration for his four-legged companion. Student readers will easily relate to Hobie's interactions with his classmates and family, including feelings about bullying and intolerance, concern about the well-being of family members, and a deep-rooted desire to be brave and to do the right thing. 
     I'm excited to share Duke with the readers in my classroom because they find stories about dogs and war compelling. Kirby Larson's book is accessible to my fourth grade readers, and when shared with peers, I believe it will prompt great discussions about morals and character. I only regret that it has taken me so long to get to it!

Mr. Wuffles, by David Wiesner
(Clarion Books, October 2013)
    This wordless picture book gives readers the chance to see the world of cats and cat toys in a new way. Mr. Wuffles takes interest in a spaceship toy, and soon we learn that the toy is inhabited by space people. When the space people take it upon themselves to retaliate, the light-hearted story will make readers smile in response, recognizing all-to-well their favorite feline within the character of Mr. Wuffles.
     I am ashamed to admit this is the first wordless picture book I've shared with students this year. The delighted in the quiet reading we shared, and many took sides with allegiance to Mr. Wuffles or the space people. Not only did students have commentary to offer about the story, but they had equally interesting conversation about the illustrations and choices David Wiesner made in communicating story through pictures. Win-win as a shared reading experience.

Battle Bunny, by Jon Scieszka, Mac Barnett, and Matthew Myers

(Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, October, 2013)
     A spirited youngster, Alex, reveals his talent for writing in Battle Bunny by "defacing" a book formerly called "The Birthday Bunny." Alex revises the text to create a more aggressive character of the bunny, making his mission to conquer the world. His contributions to the book are not limited in word, but also in his artful modifications to the illustrations of the book. Who will be able to halt Battle Bunny in his evil plan...I wonder...
      I cannot think of another text to which I'd compare this work. It's fun. To think through the creation of this book-not once, but twice-is a little mind-boggling to me. Creativity abounds. I appreciate it, and I suspect my students will, also. It's likely that Battle Bunny won't see shelf-life in my classroom because it will be passed from reader to reader.

What I'm Reading Next:
I'm laughing to myself as I even consider what it means to commit to a book. To be completely honest, I'm overwhelmed by my TBR pile and I know I'm not reading as much as I'd like to be right now! But, nevertheless, I'm fairly certain my next reads will be some of these:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Celebrating This Week

Discover. Play. Build.

Ruth Ayres has started a movement to encourage us to find celebrations in our lives, and each Saturday she hosts a blog listing where you can read her celebrations and the celebrations of others. Thanks, Ruth, for nudging us all to pause for celebrating in the midst of our regular hurried-ness.

1. Successful Book Conversations
This week I noticed marked change when meeting with two of my literature groups. After weeks of wondering what it would take for students to launch, they have turned the corner to successful, engaging, student-led discussions. Their enthusiasm for their texts (Saving Zasha by Randi Barrow and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry) created passionate conversations. I delighted at listening in as they shared opinions and interpretations with vibrant animation. I even found enjoyment in their confusions as they constructively puzzled through together. It's a true celebration to watch their progress and to shower them with compliments about how hard they are working.

2. Student Kindness
Any day can become a trying day in my classroom with the flip of a switch. Many children have social struggles, and it is difficult to predict or anticipate what might instigate a volatile reaction. Today I celebrate the outreach I saw from three girls in my classroom as they took a healthy risk by reaching out in friendship to another girl who is known to be difficult. They were friendly, inviting, and patient with her. And it was touching to see her respond to their acts of kindness. While it's unfamiliar territory for her, she is navigating new friendships well. I'm hopeful that this "tolerance bug" might grow to be more widespread.

3. Enthusiasm About Writing, pt. 1
The students are abuzz about their side writing project, and I won't complain. I suggested to the students that we have a family gathering before going away on winter break, and that it would be a good idea to share writing with our families. The students agreed to selecting a piece of writing from their notebooks to bring to publication for our "Cookies & Cocoa" celebration. I'm most moved by the boy who came back to school the next day to assure me he had talked to his mom & dad about being late for wrestling practice because he really wants to come to the celebration.

4. Enthusiasm About Writing, pt. 2
I have done more writing this week than I expected I would. Thanks to #nerdlution, I've posted four new blog posts. I wrote in my notebook daily and actually have a running list of ideas I want to get to the next time I'm just stuck. I have started more than one writing project this week. And, I guess I'm getting a little braver about sharing my writing, too.

