Thursday, November 30, 2017

And Then You Feel Older and Older, and Older Even More. Love from CNY

 I was out doing a little Christmas shopping when my Chitunga sent me photos of JC's artwork at his school, and then my little sister, KC, sent photos of him and Jacob (looking all grown up). She also sent me a photo of Tunga with a homecoming date of yesteryear -- NICOLE MARLOW! Wow! So great to see her again and to know her daughter is in the same grade as my nephew. I love his smile and the fact he's in a tie....little man is growing up too fast and he looks extremely happy in the photo she sent.

I went with Nicole to a homecoming dance back in our sophomore, junior, or senior year (I can't remember which). I just remember that she was always a genuine soul, a caring individual, and a devoted student...putting herself through law school and doing the class of 1990 very proud.

It thrills me to know that I get representation at such events when I'm all the way down in Connecticut, and am even more excited to get photos like this.
Today is another whirlwind, and it begins at 8 a.m. at a Fairfield University Board of Trustees meeting. I'm filling a spot this year as an assistant professor on the committee that works with them. This follows with a string of student meetings, followed by another round of our College Ready Writers program with Stamford and Bridgeport teachers.

Phew! Lots to cover.

I am, however, looking forward to the weekend, because I think the NCTE conference and Thanksgiving bonanza is catching up. I'm ready for a very long nap and a couple of days in sweatpants and lounging. It's tea and soup season, and I want to rest a little more.

But Nicole looks great and this is a photo to cherish for a long time. Some people never age and she's one of them. She still looks 18, whereas I'm looking more and more like an aged Ewok who is kin to Santa Claus. Not the greatest look (but it's the No Shave November thing).

Time to go. Here's to friendship.


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Bats, Community, Colonies, Speech Utterances, and Connecting Kids with Graduate Students

 The practice of bringing students into graduate courses to co-teach effective literacy practices continues. Tonight, the readings were on a wide variety of studies presenting the ways animals communicate. In one activity, we discussed Jerome Harste's use of visualization for comprehension, and paired it with a scientific report about the ways that bats pick up accents within the colonies they belong, despite the ways the mothers teach them to communicate. The pitch changes according to the communities in which they belong, despite the nurturing of the primary caregiver.

A mother matters, but the communities the bat belongs to matters just as much (One student made a connection to "Howdy, Y'all" for a bat, after listening to too much country music).

Dialects are regional, as is communication. Brilliant observation from a graduate student at Fairfield University. We followed the visual activity with a fish bowl conversation, and the artwork was a great catalyst for getting a conversation going about our own biases with dialects.

I will say it every Tuesday. I can only go so far with my instruction if I do not have the expertise of young people co-teaching with me. They authenticate all the theory presented in our course textbooks, and they help my pre-service (and in-service) teachers to realize that all the research is BUNK until it is utilized with kids, their interpretations, their expertise, and their insight.

After the bat readings, the 2nd class arrived and we workshopped student writing according to national rubrics, hosting conversations with the presenters and learning the art of one-on-one conferencing. A young woman in the group said, "I'm bringing an essay from last year, because none of my teachers have assigned writing this year."

What? She's a senior! She wants to go to college. How are teachers not assigning writing in school? Everyone was amazed.

And with my graduate students I witnessed something miraculous. As feedback was given, conversations were held, and ideas were shared, the youth simply picked up their pens and began writing. They wanted to improve, to expand their thinking, and to try the suggestions given to them by my students.

I would never be able to get to this level without having kids in my room. I'm ready to start a college program that ALWAYS puts young people in the same "activity system" as graduate students setting out to teach them.

To undo what doesn't work, we need to listen to the power of youth voices. I'm sold, but I always have been! The National Writing Project taught me this1

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Semester Is Winding Down, But While It Remains, Tuesdays are Worse Than Mondays

The morning begins with a phone conference on campus at 9 a.m. on international refugee work. The evening ends with a return from teaching at around 10:15 p.m. where I will be running my pointer finger over my lips and making babble noises.

