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Every week Holly posts a theme on Twitter for our #spiritualjourney posts. Every week it seems to be the most appropriate theme. This week is gratitude. I am posting my acceptance speech for the Donald H. Graves Award. I will give this speech this afternoon at the NCTE Elementary Section Get Together. Reading it aloud makes me cry. I am praying I will be able to get through it without croaking up.
Emily snuck our class lemur, Jack, into my bag. He is helping me write my speech.
Thank you, Detra Price-Dennis, and the Elementary Section Steering Committee for this honor. I am overwhelmed and humbled. Writing drives my work with students and my interactions with the world.
Kate DiCamillo, our National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and one of my favorite children’s authors, says that stories connect us. “When we learn someone else’s story, it shifts the fabric of our being. We are more open. And when we are open, we connect.”
My One Little Word for 2014 is Open, so when I saw the call for submissions to the Donald H. Graves Award, I thought, never in a million years, and why not?
I was encouraged when I saw that Julie Johnson was the 2010 winner. I know her! I read her blog! That is how I have connected to so many wonderful authors and educators. These connections, their stories, have given me courage to be open to new adventures. My fellow blogging teachers have also given me confidence in my own voice through their comments. My small world has grown.
These wider connections have not only enriched my life, but they have affected my students’ lives. Earlier this fall, my 4th grader Emily lost her mother. This should not happen to anyone, let alone to a nine-year-old girl. Of course, I wrote about this profound experience on my blog. Amy Ludwig Vanderwater read it and wrote a poem for Emily. She didn’t say that the poem was for Emily but I knew that she had read my blog.
Amy became that someone for Emily. When Emily wrote a poem about clouds, she made an Animoto video, so I said to her, “Would you like to dedicate this poem to someone?” Her eyes lowered. I know she thought I meant her mother. But when I said, “Amy Vanderwater,” her eyes danced. We tweeted the poem-movie to Amy. For Poetry Friday the next week, Amy posted it on her blog along with some writing tips from my 4th grader. These connections, these stories, strengthen us when we need it most. Emily feels like a real poet. She will always have that gift, and Amy recognized her and honored her.
I began this journey when I attended the summer institute of the National Writing Project of Acadiana. There, Ann Dobie, director at the time and an important mentor ever since, introduced me to the work of Donald Graves. His philosophy that a teacher of writing must be a writer has entered my heart and soul.
I am grateful to the National Writing Project for supporting my desire to be a writer. I am grateful to the works of mentors like Ralph Fletcher and Aimee Buckner. I am grateful to the Two Writing Teachers, all 6 of them, who support the Slice of Life challenge and hold each teacher/writer in their gentle and wise hands. My family and my colleagues back home in New Iberia give me love, confidence, and the freedom to write and teach in way I believe is right and true.
Our stories connect us and make us partners on this journey of life. I encourage you to be Open, open to the lives of your students and to the lives of others. Write your life and, as Amy Vanderwater reminds us, Be the someone.
My view of the National Harbor from my hotel room at NCTE. What a beautiful day!