On March 24th, four thousand people from around the country joined us for our 82nd Saturday Reunion. Some traveled the night before to get here, others at the crack of dawn that day. The excitement was palpable, and we were touched—and humbled—by the numbers.
The day opened with two keynote speakers, beloved children’s book writer Pam Muñoz Ryan in Riverside Church, and University of Toronto Scholar in Residence and author, David Booth in Teachers College’s Cowin Auditorium.
Pam Muñoz Ryan expressed how essential it is that young readers feel “that they can still become something…that there is something splendid in them.” For an audience made up largely of teachers and school administrators, this message hit home. On so many minds is the question: How do we convey to kids that they have unique potential, worth, and realizable dreams, while simultaneously preparing them for government mandated one-size-fits-all assessments that elude so many?
Perhaps it’s as simple as having faith. Faith that the children who enter our rooms will latch onto whatever we do that is indelible, that nurtures, inspires. “Writers pass their work through a fence, never knowing who is on the other side…without knowing whose lives we might touch,” Pam told us. Similarly, teachers do their best to reach each student before sending them on their way, not knowing “who has looked, who has listened.” Yet always, there is a child who did look, who did listen, whose path is changed because of something a teacher has done. As Pam so poignantly reminded us, “You [teachers] deliver the fervor so a child can imagine what he might be.”
David Booth, who opened up the day in Teachers College’s Cowin Auditorium, also spoke about the importance of fostering children’s imagination. He talked about the power of texts whose “words sing”—texts that invite young children to participate even before they can read—and demonstrated ways to use these so that the stories can be both meaningful and real. When kids have meaningful experiences with books, David said, the words on the page become the words of their lives. Later, when children write their own stories, and look at their lives in print, their voices and selves emerge. How we intervene and support kids is the art of teaching.
The keynotes were followed by four sessions, each offering participants over thirty choices of workshops taught by the entire Project community, as well as some of our extended network, including Carl Anderson and Kathy Collins. In addition to the usual focus on reading and writing curriculum, the selection of workshops this Saturday spotlighted the new Common Core State Standards and performance assessments, and provided a dozen workshops on content literacy. One participant wrote a thoughtful blog post about Lucy Calkins’ session, “Walking Courageously Forward in Today’s Common Core World: Literacy Instruction, School Reform and Visions of Tomorrow.”
Sarah Weeks closed the day with her usual flair. Delivering laugh-out-loud jokes one minute and nuggets of wisdom the next, she talked about everything from her love of boys’ humor, to what inspires her writing, to the moment she discovered her mother had been talking to a box that held not Sarah’s dad’s ashes, as they both had believed, but his bird-watching telescope. Listening to Sarah speak, we were reminded of that wonderful mix of funny, strange, sad, and compelling that makes for a vibrant storyteller. And in turn, Sarah reminded us about our influence as educators. “Teaching is hard,” she said. “It’s the most underappreciated, difficult profession a person could choose. Thank goodness for you and what you do—we would be lost without you.”