Okay. I have truth, in between. I am going to sneak away for lunch: to walk the dog, hit the gym (although Tuesdays are my day off), and to get organized for the evening classes.

The calendar is doing what it always does at this time of year. The final projects of my courses are coming nearer and the baton is handed over from where my instruction and modeling, the course readings, and the teaching experiences, must come together with fruition so that the students can say, "I got this." They always freak out at this point of year, just like I did as a student, too. The panic mode sets in with, "When am I ever going to get this work done?"

Lucky for them, I push the panic back a few weeks so I can say,
"Get it out of the way. The next few weeks are to guide your success. I want you to be the best teachers you can be, and I raise the bar early so I can coach you to get over it. You have time. I front-loaded a lot of the work so that you have the foundation for the projects ahead. AND this is all real-world work. This isn't a paper for only me to grade (and to be filed in a land of nothingness). It is work you can replicate and reuse when you get your own classroom."

They still will complain, but I will try to ease their mind, as tonight's activities encourage conversation, fish bowls, assessments, and student engagement. It should be fun.

Still, I can't help but think I'm living Groundhog's Day. Feels like it's the same thing over and over and over again. I love it, but I never am quite sure if I've delivered the best practices that I preach. I only know when the final work comes in.

Happy Tuesday, Everyone. I need to get to campus to start this marathon. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Cactus and the Camel, a Story of Love, Heart, and Sadness

Many years ago, in Kentucky, when I was first starting out, my Aunt Bobbie gave me two gifts as she and my Uncle Dick were moving out west. The first was a piece of a cactus that was not supposed to get more than 4 inches (you can see it in the background) and the second was my mother's ceramic nativity scene that she made for my relatives many moons ago.

I cherished both, although the cactus has been like Audrey, the alien plant, in Little Shop of Horrors, and never stops growing. It is in it's 7th planter and is too heavy to move. Still, I move it from location to location (with memories of the time I did so in St. Mathews, Kentucky, when an arm fell off, post run, and the gooey glue got all over my skin and I, sweating, rubbed it in my eye. It was hell. Showers wouldn't remove the pain).

Fast forward to kid departure, Thanksgiving 2017. The boys were rearranging furniture to get the house in order, and I decided I could move the cactus myself.

I failed. Abu jumped up to help and was just in time as the cactus toppled onto the nativity set sending thorns in our arms and taking down one of my mother's (via my aunt's) camels. It shattered in numerous pieces and Mustapha quickly came to the rescue with a broom and dust pan. We swept and I did my best to put it together with super glue (and my fingers can attest to it, as I glued them together and still did a bad job of saving the camel).

It made me sad. I'm sad for the day I burned my eyes with cactus glue and sadder than the camel is no longer its beautiful, one-piece majestical self.

And the symbolism is not lost on me. We had a fantastic five days and I loved every second of it. Everything went extremely well and the only mishap was at the departure. They were packing up to leave when this all went down - I guess it was good, as it masked my emotions. I never want them to leave, but I know that they must.

While they left, a cactus from yesterday fell on a nativity set from yesterday. All of it is family and all of it is love...symbolism for love. All of us, Chitunga, Abu, Mustapha and me did the best to fix a quick-to-arrive hazard. I thought about throwing the camel away (actually did), but then scooped it from the trash knowing I'd rather have a broken camel then none at all.

Why? This is family. This is memory. This is what love is all about.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Celebrating The Kid, Age 22, With Friends and a High Five Before He Returns to Syracuse

I could have purchased pizza, but opted to make Crandall special and to heat up leftovers from the fridge. Kudos to Pam for the cake and Leo & Bev for the incredible salad. It makes for a great evening of food, birthday songs, celebration, friendship and family.

We got many corn hole games in, too. That's something to celebrate.

I'm laughing, because with the entertaining, we've also moved Mustapha's bed/bedroom (dining hall) from upstairs to downstair, back upstairs to downstairs, and upstairs and downstairs again.

We've also rearranged the the dining room to the kitchen, and the kitchen to the dining room a few times, as we've changed the angle of our celebration and reason for gathering.

