Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Need for Retreat

The Annual meetings of the NCTE and NWP (National Council of Teachers of English and National Writing Project) were held last weekend at Disney World in Orlando.
Every year I wonder at the numbers who flock to these meetings and, as I pack my bags, why we must gather face to face in this age of web 2.0 forums and other platforms for connectivity.
And then I go and am reminded.
Like any profession, these meetings are important for the intense exchange of ideas and the re-cementing of personal relationships.  It is easy to forget that there are many like-minded people who remember what the work is and why it needs to be done when we a mired in the day-to-day of public schooling.
The digital world cannot adequately replace the energy of over a thousand people writing their thoughts in a ballroom of the Contemporary Resort, as we do annually at the general meeting of NWP. It's the same cognitive hum from the classroom, amplified.
No ning can replicate intensity of a discussion on microagression in perhaps the most culturally diverse room I've ever been in. We explored race in the classroom and the need to engage our students in a discussion of their experiences and how they shape their perceptions and sense of self.  It was an energizing and difficult discussion for the adults.
Donalyn Miller was the keynote speaker at NWP and the perfect spokesperson for a room of writing teachers.  A classroom teacher with a sucessful book, The Book Whisperer - one I've shared with many colleagues - she touched us all with her surprising confession of how much she "hates to write." She hit all the right notes for classroom teachers and, best of all, showed us the faces and personalities of the sixth graders she teaches.  She credits the NWP, which she only found in 2007, for making her into the writer/teacher she is today.
But more than the programs, the human connection proves to be the most valuable.  As the kids say, it's great to know that somebody "has your back" when it comes to explaining the importance of pedagogical decisions that are proven remedies to motivation, memory, and depth of understanding.  And the ones who make the trek, each represent at least another hundred who could not.
Though the meetings are often hard to get to (finding funding, sacrificing time away from students, family holidays looming) they are an important links in the growth of educators who are first and foremost in the learning profession.
I always feel like my brain has been put through a "re-boot."

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