Monday, November 20, 2017

The Scholarship of Emotion - Sometimes They Can't Be Quantified or Qualified @NCTE

My mother makes a newborn 
with tears and pain, 
I wish it could be painless. 
I wish I didn’t cry 
when I came into the world, 
I wish the world would know the reason, 
the newborn comes with tears.
I wish sad people would not lament; 
Happiness would wrap their heart, 
repair their broken pieces. 
I wish equality and justice would be for all, 
Then every man would know that we are created in parallel.
I wish there were no poor nor wealthy,
 no worker nor boss, 
Then we could all possess the same. 
I wish one religion would run the world, 
And all people would pass in one way. 
I wish we had one single day of death 
and noone would miss his lover
I make a wish, 
My wish should touch only the ones it concerns, 
I wish only you and I would heal the world. 
I wish we should be wise and worldly, 
That no one could be wounded. 

@akbar 
In the Summer of 2016, something special happened at CWP-Fairfield and we all knew it. The magic happened, we achieved our goals, but we never got back together to reflect on it. It wasn't until preparing for the 2017 NCTE conference in St. Louis that I realized that what we did on our campus was somewhat miraculous. For two weeks, 15 teachers and 24 immigrant and refugee youth wrote together in collaboration with the Fairfield University Art Museum and artist Rick Shaefer. With knowledge that his charcoal tryptic was premiering on our campus, we had much smaller replicas made and, together, began to deconstruct his artistry to make sense of the global refugee crisis, relocation, and the human struggle. From the art work, a reading of Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave and Lopez Lomong's Running for My Life, and the music of Emmanuel Jal, we discussed scars, war, poverty, migration, immigration, democracy and the hope for peace. Each student and every teacher wrote in response to his art work and, as a culmination, we recorded our stories into podcasts to be heard as visitors saw Shaefer's work.

That was way over a year ago, but in preparation for the NCTE conference, we resurrected our collaboration. We presented on Saturday morning as a team with a tremendous audience of devoted, interested, passionate, and motivated educators.

I didn't plan for the tears to come when a male participant, Rich, read Akbar's poem and, with genuine emotion, began to cry as a result. I knew that I wanted to go from the reading to the music of Frederick Johnson who turned the young poet's words into song. What I didn't know was that the song was going to spark emotion in the rest of us, especially with images of the collaboration, writing, artwork, and work with Ubuntu Academy (CWP-Fairfield's Young Adult Literacy Lab for immigrant and refugee youth). Some of the members in the project were also in the montage set to the song. When it ended with an Ubuntu circle I got choked up. I later wrote Yolanda Sealy-Ruis (who is all about love) and said, "Well, I just had my first emotional outpouring during a presentation. The literacy of tears."


That is the work that matters. To get control of myself, I simply turned to anger. I shouldn't be emotional, I admitted. I need to get political (it was my attempt to introduce the rap song written by teacher extraordinaire Dave Wooley from Westhill High School). It was an awkward transition because, well, Dave was emotional, too...and his verse was written with heart and fight.


The entire presentation was unlike any I've ever done before because of the heart and soul that went into the work, a collaboration of youth, teachers, artists, museums, CWP-Fairfield, literacy research, performance, and the investment we are making to summer immigrant and refugee-background youth. Rick Shaefer's artistry beget the artistry of us all..

Later, presenting in another session on POW! The Power of Words! I looked through our yearly publication and noticed numerous examples of writing that resulted from the collaboration. It touched us all, and sharing this with educators from across the United States helped me to realize how important this work was.

I did cry. I will cry again. It's too amazing not to.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Okay @NCTE in St. Louis '17, Thank You. It Couldn't Have Culminated Any Better Than It Did

This is an English teacher story.

23 years ago, I packed up a Toyota Tercel, my books and my dreams, and I moved to Kentucky to earn a Masters Degree in teaching in a state renowned for writing portfolios and educational reform. Almost as soon as I arrived, I met Sue McV, my Louisville mom and mentor, who allowed me to student teach with her and who took me under her wings not only for a year in her classroom care, but for my life and adventures ever since.

I always say that everything I've ever needed to learn about teaching came from Sue. This is true, but so many have been added to the wisdom mixture ever since, including Dee Hawkins, a stellar educator who taught at Central High School (where Cassius Clay attended) and was the first teacher to model the importance of getting political.

They were Louisville Writing Project people. They were Kentucky. They were best practices. They were NCTE. They were pro-literacy, pro-students, pro-democracy, and pro-community.

Fast forward. Sue still lives in Louisville, but Dee retired (sort of, she's volunteering with St. Louis's homeless community) and I knew a trip could not occur without seeing her. When I received a text from Sue to say she was driving 4 hours to take me to dinner, I couldn't resist. I was lucky, too, to bring some of my Connecticut Writing Project crew along with me. I said, "Sue and Dee, meet some of your grandchildren."

