25 November 2012

NCTE 2012 Allowed Me to Dream and Connect

Becoming a Connected Educator

Late last fall just before NCTE 2011, I was working on a project with an educator who was then working for SREB. This man is a dynamic leader who is very active on twitter. He encouraged me to join twitter and create my own professional learning network. I have to admit I was skeptical at first because I was concerned about the time involved. However, because I respected this education leader and because I was on my way to Chicago for NCTE, I acquiesced. My first tweet included a NCTE hashtag. Because I was just getting started, I messed up the hashtag, including 20 in front of the 11 instead of just #NCTE11. I didn't realize my error until after I left Chicago and the convention. Typical of my personality, I persisted in my pursuit of learning and networking online, and I became a more connected educator.  Being more connected at NCTE 2012 in Las Vegas allowed me to experience the energy and excitement of more sessions than there was time to attend because we could follow the events and quotes happening all around the convention center. It was invigorating to follow but also to be retweeted or to have my tweets favorited a time or two.  Connected.

Dreaming about a Focus on Creativity

Connection and collaboration are increasingly important in our education world today. As I've blogged about previously, we have to team up and use our voices to stop the crushing focus on standardized testing.   Sir Ken Robinson's opening session on Friday morning was a highlight for me.  Hearing him speak was energizing and invigorating, a perfect lead into a session I presented with another colleague. Our session"My Administrator won't Let Me" Media Literacy and Core Standards was inspired by a Kentucky teacher who was fighting the good fight toward teaching students some of the skills that receive less emphasis in the common core, but he was not feeling supported by his administrators.  Unfortunately, our session had small turn out, but we enjoyed sharing our inspired session with the educators who attended and have made plans to present a similar session at our Kentucky Council of Teachers of English conference in the winter.  Naturally, we'll tweak our presentation based on feedback from participants and based on other things we learned at NCTE.

While at NCTE 2012  one of my biggest claims about the teaching of writing was supported in a round table session with Jim Burke who stated--"If kids show up to college only knowing the 5 paragraph essay, they will be inadequately prepared."  In the district where I work, this is a hot topic which doesn't yet have many believers.  By learning Jim Burke's approach,  I'm hoping I can share his well received advice with teachers who are more likely to believe an expert such as Jim Burke.  In fact, I don't think it's that they don't want to believe me, I think it's that they don't feel there are other options.  I'm hoping to show them other options do exist.

National Writing Project sessions were another hit for me.  In one session from the Bay Area Writing Project in California, we learned from three practicing teachers the ways they are meeting the needs of English Language Learners in their schools.  ELL students are another growing population in our district as schools continue to enroll refugees and immigrants due to Lexington being a refugee resettlement center.  We are all learning and growing together as we determine the best ways to meet the needs of all students in our district.  Thankfully, this session provided some practical tips and resources for me to consider as I work with teachers and students.

One of the Ignite sessions I attended was especially exciting.  Sara Brown Wessling opened the session and included artwork to talk about ways teachers can be uncommon in an era of common core.  She effectively set the stage for the speakers who followed with their 20 slides in 15 seconds.  Each speaker made my eyes sparkle a little more and my smile widen because I felt connected to other educators who also believe we need to cultivate creativity and innovation in our schools, classrooms, and districts.

I can't possibly write about every session I attended and have any hope of this blog post being a reasonable length, so I'll end by mentioning the connection I experienced when I attended the reception hosted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and organized by Sandy Hayes.  Sandy's focus on continued collaboration between NCTE and NBPTS sings my song of collaboration.  Before I even left Vegas, I was dreaming of a creative year and planning my proposal for NCTE 2013.

15 November 2012

Ready for NCTE 2012

The final week of preparations before NCTE 2012 brought a flurry of activity in an already busy season of the election, upcoming holidays and near end to fall semester. Only about twelve hours ago the reality of the fact that I’m heading to Las Vegas today hit me. I do not take the opportunity to participate in the National Council for Teachers of English Annual Convention lightly. As thousands of literacy educators join forces over the next few days, even thousands more will continue the important work in schools.

One such school includes my son's elementary school in Lexington Kentucky. Before I left town I arranged for my son's class to Skype with 9 year old author, Eva Ridenhour, who lives in Bismarck, North Dakota. I'll write more about this exciting learning experience in a future post. At this very moment, he's having this experience while I sit at the airport writing this post from my phone and waiting for my flight. Without the educators who are still at school today, this experience would not be happening. The teacher learned how to use Skype this week. The librarian and principal supported the teacher's willingness to learn and to try something new for the kids. My dedicated colleague agreed to visit the school and capture photos for our adolescent literacy blog.

In addition to all the prep work for my presentation at NCTE and my husband's continued work on his dissertation, he and I worked tirelessly each evening to help our son draft his first research paper. We met with his teachers yesterday to confirm our happiness with his success in middle school so far. At that middle school in Lexington, my 11 year old son is today handing in his first ever research paper because a dedicated science teacher understands the importance of having kids write in science class too.

Let's just say the past ten days in our household have been extra busy. In addition to my duties as a mom, I was extra busy on the job, too. I coordinated and facilitated three days of Literacy Design Collaborative Training for science, social studies, and English teachers, most of whom are in their schools today carrying on with the important work of providing an education for students in Lexington. Amazing teachers and a colleague co-facilitated the training days. So, no. I cannot take the luxury of leaving for NCTE today for granted.

I am grateful.
I am excited!
I am ready to learn, share, and collaborate at NCTE 2012.

06 November 2012

Teaching My Children about the Importance of Voting

Since my two boys were very young they have joined me at the polls each election.  I believe it’s important for me to model the responsibilities of being a citizen in our country.  This year they selected to stay home and play soccer (the 9 year old) or Minecraft  (the 11 year old) rather than join me at the polls, but their education around voting has not gone awry.  In fact my 6th grader followed the presidential debates with me, and he had his own opportunity to vote at his middle school’s mock election.  The results of Beaumont Middle School’s election will be announced tomorrow after the results of the real election are finalized.

This year I volunteered to help man the polls at the mock election and it was exciting to see all 6th-8th graders with smiling faces exercise their right to vote in the mock election.  Many students voted a straight ticket and others scrolled through the list of candidates, carefully making each selection.  It was rewarding to greet a handful of the sixth graders I knew by name, to explain the voting instructions to everyone, and to hand each adolescent a sticker, thanking him/her for voting.

Obviously, since I work for the school system, we are not permitted to promote any particular candidate while on school time or property because the goal is to teach children to make informed and responsible decisions.  Since they are too young to vote in the real election, mock elections are a great way to teach students about their rights and responsibilities.  It’s also another great opportunity to teach them higher order thinking (H.O.T) skills that will help them throughout their lives.  Making a choice about a candidate requires us to think carefully and consider all the evidence for our decisions.
My fourth grader has also been involved this year because he has participated in household discussions about the election and our favorite candidate.   He stopped playing soccer with the neighborhood friend long enough to inquire about where I was going and to ask upon my return if he could see my “I Voted” sticker.  This led to another discussion with my 9 year old and his neighborhood friend about keeping our fingers crossed today for our favorite candidate to win.  Most of all, I can relax knowing I did my part, and I modeled for my children the importance of voting.