Yesterday morning, I gave the opening keynote address at Alabama’s Red Mountain Writing Project. My topic was writing, technology and the Common Core, but really it was about paying attention to and celebrating the many multiple literacies in the lives of our students, in all of its myriad forms (with an emphasis on the ways that technology is transforming our definition of writing). I told stories of some students, trying to craft a narrative of learning and observations. I had plenty of great conversations afterwards, touching on topics such as the digital divide, access issues, finding meaningful ways to use technology for learning, and stories of successful and not-so-successful projects. I gave encouragement and resources. I commiserated at times. You never know when that one idea, or that one little chat, might help help a colleague transform a classroom experience.
But I really want to write this slice of life about the ending keynote, by novelist Sharon Draper. Her conversation, which is what it was more than a keynote, was inspiring in the many, many ways. She reminded us not to pigeonhole kids as learners, and to understand the whole child (inside and outside of school), and to put the right book in the right hands at the right time. She even shared a touching digital story, with images of students off all abilities and all races, put to the voice of Louie Armstrong. Draper was funny, candid, heart-wrenching at times, and very engaging. She is a very natural storyteller. (Plus, she gave away free books at the end of her talk)
Draper ended the conference, and her talk, by having the entire room hold hands with each other, and then we repeated an uplifting pledge as teachers to celebrate our students and to nurture them from whatever place they come from, and not to undervalue them as learners. We pledged to be supportive, and help each other, too, as fellow teachers. I’m not from Birmingham and my chances of crossing paths with most of these teachers seems slim (other than the few I know through my National Writing Project connections), but I felt a powerful emotional connection to that hall filled with other teachers in that moment. It was like a prayer meeting, without the religion. Our voices in unison, and our hands clasped together, united us in a wonderful way that focused our attention on our very important roles in the lives of young people.
Thank you, Sharon, for reminding us of what matters in our classroom.
Peace (in the connection),