Wednesday, November 25, 2015

NCTE 15 Takeaways

It's dusk on the country highway heading north to central New York. I watch the sky turn from a lighter shade of grey to a darker one as nature shuts her eyes to the world. The road is lit only by headlights. In these long stretches of road, I recall the darkness of the night sky over Chicago when returning home from NCTE 15 on Sunday. It was a different darkness, a sky lit by rows of lights that reflected onto a glistening snowy landscape, a new wonder of late autumn's passing days that I never experienced before Thanksgiving. 

Reorienting myself after the hustle and bustle of NCTE 15 has been a slow process. Conference energy is no longer felt as my family makes our way to my hometown. I am trying to readjust to the real world of life as I know it but exhaustion from traveling is setting in. Nonetheless there is so much to be said about the learning gathered from the conference. 

Falling into Learning

Igniting wonder in learners was a focal point for my NCTE 15 team who spoke passionately about fueling the fires of creativity and independence. You can access my first post with a photo of my team here. 

Throughout the conference I captured tweetable nuggets of wisdom:

From the opening day:
  • Song and poetry are like sister arts. ~Taylor Mali
  • Celebrate the arts of language: the ability to read, write, and think critically is important.
  • Get caught trying. ~Chelsea Clinton
  • Failure is a badge of courage. ~Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Throughout the conference:
  • If children need to grow, to stretch, to dream, to laugh, to cry, to find a friend, to vanquish a foe, they should read. AND When we want our kids to become readers, we have to do something really, really important. We have to let them read. ~Kylene Beers
  • Part of writing is breaking the rules and finding your voice. ~Kate DiCamillo
At the Heinemann breakfast:
  • Lucy Calkins posed a question for all of us to ponder: How can we use the written word to lift the level of reading? Then, followed with we need to lead children to literate lives.
  • Essence of writing workshop is "Watch me. Let's try. Off you go". ~Maggie B. Roberts
From the Wonderopolis breakfast:
  • Wondering builds a habit of mind. Students need to become participatory citizens of the world. AND Nonfiction is about wonder. It has been transformed through wondering. ~Georgia Heard
  • Teachers need to be concierges of wonder for kids (Paul W. Hankins) and the connectors (Kristen Ziemke).
  • We need to teach children to be uncommonly courageous. ~Paul W. Hankins
A statement that sums up the essence of why we continue to learn:

  • Recognize the power of literacy and reading to transform students' lives. ~Dick Robinson, Scholastic's CEO
Although the trip to NCTE 15 was a long one with many delays on the return, I walked away with inspired to continue to transform education. Learning alongside literary luminaries, colleagues, and others made the trip a worthwhile endeavor. 

This post is dedicated to all the eduheroes of NCTE 15 and to be included in the Two Writing Teachers' Slice of Life

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Celebrating Professional Growth

Here I am, back into the folds of daily living after an inspiring weekend of learning at the NCTE 15 Conference in Minneapolis. The excitement that I felt before the trip is still fresh in my mind, despite the drain of traveling eleven hours from the midwest to the Long Island shore. As I start my day, I turn my attention to #CelebrateMonday as a perfect venue to share a snippet of my NCTE celebrations.

Being at a national convention is like turning on a switch. My learning space gets immediately illuminated. Sparks flow. Fast-paced movements from academic sessions to hallway conversations round off the feeling of being continually energized. PLNs grow exponentially as friendships are made with each new encounter. 

Aha moments happen throughout the day but even with all of the excitement, brief moments of quiet are needed to replenish energy. Short respites restore balance and allow the pace to continue. Conference life is a surreal, out-of-the ordinary experience that I value as my time for professional growth. 

Looking through my notebook entries, photos, and tweets from NCTE 15 makes me feel grateful for the learning. I celebrate the opportunity to experience new thoughts, chat with colleagues, authors, vendors, and literary luminaries, and bring home new books for my collection. 

I dedicate this celebration of learning to:
  • Ruth Ayres' blogging community at Celebrate This Week. (By the way, I met Ruth for the first time this weekend at NCTE 15.) 

  • My NCTE Roundtable team who worked diligently these past few weeks preparing for our presentation, Igniting Wonder in Students and Teachers: Fueling the Fires of Creativity and Independence
  • All educators who seek to be lifelong learners.  

