Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dear Families and Colleagues...A Letter About My Learning From NCTE

                                                                                                                November 2012
Dear Families and Colleagues,
         I’ve been at the computer on and off today trying to sum up my learning experience at this year’s National Council of Teachers of English conference (#NCTE12). I couldn’t help but be reminded of a quote from Shelley Harwayne, former principal of the Manhattan New School and Superintendent of New York City Public Schools.
Shelley once said, “If you know the what and the why, then you can invent your own how.”
I wrote Shelley’s words on a paper napkin and kept it in my wallet for years until it disintegrated, but her words and her influence still ring true in my teaching practice and professional development to this day. 

I started thinking about why, the what, and the how of NCTE and what makes it a non-negotiable professional conference for me each year.

WHY have I attended this conference every single year since 1997?

·  Because it’s the like the Academy Awards for literacy teaching and learning, and I’m the fan standing on the edge of the red carpet with my autograph book.
·  Because it’s the one time every year I get to see and learn from many friends and colleagues from all over the country and world.
·  Because it’s where thousands of colleagues are gathered in one place willing to share their knowledge, expertise, and passion for our profession.
·  Because I have the opportunity to present with talented colleagues and share my new thinking from the classroom, even if it makes me so nervous I could throw up.
·  Because I know I will be pushed out of my comfort zone to try new, cutting edge teaching practices, be affirmed for the work I do, participate in committee work, and rethink and revise my long held beliefs about teaching and learning.
·  Because I can count on meeting new, amazing people each year and learning so much it takes the plane ride home and all of Thanksgiving holiday just to process the experience.
·  Because there’s always the grand opportunity to go home and share my learning, notes (and stack of new books) with great colleagues and families
·  And most importantly….Because my kids deserve a teacher who isn’t just a teacher--but a learner first.

Thanks to my principal, Betsy Bell, and Mountain Brook City Schools for believing in teachers and ongoing professional development.  Thanks to my administrators, coaches, colleagues, and students at Cherokee Bend for cheering me on and sharing the learning experience via Twitter, Facebook, blogging, and conversations back at home. Thanks to all of you, the Corgill Kid families, for understanding the importance of “teacher as learner” too.
And finally, thanks to my colleagues and friends all over the country who shared their professional expertise at NCTE, Las Vegas 2012. 
What happened in Vegas, won’t stay in Vegas this year. Those Vegas happenings will transform classrooms, teachers, students, and schools across the nation and world. Thank you, all.

WHAT in the world did I do in Vegas for 5 days???

Here’s NCTE, Las Vegas 2012 in photos, tweets, session titles, and learning takeaways.
I met so many of my Twitter friends in person this year (I will write more about these amazing people in a blog very soon) If you aren't already on Twitter, it's the most amazing professional learning community I have ever experienced!  
I looked over and was watching @frankisibberson and @billbass tweeting away using Tweet Deck...I, of course, had no clue how to do this, but guess what?!  I learned because of them!  Here's a screen shot of my Tweet Deck from tonight's #titletalk hosted by @donalynbooks and @colbysharp!

Here’s my autograph book (It was my iPad cover this year!)….with the signatures of so many of my teaching heroes. I started this at last year’s NCTE in Chicago just to “fancy up” my homemade notebook, a paper notebook stapled together in the hotel lobby Kinkos.  Now I think it’s the best tradition ever. I am blessed to have learned from each of these brilliant educators!  You all inspire me! Hollywood can’t touch this! ;)
Seriously, this treasure will help me to teach children the power of having mentors who can influence your life and work in positive ways.

This is the opening keynote, with Sir Ken Robinson….Can I just say…it was AMAZING?!!! The proof is in the crowd! Look at all the teachers who chose to learn instead of gamble or sleep at 8:00 in the morning!

Thursday night, I wandered to the 3rd floor of the convention center by accident and heard this glorious voice echoing out of the grand ballroom.  I stood at the back of the room and quietly listened to Natalie Merchant practicing for the Opening Session.  She has recently written a book of songs inspired by classic children’s poetry.  My friend, blogger, and poet herself, Mary Lee Hahn, wrote the amazing teacher’s guide to go along with the book, Leave Your Sleep.  Ms. Merchant’s book will be a special part of our last week of this poetry writing study, and her CD will be playing at our poetry gallery walk celebration on Friday. 

I’ve always flown home on Sunday morning and have never had the opportunity to stay for the book sale and “closing of the exhibits”.  Below is a photo of my Vegas winnings in the form of books!

Now…to my ultimate gambling experience with Franki Sibberson and Amy Ludwig Vanderwater.  I know you wish you could win big like me.