Yesterday was a whirlwind of presentations and I am beyond proud of the teachers who shared the work we do in Connecticut. They were amazing (sadly, Shaun, Kristin, Kim and Dave couldn't attend). Still, we were able to share teaching stories, visions, and the hard work (and passion) it takes to work in American schools.

Sue, Dee, & Me (my wings)
Sadly, my flight to return home was scheduled for very early this morning, so the evening had to be cut short. I realize though - - beyond the presentations, beyond the handouts, beyond the networking, and beyond the planning for more work to come - - the foundation that Sue and Dee made for me is irreplaceable. They are the best of Louisville, the Queens of English teaching, and amazing individuals. I couldn't be happier that I had a brief moment in time to meet with these Divas once again...I just wished that every teacher across the U.S. could be guided and mentored by these two.

NCTE, you were inspiration once again. I am, because we are. It is Ubuntu and I look forward to next year when we come forth with more of the magic. Now it is time to rest.

But I'm recharged, because I had dinner with the best.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Feeling Accomplished. I Met @ElloEllenOh (Sat Next To Her Actually For Dinner). Woot Woot.

Disclaimer: Back to back to back presentations make my brain a little wonky. As a result, I can't write like I normally do. My mind is racing, my heart is full, and I am a lucky son of a Butch (true story).

With that noted, last night I had the honor to sit next to Ellen Oh, editor of Flying Lessons and Other Stories from the We Need Diverse Books movement. There's more to the story to come, but I just wanted to acknowledge this fact here: I was able to be in her gracious, brilliant, creative, and forward-thinking presence when I was seated directly next to her at last nights Penguin Random House dinner (so delicious...such wonderful company).

I wanted to talk about tomorrow, and all the potential possibilities of more diverse books, but instead, I talked about how incredible her edited collection of short stories has been from CWP-Fairfield. This summer, 4 stellar educators worked with 26 amazing, diverse kids to discuss the short stories in this collection. Project Citizen: Flying Lessons From the Prose was our two-week National Writing Project Institute and we are all better because of it. The kids went solo in their writing, but also produced amazing, collaborative work. The two weeks was packed, and we're still processing how incredible the experience was.

So, I am writing this brief post (because I'm exhausted) simply as a marker of a much overdue larger post that will detail what we accomplished. This morning, however, I'm just in awe I got to meet the writer and change-agent, but even more astounded that someone chose to sit me next to her at a dinner (what were they thinking?).

There's more to come. I am too tired to write, but there's so much to celebrate. For now, a photo will suffice. If this was Ellen Oh's blog, she might have written, Ellen Uh-Oh, they placed me by Crandall.
Ha! Here's to friendship, collaboration, and dreams!


Friday, November 17, 2017

Goodbye #NWPAM17. Hello #NCTE17. I'm Fried, but Ready for Another Day. We got This!

When There's too Much to Process, so You post your #NWPAM17 response to, "Can we?"

It’s not a matter of if we can 
(it’s important to like the Green eggs and ham),
It’s more a matter of being human,
embracing Ubuntu, I am! I am! 
Because of you and all that you do,
it’s we, us, togetherness true.

Can we do it? Of course we can! 
Every child, elder, man & woman,
It’s the why, the how, the where, what and when,

making sure that NWP hits 50, & also expands
to assure another generation of doers, of thinkers, of makers and writers,
of dreamers, change-agents, poets, and fighters.

It’s not a matter of if we can 
(it’s important to like the Green eggs and ham)
It’s more a matter of being human, 

embracing Ubuntu! I am! WE CAN!

Time to go present a few sessions. Wish I had more to write, but there's only so much time in a day. Phew! This if fun, but exhausting.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Arrived. Settled In. Ready To Go for #NWPAM17 and #NCTE17. Top Floor. Great View. Bring It

This is the view from the window (still don't know what the smoke is from in the distance, but there was definitely a major fire in St. Louis. We saw it from the sky and ground upon arriving). So far, all my companions have made it safe, and today we are heading to the National Writing Project Annual Meeting to discuss our National Park Service collaboration with Weir Farm and our Project Citizen work with the SEED Summer Camp grant.

These educators are spectacular. You need to talk with them and see what they've accomplished.

St. Louis is definitely midwest. Being in the northeast the last 11 years has me forgetting the pace of these parts: the laid back nature, the limited attention to the needs of customers (at the airport waiting for a pre-paid shuttle, in line to get luggage where the suitcases come sporadically, waiting for someone to wait on you to check into a hotel, having a waiter realize you're sitting and ready to order). I definitely have relearned the fast pace these last few years, the on the spot action of the northeast, and I have to admit, my patience is not what it used to be. There's things to be done...work to be accomplished...fires to be put out.