Friday, November 20, 2015

Last Dance

It is late November, Mother Nature's time to have her last dance. Cynthia Rylant describes the scene in her book, In November. November's air is crisp; its trees are bare. Its stillness gently lays upon the land, seeking companions. An invitation is presented to join her quiet transformation of autumn.

While celebrating the changes witnessed in November, I took the liberty of reformatting one of the quotes from Rylant's book and digitalizing a photo of autumn woods. Does the new combination I present evoke a feeling of November changes that Rylant describes in her book?

"In November, the trees are standing all sticks and bones. 
Without their leaves, how lovely they are, 
spreading their arms like dancers. 
They know it is time to be still."  


It's time for Poetry Friday so stroll over to Tricia Stohr-Hunt's site, The Miss Rumphius Effect for a look at Robert Frost's poem, My November Guest. 

If you are interested in my digital poetry challenge please click here
I am gathering offerings until the end of this month.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thankful Hearts are Needed

Thankful hearts gather together during Thanksgiving time to honor life, family, and friendship. They lift hands to give thanks for all that touches their lives. This Thanksgiving the world grieves for the massive loss of lives in the horrific Paris tragedy. Thoughts will be shared at Thanksgiving tables for those who perished and injured during the attacks. While it is true that life is uncertain, it is it is also true that it is to be valued. It is difficult to understand what turns man against man and hardens hearts to create unthinkable acts of violence.

In response to the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, the Catholic News Service posted the official statement from Father Federico Lombardi, spokesperson for the Holy See.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 
Psalms 34:18

Where there is hatred, let the seeds of love be planted.

This Thanksgiving,
 let our hearts be filled with the Spirit
to honor all that is good. 
Let an attitude of gratitude 
fill the world and allow 
more thankful hearts to spread love.

While the Spiritual Journey Thursday community is not officially congregating to write today, I wanted to send this out as a pre-Thanksgiving wish.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Off to NCTE 15

Anticipation is mounting. It has been one year since I drove with my family to NCTE 14 in Washington, D.C. The autumn winds have died down and Indian Summer-like days have settled once again on Long Island. But wait! The weatherman is predicting 30 degree temperatures in Minneapolis during NCTE 15 signaling a packing nightmare for me. Because I am not a great traveler who packs lightly, I must rethink the organizational plan for my suitcase. Out of my comfort zone issue #1 is coming up. 

Eeks! Calm down. What to do?

I remember the good times of meet-ups, learning, laughter, aha moments, and fun at NCTE 14 to calm my nerves. 

The creative process often helps me when I feel overwhelmed. Creating a video with iMovie while Willie Nelson is singing On the Road Again is my go to release for stress this afternoon. I open iMovie and of all things, I totally forget how to create a trailer. 

Okay, remember. I did watch an Apple tech creating one with a group of 3rd graders. It looked so easy. 

Clearly this was another out of my comfort zone moment for me. 

Pause. Take a breath. Move forward.
I pause to remember my words, "Educators need to push past their comfort zone" as I start to design the video. 

Ready, set, release.

The video flies into the public arena and pops up on You Tube. 

I did it. I captured NCTE 2014 in a 2 minute short film that honors some literary luminaries and colleagues. I also see a blooper in the movie-a statement from Aunt Ellen. 

Reflect Again.
I laugh because I do not have an Aunt Ellen. 

Ah, yes, the template had Aunt Ellen as a set piece. I guess my attempts to delete that never made it to the final cut.  This is a LOL moment for me.

A movie mogul I am not but a learner I am. I step back to think ahead so I can prepare to travel to NCTE 15 where I will present at Roundtable, E20, and learn alongside colleagues and literary luminaries. 

Indulge me as I tweet live from NCTE 15 starting on Thursday. Perhaps, you will also wish me well as I plan how to pack like a pro and travel fearlessly alone to Minnesota.

NCTE 15 here I come! 

Please visit Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers. While moderating NYEDChat last night I mentioned that #SOL15 is one of the blogging sites that I frequent. I thank all of the educators who slice each Tuesday. Your writing from the heart pushes me to find the sweet spot in my writing life.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Celebrating Gratitude

On quiet walks, see the beauty,
hear crunching steps,
REFLECT on gifts

November fills hearts with gratitude.

