The first thing I wrote in my complimentary Hilton notepad with my complimentary Hilton pen was “*savor being the least experienced in the room LEARN from everyone around you.” Choosing the pre-seminar session with Carol Jago was a no-brainer when registering for the summit. Carol had presented a professional learning seminar two summers ago for Brevard Public School literacy coaches and teachers. I saw a seat near the front and got settled. The educators that I sat down with introduced themselves and where they were from. Southeast High School in Manatee County. It had just so happened that my Heritage High School TSA Chapter competed in the state competition with Southeast High School, a convenient ice breaker in a room of expert educators. Carol’s enthusiasm for reading provided a backdrop to an engaging evaluation of vocabulary instruction. I felt a tap on my shoulder during a table talk and was promptly asked to share my idea with the rest of the room. When the speaker asks you to share, it is hard not to feel enthused enough to put on the teacher voice and take a chance. A page of scattered bullet points, two-pages of book recommendations, and a completely refocused strategy for effective vocabulary instruction later I made my way to lunch. Shout-out to the Hilton for providing a delectable spread each day of the summit. I met up with Lisa Davis and found my seat in the ballroom.
Bill Weiler got the summit started and was followed by Noelle Morris. After a short reading of The SunCatcher, Noelle led us through an inspiring welcoming activity. While reflecting on the Owls and Wrens of our professional learning network, we set goals for the next few days and introduced ourselves to our colleagues. David Bain and Connie Harmon explained a refocused lens on the data behind teaching a diverse range of reading levels in the same classroom. Interactive charts asked us to assess our schools’ data and to decide if there was a more effective process to raise student achievement for each student in the classroom.
Having read Reading Nonfiction, Kylene Beers’ and Robert Probst’s names caught my eye when previously reviewing the agenda for the summit. Neither speaker disappointed. Kylene instilled a growth mindset with her reflections on engaging students, “You cannot improve competence without improving confidence.” Bob recounted the learning environment he and Kylene created to promote students conversation between each other and not the teacher. By using the “3 Big Questions,” students engaged in meaningful peer-to-peer conversations. Video displayed a group of five students reflecting on author’s purpose and diction. These three questions allowed students to convey an analysis and evaluation of the text by making genuine connections between the text and their understanding of the world.
After soaking up the experience surrounding me on the first day, I was ready to make an impression on the second. The day began with Rose Else-Mitchell. Rose challenged us to ensure the development of significant learning environments by leveraging technology to implement the best possible instructional practices. To inspire and create a culture powered by the growth mindset, leaders must model by starting with the end in mind and making choices that support those that the choices affect.
Noelle Morris provided a personal reflection on her story and reminded us the power of recounting our past in order to stay connected to our “Why?” Noelle asked us to think back to our first memories in the classroom and pair a song to them. Newly married, Chance the Rapper’s All We Got came immediately to the front of my mind. While Chance may have been exclaiming his desire to give music everything he has, as an educator I have brought my best to my field day in and out with the same priority put on the education of America’s youth. In the word’s of one of Chicago’s most empowering sons, “This is all we got. Isn’t it all we got. So we might as well give it all we got.” It was a most excellent surprise to learn that Noelle was not only familiar with one of my favorite artists, but she was also a fan.
Anthony Colannino’s interactive session focused on developing a deeper understanding of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset. The audience was asked to dedicate their conceptual understanding of learning to include the stance that all humans have the ability to develop intelligence and abilities. Anthony closed his session with a numbers race that demonstrated the affect of preparing students with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.
My chance had become a shining gold paper plane in front of my eyes. Mike Dey coached us through effective strategies in communication and leadership. To emphasize these strategies and the growth mindset, Mike continued the summit’s “chance” motif. What Do You Do With a Chance? reminded the audience of the power educators have in providing chances to those in our professional and personal lives alike. Feeling empowered, the audience took a guided tour through Writable from Monica Graham.
Monica paired her demonstration with a live-pilot of the program in which the educators in the room developed a piece of writing and reviewed each other’s work. The audience took advantage of the opportunity to move through the platform as students would in order to gauge whether it would be a student-friendly tool. My chance became a reality when I was asked to provide testimony to the product within the breakout session. Furthermore, my chance developed into an interview with Monica that was posted via multiple social media accounts.
The last session of the summit was also the most anticipated. Earlier in the school year, I had the opportunity to “Say Yes!” to 2015 Newbery Award Winning author Kwame Alexander. A second opportunity to hear the uplifting messages and anecdotes from Kwame while his friend Randy Preston accompanied him with his guitar and voice was a chance that must be taken. Kwame rekindled the love for words and their power to change lives. He shared steps in his process to become the human that stood in front of us exclaiming the importance of truly believing in the mantra “Change the world, one word at time.”
As I exchanged farewells and thanks for chances and opportunities that had been provided to me at the summit, the growth in my professional learning network was confirmed. The people that I had met provided me an outlet for advice, encouragement, and reflection. Aside from the books that I acquired and strategies learned (both incredibly important to my professional development), my teaching philosophy and approach to teaching were confirmed by a group of the most credible and qualified educators in the country. I look forward to the continual growth of my classroom and my career as I strive to be a literacy hero.