Sunday, December 1, 2013

#CEL13: Connections

I couldn't afford the cost of attending the entire NCTE conference this year in Boston, but I was able to attend and present at the Conference on English Leadership, an intimate conference tied to the main NCTE event that was held November 24-26.

The 2013 CEL convention focused on the theme of Transformative Literary Leadership and Learning, and my session was STOP BLEEDING RED INK: Using Paper and Online tools to assist in evaluating student work. I'm very passionate about changing the perception of English teachers as red pen wielding warriors. English teachers should not be lugging home piles of papers to red pen and spending 20+ hours outside of school grading student work. Available technology AND teaching strategies can empower students to create better products better than any red mark on a paper. I'm very grateful to Heather Rocco and the CEL leadership for the opportunity to share my thoughts how on to transform literacy learning in the classroom with people who can effect change in their districts.

Celebrity Sightings & Twitter

Twitter has become such an integrated part of my professional learning. Sharing resources, working out issues, and conversing on Twitter with like minded individuals has propelled my teaching practices.  On more than one occasion, I was called "prolific" in reference to my tweeting habits during the conference-- if they only knew. One of the highlights for connecting via Twitter is being able to meet tweeps in person, face to face. 

There were quite a few people at the conference who I did not recognize until they mentioned their Twitter handle.  One such moment occurred with Colette Benett:  it wasn't until I saw her Twitter handle @teachcmb56 that I realized I follow her on Twitter and regularly read her blog. "OH! You're Used Books in Class! I love your blog!"  was my immediate response when I connected with her and fellow teacher Stephanie Pixley during #CEL's social hour.  Nothing beats discussing Odysseus, Frankenstein, and Pygmalion over a class of Cabernet. 

Colette made an interesting point in one of the sessions (please forgive my paraphrasing): Teachers are always doing dress rehearsals; we are never actually performing a final show. Every period we teach is just a dress rehearsal at best, and if we are lucky to teach the same prep, we can perform it multiple times with the 3rd showing probably the most successful. I think she is right! I wonder, how can teachers be on stage for a final performance? Evaluating teachers' performances via the Danielson model isn't the answer. I also wonder, why do teachers need to be on stage? Why not let the students "steal the show"? Let the teacher be the stage director or set designer-- more thoughts on this for another blog post.

Another moment was during the lunch keynote session, where I sat at a table with fellow educators Meenoo Rami, Amy Baskin, Kate Roberts, Maggie Roberts, Chris Lehman, and others: catching sight of @teachkate written on a name badge, I exclaimed, "OH! YOU'RE @TEACHKATE! I follow you! I'm @KtBkr4!" Once our Twitter handles were shared, we realized that we already "knew" each other. 

#CEL's keynote line-up was jammed packed with Twitter-celebs, amazing educators who cut the edge. Eric Sheninger touted the importance of being connected in his conference opening keynote. Troy Hick's keynote on digital writing resonated with me for it focused on what I am trying to do with my students: get them writing more and for an authentic audience. I carted around my copy of Hick's Crafting Digital Writing hoping to catch an autograph.  Donalyn Miller's keynote on fostering life-long readers was funny, smart, engaging. Meenoo Rami's keynote on connecting with her students and empowering their learning through relevant projects. I want to be in class with all of these people!

One of many highlights for the conference was sitting with Meenoo Rami, Kate Roberts, Maggie Roberts, and Chris Lehman during lunch and unintentionally twitter-bombing Donalyn Miller's keynote. We realized rather quickly that the noise we heard emanating from the podium was her phone vibrating every time she received a tweet. We couldn't stop tweeting because her speech was relevant and inspiring, and needed to be shared.

One session really got me thinking about writing instruction. Erika Bogdany's Breaking Down Walls: how to break down the walls of a classroom for inclusive learning among staff and students.  By changing the mindset and having staff model independent reading and participate in an Educator's Editing Workshop, student accountability, connections, and performance are increased.

The Educator's Editing Workshop is simple: invite other staff members from other subject areas to sit with students and conference about their writing.  Amazing concept. Erika is to be commended on her ability to pull this off. She really got me thinking about how I could bring this to my school.

If you've read my other blog posts about grading writing, I harp on this issue: writing is never finished.  Erika made this point in session.

So why do we mislead students by labeling it as "final"?

Another highlight was bumping into Penny Kittle and getting her to follow me on Twitter. 

I have some reading to do: I picked up copies of Penny Kittle's Book Love, Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and Reading in the Wild.  While I have had a hand in crafting the curriculum, I'd like to see what else I can do with my students besides whole novel instruction for reading. While I didn't grab it YET, I'm also enamored with Chris Lehman and Kate and Maggie Roberts' concept of Falling in Love with Close Reading. Their session got me thinking about how much close reading I do with my students (A LOT). Really, we don't need to close read everything in class. It does take up a lot of time and I can always sense the moments when my students have had enough. So putting Kittle's and Miller's ideas into practice with this notion of selective close reading, I wonder how I can restructure my class so that reading is more student centered and authentic.

Really, CEL could be renamed Connecting English Leaders because this conference was more than just sharing ideas about the future of ELA in schools or sharing progressive projects in conference session.  This conference promotes collaboration and connections. I have so much more to process and write about this conference-- probably another 10 blog posts, but to sum it up for now, take a look at these two tweets:

To see ALL of the tweets from #CEL13 search Twitter or try drinking from this firehose of a stream.


  1. I kept finding myself wanting to "like" and "favor" things you said in this post (darn social media!)- so many excellent ideas! One big take away for me from your post is the tweet about changing the language we use. It's amazing how one simple thing can seem so huge! "Best Draft (for now)" rather than "Final Draft"? Yes! It feels like such an aha moment for me! Thank you for sharing- wish I could have been there!

  2. Kate,

    First, what a pleasure meeting you at CEL13! Second, the work you and your colleagues are doing in NJ with therapy dogs is incredible. What an amazing movement to help turn around a school in crisis! Third, you chronicled CEL13 fantastically. The highlights, insights, and feedback is so beneficial.

    I'm looking forward to continually connecting!