A breakfast conversation in the lobby of the Hilton in Atlanta for the NCTE 2016 conference, Collette turns to me and points her finger saying, “Words matter!”
We talked about this a lot. Words and their importance was in the theme of every presentation I attended. What we say, what we write, how we express ourselves and how we lead our students to express themselves matters.
The first gathering I attended on Thursday afternoon featured the work of Thomas Newkirk. Friends and colleagues gathered to share how Tom’s words had influenced the ongoing work of writers like Penny Kittle, Jeff Wilhelm, and Ellin Keene. Jeff Wilhelm shared this Marge Percy poem, “To Be of Use.” I wondered, “Am I of use?”
Our theories are disguised autobiographies often rooted in childhood. –Tom Newkirk
Penny Kittle repeated this quote like a mantra, 3 times. Long enough for me to write it down. Long enough for me to contemplate what that means for me and for my students. This idea leads us to empathy. How can we not be empathetic if we consider everyone’s theories come from their roots? We must respect the roots to offer ourselves and our students wings.
This theme of empathy and the value of words continued on Friday morning at the Heinemann breakfast honoring the work of Don Graves. Katherine Bomer reminded us that kids want to write.
Writing is the way children’s voices come into power, reminding us that we are all human.–Katherine Bomer
Following all of the amazing, articulate speakers, we were asked to create our own credo. Here’s mine:
Student voices are precious, like a tiny fragile egg. I must crack it open without destroying the life inside. –Margaret Simon
NCTE is a powerful, inspirational gathering of gentle, generous, kind and brave teachers and authors. We know that words matter, but hearing the message in this atmosphere ingrains it into our hearts, and we are empowered to move forward.