I celebrate all that life and learning offers us this November day, recalling a week of positive happenings: 
  • Gratitude Week 
  • Facilitating a workshop on transforming writing lives
  • Traveling to a conference with a friend
  • Returning home to family
  • Fundraising for H.E.L.P. Uganda at my parish

To continue being positive, I am gearing up for a roundtable presentation at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference in Minneapolis and am giddy with excitement. NCTE 15 promises to be another high-powered conference for literacy educators. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to facilitate a new experience for my team of eight from across the United States.

I begin the week by embracing positivity, even when challenges occur. I shall walk in the light, not the shadows because gratitude is not just a thought but an attitude to live life by.

This post is dedicated to:
  • Ruth Ayres' Celebrate This Week community where the spirit of positivity lives
  • #CelebrateMonday and #MondayMotivation on Twitter

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Creating Digitally for NCTE 15

In a world of fast-paced communication and interactions, we need to slow down and reflect upon ways to power up our classroom practices. As awakeners of learning, teachers and leaders are guides to a future ready world. Using collaborative protocols and digital tools, they engage learners in cultures where risk-taking is honored. A variety of resources are available to educators to power up classrooms but it takes time to discover which ones to use. Appropriateness and ease of use are two important considerations when choosing digital tools for passion projects or writing.

In this digital age, students are trying to find their identities, offline and online. Technology allows them to discover and explore their world. Through the use of appropriate digital tools, students notice, wonder, discover, and explore topics of interest. From choice, voice rises leading students to own their learning.

While preparing for the NCTE 15 Roundtable presentation with my team, Debbie Diller, Blanca Duarte, Paul W. Hankins, Trudy Ludwig, Holly Mueller, Margaret Simon, and Terry Thompson, I utilized a variety of digital tools to bring us together. Through digital means, we were able to collaborate with each other from our homes across the United States. 

Digital Team Tools Utilized to Prepare for NCTE 15
  • Google Hangout for collaborative conversations online
  • Google Docs for shared writing
  • Google Slides to prepare our introductory presentation 

Am I personally ready to present at NCTE 15? Since I am not quite there yet, I will dedicate the afternoon to complete my roundtable presentation.

Digital Tools I Am Using to Create my Roundtable Presentation
My sketchnote on writing was a labor of love that I created for a workshop last Monday. I shared it with a group of teachers and would like your feedback as to its merit in the classroom. 

The experience of designing a NCTE presentation digitally with a team from across the country was an amazing one. Without the advancement of technology, we would not have been able to collaborate online and seamlessly merge individual slides into a group presentation. We are now ready to bring different perspectives on the topic of igniting wonder in students and teachers to NCTE 15 participants. It is our hope that individually and collectively, we will fuel the fires of creativity and independence in classrooms. 

Stay tuned to next week when I be tweeting from NCTE 15 in Minneapolis. I will share the link to our presentation, Igniting Wonder in Students and Teachers: Fueling the Fires of Creativity and Independence in the Classroom

If you are at NCTE 15, please join our session. 

Until we meet again online, please visit Margaret Simon's DigiLit Sunday site to read other posts on digital literacy. 

Friday, November 13, 2015


The autumn season showcases earth in a full array of brilliant color.
My heart is full of thankfulness. 

Indian Summer days celebrate the bounty of fall. I am thankful.

Autumn's gold is waiting to be plucked and tucked into my heart.
Please see the invitation to Autumn's Palette Gallery here
and add your finding fall digital inspiration.

Now stroll over to the Poetry Friday Round-up to see the bounty of posts offered at Bridget Magee's wee words for wee ones

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and families are preparing to give thanks for the bounties of the earth. Nature provides the stage for all to appreciate the wonders of life.

Brianna Hayes' song, Thank You, is a joyous one. Her video integrates the beauty of the outdoor world with uplifting thoughts. It inspired me to create the above digital poetry and take a second look at the gratitude tribute and poem I wrote last year. You can access that blog here.

Thank You by Brianna Haynes

You can read lyrics from Brianna Hayes' song here. The lines that resonated with me are below.

You give us hope.
You plant the seed.
You harvest every heart in need.

It is with the hope of continued days of blessings for all that I write this post. At Thanksgiving this year, I will continue to practice an attitude of gratitude, especially after witnessing the aftermath of a horrific accident while my colleague, Jeannette, and I were traveling to a conference. 