In short, it was a lot of fun. Now, I need to spend my morning preparing for the inevitable silence to come. The boys began packing last night and I thought, "Well, this is occurring quickly." I'm officially Grandpa Ken and Grandma Vera who will be standing in the driveway to wave goodbye. Never saw that day coming, but it's here.

I can't wait to get to the end of December to return to Syracuse and continue the fun. It all flies by, just like this week.

Cheers, Chitunga. We all love you.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Day After Thanksgiving & The Helper Elves Got To Work. Settled. Ready for the next Month.

Transitions occurred yesterday. Yes, the turkey was still being eaten (and the dressing and green bean casserole -- yep, mom, huge hit). We managed to find a short while to get to the beach (not a bad day) and we picked up all the leaves, put out all the decorations, watched Kevin Hart, walked the dog, and hung lights all over the house.

I have to say, with six extra hands, the decorations were up in no time. Because of this, we were able to unwind and chill out in laughter (and many yawns....the turkey still does its thing).

Ah, but today is Chitunga's birthday. We're not sure how we are going to spend it yet, but the gifts have been bought and the cake mix is stirred (I think....Pam insisted on making it this year, so now we have to decide on whether we want to grill steak outside, or simply order Paradise Pizza).

22. That happened fast...

And the house is all lit up. Glamis is thrilled to have so many walks in her day and the ongoing attention no matter where she turns. My t.v., too, is happy to be turned back on and says, "It's nice to get use every now and again."

Okay, time to get the day started. Boom. Just like that. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

And I Interrupt This Turkey Coma To Share My New Friends (made by Katelyn)

These are my new friends, and they were made for me in a pottery class by Kaitlyn Marie (fired up in the kiln and now on display on Mt. Pleasant). I found them in my fridge. Actually, they were with the leftovers from Lasse's and the boys threw the little guys in the fridge next to the pasta and chicken. I found them when prepping for yesterday's Gravy fest (which I screwed up...long story).

I like my little guys...haven't named them yet (but they do look like Abu, Lossine, and Chitunga).

I'm starting my day thinking about what a success yesterday was, even though the only one who went back for a second plate much later in the day was Chitunga. He packed it in. The rest of us settled with only one helping around 3 (and then the comas came on). We walked, cleaned, played football, but that food is no joke.

At 7 pm I thought, "I'm ready for bed." I thought it was midnight.

So, we looked at the On Demand movies and finally settled on Wonder Woman, which was wonderfully done and engaging (of course, I only listened to it, as I began working on other projects: laptop, iPad, iPhone). I'm so inattentive when it comes to watching movies. Even so, it caught my attention and I looked up from time to time.

And today, we put up the holiday decorations: lights, tree, and other shenanigans (which will keep my spirit up until arriving in CNY to family and the love of the season).

My only goal today is to stay far, far away from stores. I will never understand how anyone could think that going out on Black Friday is a good thing. It's dumb, plain dumb (he writes, knowing that he's likely to venture somewhere with Chitunga, Abu and Mustapha).

Happy Friday. You hungry for leftovers yet?

Thursday, November 23, 2017

And I Am Thankful For The Surprise And The Arrival To Mt. Pleasant (All Safe)

Nothing makes me happier than the bond between Chitunga and Glamis. She knows. I wasn't home when I arrived, but I learned from Abu that Glamis was super excited to see them both.

News flash. Abu called in the morning and said he wasn't able to make it, because he had responsibilities in Syracuse. Well, 10 minutes after coming back from the gym, Abu jumps out of the closet and surprises me. This has made for a a wonderful Thanksgiving thus far.

That, and Mustapha also came to visit, so there's a trifecta in my home for the Thanksgiving cookery of tomorrow (the turkey is currently settling in brine solution and herbs).

Last night, we ventured out with Leo, Bev, Kaitlyn and Pam to Lasses for our cheap, but delicious chicken dinners. The rest of the night was spent catching up, discussing the universe, predicting the future and laughing at memories.

