Oh what a week! If you have never been, you must stop reading this post right now and find out when applications are accepted for next year’s Writing Institutes at Teacher’s College. Once you’ve marked your calendars, you can come back.
A-MA-ZING. Four days later I’m still trying to digest it all.
The week began with a keynote in the breathtakingly beautiful Riverside Church. I arrived early, on purpose, so I could get a seat up close, and I landed in the third row. Perhaps the best thing about arriving early was having time to take in the majesty of the space. There is something about sitting in churches, especially big, old, historic churches that gives me chills. The other wonderful thing about sitting in the third row was that I found myself directly behind three women I had known only through Twitter and the Two Writing Teachers Slicing community. There were 1300 people in that church, and the three I wanted to meet first were right in front of me. Pretty great start to the week.
Lucy Calkins delivered an inspiring keynote address. I loved her message, but, even more than that, I loved seeing that she was a real person with a palpable and contagious humor, wonder and passion for teaching and learning, reading and writing. It is hard not to want to hone your knowledge and skills when you are in her presence.
Each day I spent two hours in a large group session led by Lucy Calkins. She taught us about narrative writing, informational writing and essays, and so much more. We explored aspects of each genre and learned from her ways to teach more effectively. Each day she shared wisdom and inspiration.
Here are a few of my favorites:
“Writers don’t live more significant lives than non writers. Writers are just more in the habit of building significance from their lives.”
“Great teachers call kids out of hiding and the class becomes full of idiosyncratic individuals.”
“Bring your life theme, bring your voice, bring your spirit to this work.”
“The teaching of writing has the capacity to teach us how to author significance not just on the page, but in our classrooms, in our schools, in our lives.”
On the first day she laid out her “Bill of Rights,” which included time for teaching and writing every day in classrooms, volume-setting expectations and creating opportunities for students to write a lot and become fluent, instruction and investment.
I also attended daily sessions for administrators and coaches, led by Laurie Pessah. “Writers live with wide awake eyes,” she said. I tried to live with wide awake eyes every moment I was in her presence. “Feedback,” she said, “is the single most important ting we can do with teachers to enhance instruction.” We learned so much about what to look for and how to give feedback.
There were additional sessions each day and I was lucky to attend some great ones- on non fiction mentor texts, on writing toolkits and routines in the workshop.
And there were amazing keynote addresses each afternoon. Jack Gantos wowed us with his enthusiasm and humor and showed us how drawing and sketching help writers find their stories. Charles Fishman reminded us that asking silly questions often leads us to stories. And Michael Fullan talked about how to improve effectiveness and helped us to understand that change needs to come from within the community, that top down mandates don’t work.
It was an extraordinary week of learning and connecting and writing and reading. I hope I am lucky enough to go again.