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34

Please visit Spiritual Journey Thursday led by Holly Mueller to read the community members' thoughts. This week's topic is open-ended.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Going Wild

Have you ever just wanted to throw caution to the wind and go wild? I decided that it was time for me to take a complete departure from the serious side of life:
  • to create a throw back post that celebrates all that is fun and whimsical
  • to discard worries and to do lists just for the pure joy of creating
and finally to get those dancing feet stomping to the tunes of the 60s when wild was the rage. 

I am here tonight to celebrate with the creative poet Irene Latham who asked her blogging friends to sparkle their blog posts and set sail on a wild adventure. 


...because it is Irene's 10 year Blogiversary and wild is her 2015 One Little Word. 

I listened (my one little word) to the call of the wild and said, 
"Why not throw caution to the wind

so I'm sending a Going Wild Celebration Wish for Irene
and linking up at her site, Live Your Poem.

Feeling wild and free
I throw caution to the wind,
letting my spirit fly high above the sea.


Honoring Learning

As connected educators, we often gather together in various professional development forums to discuss universal topics. Collegial circles, Twitter conversations, edcamps, voxers, Google hangouts, Skype, and Google docs are some of the platforms used to grow learning. It is through these different forms of professional development that we effectively connect with one another, despite the busyness of our personal and professional lives. 
We connect, share, and grow as connected educators in cultures of trust where we honor the learning that evolves.
For more than a decade, thought leaders like Richard DuFour have discussed the importance of professional learning communities (PLCs) as a way to "achieve a collective purpose of learning for all." Across the nation, professional learning communities grew to meet the needs of educators. From schools to districts to state and global Twitter forums, educators are now engaged in asynchronous professional development beyond traditional PD opportunities. They are part of growing professional learning networks (PLNs) involved in intellectual labor to further their base of knowledge. Connections are made in active learning spaces and friendships cemented asynchronously beyond the school day and school week.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to be involved with a couple of different forms of professional development. During the day, I facilitated a traditional form of PD on transforming writing lives. Through a series of collaborative protocols and conversations I led a group of engaged K-12 educators to create a culture of trust leading to the development of a small PLN. Eduinspirations were designed and inspiration flowed. 

This program was followed by a step back in time where I attended an annual fall gathering at the district from which I retired as an administrator. I am happy to say that the Reflective Pathway Collegial Circle that I created in June 2003 with the support of my administrative team and committed educators is still thriving. The asynchronous professional development program now under the leadership of Lisa Granieri and her team of facilitators is a credit to the resiliency of learners who believe in collaborative learning. 

Yesterday's theme for the annual fall gathering was gratitude, a fitting one for November. Some facts on gratitude from the University of Pennsylvania shared by Lisa are important thoughts for all educators at this busy time of year.
  • When participants delivered a heartfelt thank you letter they actual felt happier for a full month after.
  • Writing down three positive events each for a week kept happiness levels high for up to six months.
In her address, Lisa further noted that educators deserve gratitude and appreciation.  
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. ~William Arthur Ward
We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude. ~Cynthia Ozick
Gratitude is Lisa's new attitude, as it is for so many connected educators who are grateful for the learning they share with each other. I raise my glass to the Reflective Pathway for continuing a journey of hopeful trust in the benefits of collaborative learning. 

If inclined, join the Twitter initiative to celebrate November 9-15 as Gratitude Week. You may also be interested in marking tweets with the hashtag #gratitude when thanking colleagues for notifications or mentions. 

Please visit Slice of Life sponsored by Two Writing Teachers where learning grows weekly in the online community of educator bloggers.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Celebrating Indian Summer

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.  
George Eliot

This week. Long Island was dressed in brilliant colors as it celebrated nature with bright, glorious Indian Summer days. Autumn's golden hues were everywhere. I felt inspired by the crispness of leaves crunching beneath my shoes, sunshine on my face, and autumnal trees tossing their leaves from one branch to another. 

One morning, I stood transfixed on the sight of leaves gently dancing from branch to branch and across my roof. All of a sudden, the pattern was interrupted by a quick motion. I took a double take to note that a very acrobatic squirrel was engaged in the same sweeping patterns as the leaves but in an aggressive manner. His gymnastic stunts made me laugh. Unfortunately, I could not capture the movement with my iPhone. The nature waltz continued interrupted only for a few seconds by a hip hop trickster?

Mid-week my husband and I happened upon a farmer's market at one of the parks on the north shore of Long Island. After make a long list of wishes, we settled on farm-fresh vegetables and a large fall-inspired coffee. A long walk through the park was exactly what I was looking for-magnificent autumnal scenes.