I'm missing Lossine, but am glad that Mustapha has joined us. And I'm sure that Glamis will be in overdrive for the next few days bouncing around to her buddies who will take her for runs, throw her a ball, and simply lay down on the floor for her.

I will absorb it all for all it offers, knowing that it sadly will end as soon as it begins. Today, we're cooking. We have our roles and we got this Thanksgiving thing, Crandall style.

I'm thankful for the boys, my family, my friends, my life and my dreams. I seriously could never imagine that this is what the world would be at this point, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Gobble Gobble Gobble. Feeling lucky, indeed (and thankful).

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Op-Eds, Mentor Texts, Model Lessons, Inclusion, and Promoting Youth Perspectives Makes Me Happy.

The greatest part of teaching my graduate courses is the 22 years I have in K-12 schools and all the rich professional development experiences I have with teachers, especially as a  National Writing Project Director. The opportunities I've had to promote writing instruction offer me trial and error for what works and doesn't work. This, coupled with course readings, allows to design lessons to demonstrate the scholarship in action (included editorials written my classroom teachers - here, Kim Herzog of Staples High School - after lessons during the summer).

Last night, we were able to look at mentor texts written by teachers, and then mentor texts written by students that follow a similar set of lessons. Last night, I was able to carry forth these lessons to make connections with the graduate students I'm teaching, by offering connections from the texts, with the practical applications as carried out by local teachers and school districts.

Having local high school students in my classes, too, allow the instruction to be much more authentic. "Hey, are you jiving with this? Is this something you can do? More importantly, is it something you want to do?"

Last night, I was highly impressed when the high school students jumped up and, without a hierarchy, and added knowledge to the ongoing 'learning' that occurred with the graduate students. In one class, we looked at arranging reading lessons over a period of time and read that youth are unlikely to sustain time reading, given the volume of material. Yet, using suggestions from the course texts, we tried a few exercises, and I had to point out to the graduate students that we actually covered four articles in 75 minutes and, lo and behold, their was high interest and interaction (and these are with students who were already in school all day and who participate in after school activities). Still, the attention was there and the interaction superb.

I also laughed when I noticed that the kids had a few seconds to write a note on the board because, well, I forgot I also bring dinner for the kids to eat between classes (discovered great sandwiches and wraps at a store on my way to campus). Yes, the food brings a smile to my face, too.

I know we are heading to the day of thankfulness and I have to say, I'm very thankful for the high school kids co-teaching my courses with me. They may all our learning that much more magical.

And now, I begin to prepare my Thanksgiving feast. When I got home last night I thought, "Wow, for a couple of days I can concentrate on something else for a short while." For now, it will be the literacy of turkey and gravy. Sometimes, I need to count my blessings.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

We Are Words. Words We Are. Back To Graduate Course Work on Campus

Well, the "I hate Monday" mantra wasn't the case for me, because I actually wasn't in a hotel room or in a conference room or on an airplane. I simply worked from home, graded, organized, and planned for tonight's classes.

I'm doing something different this year, an innovation I love. I've invited members of Ubuntu Academy to co-teach my graduate courses by participating in classes, working as readers, and participating in bringing the theories we're reading to work.

Tonight, we are covering reading with 'word gaps' and 'quotes' as proposed by Beers and Probst, and working with argumentation through Gallagher, reading pace-work through McKenna and Robinson, and best practices suggested by Graham & Perin in back-to-back graduate courses for Developmental Reading in Secondary Schools and Teaching Writing, 3rd-12th grade.

Another innovation I'm growing fond of is using artwork to help tell the story of what it is I'm trying to accomplish and last night I collected many images from artists who create images simply by using words all over the blank canvas to form a portrait.

We are words. Words we are.

I'm still riding high from the NWP and NCTE experience, and I know I need to get our presentations into chapter and journal forms. That is on my mind, as is the need to work at the State level to promote the excellence of CWP-Fairfield. I wish I could pause time and hunker in a library for a semester to write up all we've collected over the years, but for now I must teach and I'm excited to do it. I believe it is a This Is Us night, too, but I haven't caught up on the other episodes.

