November 25, 2014

SOL: Hike Your Own Hike, an #NCTE14 reflection

Everyone has to hike their own hike.

I first heard this phrase when reading Jennifer Pharr Davis' Becoming Odyssa, a memoir of her first through-hike on the Appalachian Trail. If you've not heard it before, the context is simple: go at your own pace, don't compare yourself to others, and do what works for you so that you can make it to the end.

It's become a bit of a private mantra of mine in the nearly five years since first reading her book.

Hike your own hike.

It's permission to live my life according to my own beliefs and guidelines, without feeling less than or guilty because I am not in the same place as those around me.

Gae and some poor mismatched homeless chick...
Combined with my other heartsong, First Do No Harm, I'm often able to ride out storm-tossed waves while people around me are capsizing in miniature anxiety-boats. Not always. Not even with a whole lot of grace. But I'm learning, and that makes me happy.

My Teacher Twin and Co-Ninja!

It's empowering, knowing you're right where you're supposed to be -- that your place on the mountain is equally as important and meaningful as those both above and beneath you, and every traveler that has walked a thousand footsteps more than you or is only just now stepping foot onto their path has no more and no less worth. We're all just hiking along, doing our best as we go.

Best roommates ever! Had so much fun with these two!
These words swirled around my mind repeatedly in the last five days while walking the labyrinthian corridors of the NCTE Conference. It's packed with so many sessions, events, author signings, and get-togethers that attempting to try to do them all could make a person go a little loopy -- especially when factoring in a bunch of roomies all interested in different things. That's why the hiker's mantra is so powerful; do what you need to best sustain your own experience, and give others the space to do so as well.

Alan Sitomer literally changed the way I think about my writing.
I took it easy at this conference. Slept in a couple mornings. Hung out talking to old friends and made some new ones. Went to sessions by authors and gleaned meaningful and sometimes life-changing insights that I may not have experienced had I simply gone to the sessions everyone else was attending. I spent my evenings sightseeing and writing and relaxing. Perhaps for the first time at one of these huge mega-conferences, I felt like I was really experiencing each moment, not rushing and worrying over inconsequential things.

One of my favorite nights at #NCTE14!
When it comes to teaching (and learning), the same outlook holds true. Teaching is an art. Educators need room to find their own style and deserve the opportunity to spend time on professional development that matters to them. After all, how can we empower students to be their best personal self if we aren't given the opportunity to grow into the most enlightened version of our teaching selves? I think that's one reason I love the NCTE conference so much -- while my colleagues are at a session learning about using Shakespeare in the classroom, I am listening to authors discuss the importance of revision, and still others are sitting in round table discussions about how to change the way grammar is taught.

Light is my One Little Word for 2014. I love how it weaves through all I do...
We're all hiking our own hike, every day, and somehow we're doing it together. And I think that makes us all stronger. I'm so thankful to be a part of this vast network of brilliantly different and passionate educators.

See you on the trail, friends.

November 18, 2014

Slice of Life Tuesday: Did You Volunteer For This??

Call me crazy, but I sort of love arriving at school an hour before class begins. Not because I can get so much extra work done in those quiet hours before students are trouncing through every nook and cranny in the building. Nope. I love this extra time because I get to spend it with young writers every day.

NaNoWriMo is in full swing, and for me that means a month-long writing club that meets every morning to write, share, and grow our writing community. This is one of the biggest years for our little community so far -- right at 25 fourth and fifth grade students come to school early every day to work on novels they chose to write.

Honestly, it's pretty amazing. There isn't much that can touch this experience in the awesomeness factor for me for the rest of the school year. Even so, I always get many questions about why I do this. And how.

"Did you volunteer for this??"

"Every day?"

"You show up how early??"

"How do you get them to keep coming back?"

"They just ... write?"

"Wait. So they actually sit down and write?!"

"Wow, I bet you can't wait for November to end!"

The truth is actually simple, and maybe a little bit boring. (Though here is an easy-to-use wikispace we've been testing out this year, heaped with writing tips for the beginning novel writer!)

I don't make this happen. They do.

I invite them, give them a place to hang out, and talk to them about their story ideas. I give them space to do something they love. They show up. They do the work.

We all respect each other's writing. We celebrate every word that goes down on paper; whether it's word one or five thousand. They set their own word goal and write until their little hands cramp up to meet those goals. They write in their spare time. They write at lunch. They write over the weekend.

They do the thing that all writers must do: they write.

Beginning every morning surrounded by these energetic young writers that are having fun and cheering each other on? That's easy.

The hard part is getting used to not having their smiling faces and wondrous words filling up my space each morning when November ends. Thank goodness for December's Revision Club!