I was fortunate to be able to attend the sessions below and soak in the wise words of these amazing educators.  Their words are already informing and strengthening my practice.  This year, instead of taking pages of notes, I decided to listen carefully, filter wisely, and try to tweet as I learned….in 140 characters or less!  Search under the #NCTE12 hashtag for highlights and follow me on Twitter!  @acorgill 

In the coming weeks, I am going to reflect on each session specifically and how the speakers and their content are informing and refining my teaching practice. I'll send email and Twitter updates when a new blog is posted.

Opening Keynote:  Sir Ken Robinson, PhD
If you have never heard Ken Robinson speak, I encourage you to watch these TED talks—AWESOME!

Rethinking Text Types:  We Are All Storytellers
Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Thomas Newkirk

The Power of Choice:  Strengthening Independence in Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop
Tony Keefer, Patrick Allen, and Ann Marie Corgill--I got to present with two amazing friends and educators and can't wait to tell you all about them soon!  @tonykeefer and @ColoReader

Writing The World:  Fostering Creativity, Originality, and a Passion for Writing At School
Laura Robb, Ralph Fletcher, Georgia Heard

Slight Shifts in Our Teaching Can Pave the Way for Great Strides in Student Learning:  How Students Benefit When We Value Approximation, Offer Choice, and Adjust the Language of Our Teaching
Kathy Collins, Stephanie Parsons, Matt Glover, Ginny Lockwood

Texts Don’t Write Themselves-Authors (And Illustrators!) Do: Reframing the Idea of Mentor Texts in the Writing Workshop
Katie Ray, Lisa Cleaveland, and Marlee Frazee

Ignite Spotlight: Common Standards/Uncommon Teaching—Focus on Supporting Teachers as They Implement Common Core Standards in Their Teaching
Sarah Brown Wessling, Franki Sibberson, Stella Villalba

Where Do Poems Come From?
Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Laura Purdie Salas, Leslea Newman, Janet Wong, and, Mary Lee Hahn

HOW will this one conference impact teaching and learning for your child and for us as a group of learners?

First of all, this conference has caused me to think, rethink, and revise my practice.
I’m reminded of how critical it is for us to think for ourselves as educators and be willing to revise that thinking.  We should never allow another person, politician, state mandate, or curriculum guide to give us permission not to think anymore. We have to be the model for our students and our children so that they can and will become collaborative as well as independent thinkers and learners.

Right now I’m thinking about….

·   · the importance of creativity in the classroom

· the incredible value of storytelling and relationships among students, teachers, classrooms, schools, and school districts

· the prevalence of digital media and how it can enhance or deter an elementary student’s motivation

· the power of joy and respect in a child’s academic, social, and emotional growth

· the critical need for choice across all curricular areas and throughout a child’s school day

· the need for trust between students and teachers, teachers and teachers, teachers and administrators,   local school districts and national leaders.

· the role of digital literacy in an early elementary classroom and how do we use technology enhance our already good practices rather than using technology to replace those practices with not so good ones.

· the power of poetry in the lives of our young writers and readers and the influence that poetry can have on a life far beyond our physical reach

· the need to resist the teaching so we can learn from our students, resist the answering so that we may question our students, and resist the talking so we can listen to our students. They deserve our respect.

· the importance of loving what you do. If we don’t love our work, we shouldn’t do it. It’s our job to make school a place where students want to come and learn every day. It is also our hope that our state and nation understands that teachers need the same support and excitement for the work we do.

· the reason for asking why? If we always know the “why” in our practice, then we can invent our own “how”, and make teaching and learning work for the students in our classes.

· the ability and the respect to always believe in children. Bottom line is this: Children matter more than data and test scores. When numbers begin to matter more than children, then we need to rethink our decisions and our beliefs.

Thank you for giving mthe opportunity to teach and learn with your children.  I will link upcoming blogs in an email as I continue to process this amazing learning experience.

Have a great week,

Ann Marie


  1. What a thoughtful post capturing why we all go, teachers as learners. Thanks for sharing and it was great to see you for a quick bit.

  2. Rest up ... and then start posting! I can't wait to read and tweak my teaching through your learning.

  3. Hi,
    I was the book giveaway person at the poetry session. I love reading all these reflections. I did a session called growing Literate Learners Through the Joy of Poetry. I follow Amy LV...and got to know her a bit in Vegas. I will start my blog in Jan....
    Janet Fagal

  4. Hey AnneMarie-
    I am just catching up on blogs and it was so nice to relive NCTE through your eyes. Thanks for this post. Hope you are having a great break and enjoying time with family and friends!