I have a lot on my plate, and I will take one day at a time. I just wish there was more than 24 hours on the clock.


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 (author of War Child), 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.

Monday, November 13, 2017

@NCTE Preparation Isn't Only The Handouts, Presentations, and Travel Arrangements.

The trouble with an empty nest in 2017 (which was not the case last year when Chitunga and Edem were on Mt. Pleasant) is that Glamis the Wonder Dog needs companionship and a house-sitter. Spending the last three days in my office arranging materials for our CWP-Fairfield presentations, also sparked the need that my house will need items for Glamis's dog sitters: more biscuits, candy, chips, drinks, and easy to fix meals.

On my way home from the University last night, I swung by Big Y to get house items to make my dog-watchers feel at home. It's always odd to stay in a stranger's house, especially when the stranger won't be at home to entertain. I am grateful to Omar and Abonga for stepping up and helping me out.

Phew.

This is a throw back to my teaching days when I traveled to Japan, Denmark, and even Vermont while working in other locations (had to have Jon, Lacey, and Quartez watch the dogs at that time).

While in Syracuse, Mimi Sue and Papa Butch were always willing to take Baby and so departing from time to time wasn't a stressor. Baby was family. This year, I've had to try something new. And I am also thinking of all the times I was a dog sitter for Sue and Dave in Kentucky. Then, I was the one that moved into another's home to make for the smoothest trips possible.

This was on my checklist for NWPAM and NCTE '17 preparation. Now I have to get my Monday and Tuesday class work complete so I can work like a dog before leaving on my jet plane to St. Louis. I can't wait, but travel is something else. Of course, I return to more classes at the University and Thanksgiving. If I didn't love it all, it'd be maddening.

Here's to all my colleagues around the world who are in similar anticipatory mode: cats, ferrets, and gold fish.

At least the yard doesn't need to be watered at this time of year (at least in Connecticut).

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hibernation Is On The Radar. Packing Away for Winter. Temperatures, I Hear You.


Well, lawn. You're mowed. And I must say that the lawn care I paid for did its work. Usually, there are dried out patches of dirt after the summer months, but the spray and reseeding has filled out the property nicely. I can't complain.

I know, post-hernia, that I should put my Superman cape away and wait for help, but I got a bug in my head to get the tables and chairs into the shed (and to bring out the shovels and snowblower - hmmmm, can I nurse that machine one more winter?) and I manned up and carried everything myself. The umbrellas are in. The chairs. The hoses. The lawnmower. We're packed for the snowfalls to come and because we've had a frost, I don't anticipate that the grass will go crazy with growth.

I also entertained Abonga and Omar, who will be watching Glamis while I'm in St. Louis and who, as Ubuntu graduates, proven themselves to be remarkable kids. Abonga has a car and the two of them are at Housatonic now. They

know where everything is and are excited about walking the dog every day (and brushing off all the dog hair - "I wouldn't wear black clothes if I was you.")

Then, I entertained William and Jessica, who will be presenting with me several times at NCTE and who are always fantastic company. It's hard to believe that they were my graduate students and now are colleagues who make magic happen in the classroom.

The crockpot did it's magic and we had curried chicken, green beans and cranberries, and a made-up black and red bean dish. We got our protein.

Today will be a day in the office printing out more handouts for the week to come and prepping the back to back classes that will arrive Tuesday night. I also need to stock the house with youth-friendly foods (e.g., Doritoes and lemonade - that was the request). Of course, upon return, I will be hosting another Thanksgiving dinner for whoever wants to stop by.

The back patio always looks baron when I prep for winter. I love my backyard - live back there - but in the winter it becomes vacant space for snow pileups and dog poop. Now, if only I can find a truck to get rid of my ol' furniture that is taking over the garage. I need that space and it is next on my home to-do list. Might have to wait for Tunga though. I can't load that furniture in a truck by myself.

Here's to Sunday, which will bring Monday and the busy agenda ahead.