#ncte 13. I planned for it, looked forward to it, experienced it, and now I have a notebook filled with memories of it. And what a wonderful experience this conference was: inspiring, exhausting, illuminating, and deeply moving in two particular experiences.
First, it was moving to meet Linda Baie at long last, and to discover that she was exactly as I’d imagined: lovely to be with, a person of deep integrity and intelligence, a delightful conference partner…and the perfect roommate. Every once in a while in this life we live, we run into someone we feel we feel we have always known and we feel lucky to know – and I feel lucky to know Linda:
Then, early on Friday morning, I found myself in a room full of my teaching heroes at the Don Graves Legacy Breakfast (thank you for inviting me along, Linda!).
To my right were Nancie Atwell and Lucy Calkins, to my left were Linda Rief and Georgia Heard, and right in front – Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk. We were there to celebrate Don Graves’ work, to reflect upon the impact he has had on our profession, to marvel at the vision and enthusiasm with which he pursued the idea that children had stories to tell, and we (their teachers) needed to help them find their voices.
As we waited for the speeches to get underway, I took in the scene carefully, not wanting to miss anything. Everywhere, teachers and teacher-writers greeted each other warmly. There was such a sense of community and collegiality in the air; it could be heard in the laughter and the conversation, it could be felt in the hugs. How lucky I am, thought, to be a part of this community.
Tom Newkirk began the program with the story behind this book:
…a story of perseverance, detective work, and love. And that set the tone for the reminiscences that followed from Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, Mary Ellen Giacobbe, and then Lucy Calkins. All of these stories wove together the narrative of writing workshop: how it began, what it looked like at the beginning, the hard work and imagination it took to grow the ideas into what we know today as “writing workshop.” As I watched clips from the old tapes, I could see and hear the beginnings of workshop talk and process.
Mary Ellen, after one early writing conference that seemed to go on forever, said, “I didn’t say anything…I didn’t know what to say!” Later, she spoke of how Don’s research team worked to craft methods and vocabulary designed to observe, describe, name…and how the idea of the mini lesson came to be. It was absolutely fascinating to learn of these first steps in a process of teaching that seems so fully formed, so fully realized, in our teaching lives these days.
Lucy closed as only Lucy could: she spoke as a friend, an educator, a fellow trail blazer . She spoke of writing as “a way to put yourself on the page” and “to think of time with our kids as listening .” ( In one clip, we hear the remarkable way Lucy could listen and wait – a model of patience and great-teacher instinct.) “Teaching is leaning in to hear the voice of children,” she concluded, “teaching is a love story.”
Finally, Tom opened the floor to other voices: who had a story to share? who had an observation to make about the impact of Don Graves on their own teaching lives? And among those who did, was Stephanie Harvey. She described being at one of her very first Don Graves workshops, taking copious notes, hanging on every word. When the workshop ended, Stephanie described (in her inimitably humorous way) how Don began making his way towards her. The nearer he got, the more nervous she became. Until he was right there, saying, “you’d be my first round draft pick for an audience every time.” His kind words, Stephanie said, stuck – we need to make each one of our kids “first round draft picks,” too.
I lingered a bit in gathering my belongings and heading out to my first workshop. Every day I teach, every lesson I plan, is built on the work of so many of the visionary educators present in that room. I arrived in Boston beset by SGO’s and CCSS directives, testing and more testing, new evaluations and new permutations on old evaluations. But being in that room, surrounded by those teaching greats, I was reminded why I became a teacher in the first place, and why I still wake up every morning glad to be doing the work I do.
Lucy and Don are right, teaching is a love story.