As NCTE President Sandy Hayes said at the very beginning of the convention, this entire weekend would feel like Christmas: so long in the making, with the magic lasting only a moment.
Still, what a moment it was, and continues to be, as the many conversations I had this weekend still resonate with me. Natalie Merchant opening the conference, for one, still echoes.
Identifying a key theme is always a difficult task, yet if I had to zero in on just one, it would be this: mentorship. The power of mentors in small moments — and across generations of teachers — continues to amaze, it keeps me connected to the profession of teaching and thinking about how best to empower students.
There are the mentors who guide me mostly through the books and articles that they write, and with whom I was able to share a few moments to describe my appreciation: Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, and Linda Christensen were three in particular that I hadn’t met before and I was able to spend a few moment with each. Others, like Barry Lane, Jim Burke, Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, Richard Kent, and Jeff Wilhelm have invited me into this profession as a fellow author, friend, and colleague.
And, now, I am beginning to have more opportunities to interact with my contemporaries, all of whom mentor me in different ways. Fellow authors and English Educators like Rob Rozema, Allen Webb, Cathy Fleischer, Bill Tucker, Elaine Hunyadi, Lindsay Ellis, Sara Kajder, Jory Brass, Jim Fredricksen, Leah Zuidema, Janet Swenson, Carl Young, Sam Caughlin, Anne Ruggles Gere, David Kirkland and Ken Lindbloom have all provided me with opportunities to collaborate and learn from them. Kristen Turner and I were honored with a grant from CEE, and we continue our collaborations around digital writing and teacher education. Friends and colleagues who defy categorization because they touch so many parts of my professional life were all here, too: Jennifer Collison (and Jim,too!), Paul Oh, Paul Allison, Chris Sloan, April Niemela, Bud Hunt, and Kevin Cordi.
Yet, most importantly, I appreciate the opportunities that I have had to mentor others, especially through my work with the National Writing Project. Seven teachers from my site were on the program at the NCTE annual convention: Erin Busch-Grabmeyer, Jeremy Hyler, Beth Nelson, Penny Lew, Andy Schoenborn, Kathy Kurtze, and Amanda Smoker. More colleagues than I can count from broader NWP circles were on the program, too, and one of them, Dawn Reed, has now been invited to be a Co-Director of the Red Cedar Writing Project, a role I once proudly held and shared with colleagues like Mitch Nobis, Renee Webster, and Toby Kahn-Loftus. I met people who I first knew through twitter — like Meenoo Rami, Cindy Minnich, and Chad Sansing — and others who I will now know better through twitter. Also, I was fortunate enough to meet with a number of doctoral students, especially from Fordham and Liz Homan from U of M.
I have now been to a decade of consecutive NCTE conventions, as well a trip to Detroit for the 1996 convention. Over those ten years, I have been able to go from being a face in the crowd to, I hope, a face who welcomes others to the crowd. All of my sessions were fun, but in particular I enjoy the hour at the “tech to go” kiosk and my CEE round table discussion, interacting with just a small handful of colleagues over the course of an hour. These small moments where we have time to dig deep into a number of ideas that will, I hope, help us all improve teaching, learning, and assessment.
As I do each year, I head back to campus to work with pre-service teachers, fresh with ideas, knowing that all of these mentors and mentees, colleagues and friends will come with me. I try to describe the power of these professional networks to my students, but even in writing this post I know how futile a task this really is. Handshakes, hugs, and smiles are the best way to see what I mean, and these are way to hard to capture writing, or even in pictures, as these are fleeting moments.
The real mentoring happens during the other 360 days of the year, when we exchange emails and tweets, create new projects, write about the ones we are doing, and prepare to enter our classrooms again. And, I am sure that I have inadvertently left off many other names of colleagues with whom I met this weekend — as well as those who I didn’t even get to catch up with, like Kevin Hodgson and Antero Garcia — and for that I apologize.
I wish you all well as you step back into your classrooms and enjoy Thanksgiving with your families. I continue to be thankful for the mentoring you have provided me, and the mentoring you allow me to provide you.
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