5. Courage
For what exactly I'm not ready to share, but I've been overtaken by an alternate persona who seems to believe that sometimes it's better to act quickly on an idea before your fearful self can talk you out of it. It is very out of character for me--I tend to overanalyze, and I like to assure that my i's are dotted and my t's are crossed to assure success before I leap. It's not like me at all to operate with confidence and a risk-taking spirit, but I think maybe I might grow to like this "me." Or, at least I'll let her come out and play a little more often.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Writing Woes: The Inconvenient Timing of Ideas that Will be Genius

Honestly, I feared I might find myself in front of 26 students today with eyeliner on only one eye. And writing would have been to blame.

I was in front of the mirror applying make-up, trying to beat the clock and get to school when I was blinded by a new inspiration for writing. I had no place to record it, and was already short on minutes to invest. It was one of those mornings when ideas for writing were popping at me from all directions at sudden times. (Days like this are infrequent, but when they come...ah, the woes of an aspiring writer!)

I trust that if you write, you know what I'm talking about. It's that trickle of an idea that falls into your lap during your shower, daring you to capture it before it runs down the drain. Or, the sneaky lead that teases your peripheral vision on your commute to work, or the glimmer of direction that dances by as you attend your students' chorus concert.

So, what can be done when Ideas that Will be Genius pay no mind to their inconvenient timing?

I have been trying to retain the ideas by giving in to the idea for a bit. I let the idea percolate enough to establish a strong enough memory in my mind to be persistent and difficult to forget. Confession: Sometimes I do this by talking through the new idea aloud. Usually I can do this without getting caught!

Twitter pal @katsok offered a suggestion I expect to try. She uses the video app on her cell phone to record ideas that join her on her drive. She can listen to her recordings at a more convenient time. The audio serves as a reminder of her Ideas that Will be Genius. I'm already over the stigma of talking to myself--it seems having a recording of my talking aloud could only be an advantage when I can get to my notebook or computer.

Writing greats Eric Luper and Cynthia Lord have both recently shared that they keep idea notebooks in the various places they spend time to increase the likelihood of jotting Ideas that Will be Genius as they come. Maybe this strategy reduces the amount of time that could be considered inconvenient? Since I already have an affinity for office supplies, I see this as a welcomed excuse to shop for a few quaint, little idea books to champion my writing goals!

Why do the Ideas that Will be Genius come at inconvenient times, times when our notebooks are not at hand or in the middle of things that must be finished?

Perhaps it's because writing is something that can't be forced. It might be that, at times, we work too hard to make writing happen. Instead, writing might prefer an unpredictable nature. Maybe the truth is that writing finds us in it's own time.

I coach my students to live life alert to writing inspiration--a habit I have promoted far better than I have modeled, certainly. Today I found myself more alert to the real challenge--being prepared to snag and store the Ideas that Could Will be Genius.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Handling my Blank Page

At a blank page.
Words elude.
Coherence escapes.

   Take a break.
   Just say so.

Purpose stripped.
Interest robbed.
Committing self to paper--

Scribble it out.
Type it up.

And wait.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Joining in: #Nerdlution

Why am I joining in the #Nerdlution movement?

Because it's time. That's the real reason. "Start a blog" has been on my to-do list for too long--it's that simple.

The truth is, blogging has been a source of internal conflict for me for some time now. 
Do I or don't I? 
What do I have to say that is worth the space? 
Will anyone read what I write?
But ultimately, all of my processing leads to this humble realization: as my professional needs have evolved, I find myself needing a forum for sifting through the thoughts that cycle in my head. I'm passionate and reflective by nature, and writing should be a vehicle for mining gems from the ideas that are often trapped in my head. It isn't about anyone else right now; writing/blogging is for me. My motivation may be selfish, but if I can use my blog as a place to explore, develop, and share ideas, then I can push myself to grow. And maybe, just maybe, others will glean something once in a while, too.

The #Nerdlution movement is perfectly timed. I need to become more disciplined as a writer. I will gladly toss chores and work aside to pick up a book and read, however I've become something of a reluctant writer (putting me in touch with my students' worries around writing). I'm nervous...I need courage to be vulnerable with my writing. Joining the #Nerdlution community and making a public declaration to take more risks with my writing could be the difference between "I should..." and "I will."

So on that note, I'm joining in, and I make my #Nerdlution:
I will write daily and post to my shiny, new blog 
at least twice a week for the next 50 days.
Here goes nothing.

Want more information on the origin and intent of #Nerdlution? Try 
Colby's blog: http://sharpread.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/nerdlution-round-1/
Franki's blog: http://readingyear.blogspot.com/2013/11/nerdlution-when-mr-sharp-creates.html
Chris's blog: http://christopherlehman.wordpress.com/2013/12/01/nerdlution-and-so-can-you-faq/

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Magic of NCTE

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.