I'll keep my post light today as I'm fried, I need to go, and I can't keep up with all the stimulation. I had great seat partners on the planes and I definitely want to write about them. Also, LOVE the hotel's gym...will definitely visit that again today.

And we're off. Here it all begins!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

And He's Off to @WritingProject and @NCTE '17. Leaving On a Jet Plane

I have my one pager. I have my downloaded apps. The teachers presenting with me in varying capacities have their flights and hotel rooms. I taught back-to-back graduate classes last night after a day of several meetings, and I packed my bags last night. There are several meals cooked and ready in the refrigerator for the dog sitters.

The house was cleaned on Monday night (I hate coming home to a house that I haven't tended before leaving, including an emptied dishwasher, laundry caught up and folded, clean linens on the bed, and a letter written with emergency numbers).

And I'm heading to one of my favorite events of the year to be reunited with so many in my literacy family who have guided my path, success, curiosities, and pursuits. Yes, CWP-Fairfield will be represented in a number of conference sessions, but the real joy comes from the hugs and high-fives of literacy colleagues across the nation.

Of course, I didn't make my dinner last night until 10 p.m. and I pulled together four alarm clocks to get me up in time to catch my flight. It's been a long while since I've been in St. Louis and although the weather looks groggy gray, wet, and rather cool, it could always be worse (we're insight most of the time anyway).

Whatever I've forgotten will be missed, but I tried my best to be on top of my game. Glamis knows I'm going. Even though I packed a day earlier than usual, she senses my departure - that's what she does and I will get the aloof treatment when I return.

At this point, I'm simply ready to put my fate into the hands of the Great Whatever. I've done what I could to get ready for this trip, and now it is up to airlines, traffic, and a belief in confirmed reservations that everything is all set. Then, I wait patiently for my team to arrive safely where we can celebrate all we've been up to since last year.

Here's to the work!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Because a Presentation Before 9 National Presentations Seemed Like a Good Idea.

Yesterday, Akbaru Niyonkuru and I were invited to speak in a special topics on our campus, Black Lives Matter, about my work with refugee-background youth and the creation of literacy opportunities in Southern Connecticut. The course is in its third rendition, and each year an instructor guides the visitations of several faculty on a variety of subjects, all addressing issues surround the Black Lives Matter movement.

I knew when I was invited that I didn't want to do the presentation alone. It is the same conversation I had at my dissertation defense, when I announced that it didn't seem right that I was getting a doctorate degree by telling the stories of the amazing young men who offered their stories, their voices, their perspectives, and their dreams to me. They entered my life, allowed me into theirs, and the rest is history. That study was in 2010 and 7 years later, several of my participants have graduated college, are starting their careers, and continue to impact my life in amazing ways.

Following scholarship in action, however (thanking then Syracuse University President Nancy Cantor for that term), I always knew that I wanted my work to make change in the communities around me. This was at the heart of Ubuntu Academy, a summer program for relocated youth and immigrants in Bridgeport. It is a program that is now offering support year round, and that continues to provide leadership opportunities for young people who have lived amazing stories as the 1% of refugees granted asylum worldwide. Akbar is one of these youth. It is his second year in the U.S., he's already taking community college classes as a senior in high school, and he's been an incredible worker mentoring young kids in our program. He's also a fantastic speaker to share his journey with undergraduate and graduate students I work with.

His life matters and it is a responsibility to speak about it. He said in my office, however, that he never knew he was Black until he came to the United States. "I was a human before, and I am a human now." That is Ubuntu. A human is made more human in the company of other humans.

The opportunity also gave me time to highlight the tremendous success of youth from the Brown School and to share stories of the work accomplished through Writing Our Lives. We also read an OpEd written by several young men on our campus through Upward Bound about their desire to be seen as men of integrity. Too often, they felt, the labels placed upon them were unwarranted an unfair. They wanted high standards, support, and skills to make it into college. They wanted more history classes in school and to read stories that represented individuals like them.

I'm teaching back to back evening classes tonight, then coming home to sleep before an early a.m. departure to St. Louis. Akbar will not be coming with the teachers of Ubuntu Academy and Project Citizen this year, but I really wish I could put him on the national platform. He's amazing (we just need to get him to pass his driver's license test).

I told the group of undergraduates yesterday that knowledge is worthless unless you're doing something good with it to improve the lives of others. Too many take their education and go into careers that are self-serving and greedy. We need more teachers, I told them. And then I shared the story of Keith Williams, a senior in my last graduating class at Brown. He's teaching now.

That's what it's all about.