Nature brought Indian Summer days to Long Island this week. I was impressed by the season's beautiful invitation to soak in the pleasures of autumn.  I hope it is a glorious shade of autumn where you are. Let Indian Summer days capture your heart as they did mine.

Please visit Ruth Ayres' blog site, discover, play, BUILD to celebrate this week with her and the Celebrate This Week bloggers. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

Autumn's Gold

Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons. 
~Jim Bishop, Author

As Autumn's glory peaks, I walk reflecting on the majesty of the world
invite all who are interested to uncover the hidden treasures of Autumn's bounty with me. 

You can access the invitation to my newest showcase of the seasons, Autumn's Palette, hereCapture autumn in photographs or drawings and pen poetic words to create your own digital offering for the gallery.

I will continue to gather digital inspirations from across the globe until Thanksgiving 2015. 

Poetry Friday opens its doors each Friday for the Poetry Friday Round-up. Today, Katja Czaja is our hostess at Write.Sketch.Repeat. It is my hope that Poetry Friday friends and others will be intrigued by my #findingfall creative challenge that will provide a thankful tribute to a season that reigns in glorious colors. Offerings can be sent to cvarsalona at gmail.

Thursday, November 5, 2015


October turned a corner, allowing November to stroll in with beautiful Indian Summer days of record-breaking warm temperatures and golden hues. An attitude of gratitude for these wonderful days sweeps the air and my thoughts fast forward to Thanksgiving when the family comes homeward bound. 

I pause for a moment to think about the phrase, Home is where the heart is. The words are meaningful for home is not an ordinary place. Home goes beyond a physical residence. While in my daily routine, I may forget the specialness of home, I value it as a holder of a lifetime of memories and emotions. Home is the place where family coming together to reconnect, share moments, and honor traditions. 

Preparations for family members greeting each other at the gathering table on Thanksgiving begin today. My family will travel to Central New York to celebrate the traditional feast of Thanksgiving. While the air may be crisper there than on Long Island and a snowflake may fall, home is where the heart is. I anticipate this gathering and hope to savor each moment with family knowing that an attitude of gratitude for all that home represents will preside at the table.

While listening to the song "Homeward Bound" by BYU Focal Point, I linger over the first stanza and know that the calling to be homeward bound is strong. 

In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing, 
I'll be homeward bound again.

I offer this digital inspiration to my family in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday.

By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.
Proverbs 24:3-4

I will remember to treasure the riches of home
as I head homeward bound for Thanksgiving. 

You will enjoy listening to the angelic voices of Homeward Bound. 

Be blessed today as you start preparing for the Thanksgiving gathering.

Today is #ThankfulThursday and Holly Mueller asks our Spiritual Journey Thursday community to blog about a topic each week. Today we are discussing home. Please visit SJT here

#K12ArtChallenge is celebrating gratitude this month. 
The theme of the challenge is family.

I dedicate this post to both blogging communities.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Ignite Wonder in Teachers and Students

When creativity ignites wonder, inspiration flows. The heart meets the mind and sends out connectors for voice to rise. Creative vibes mix with word weaving and all of a sudden an explosion of thought pops. 

Tonight on #NYEDChat the connected voices of those who engaged in the act of wondering ignited a creative spirit. Sparks started in the daytime as anticipation of the chat mounted. Later, connected educators congregated in Twitter spaces sending out messages of #edulove to those in their tribes. Thoughtful praise was passed around to inspire and support each other. Individually we may stand but together we are a vibrant collective body of practitioners. 

As I started the convo, I felt a spirit of positivity. NYEDChat, the voice of NYS educators, was sure to rise, I thought. I was right. Not only did it rise from within but voices from across the states joined in. The echo of the fast-paced tweets created a volume that led NYEDChat to trend on Twitter. 

With the remembrance of strong eduvoices resounding in my mind, I present to you the Wonder Wall. You will find mantras and words to live by statements created by the passionate educators who participated in NYEDChat. They are the ones who commit themselves to positively impact teaching, learning, and life each day. 

Lead with grit, follow your passion,
inspire greatness in others.
Students first, no matter what!
Gina Silveria

Learning at its finest, is driven by authentic engagement, passion, and creativity.
Dan McCabe

The words you use,
The actions you choose,
Say everything about you.
Paul McNeil

You are never done learning. Keep on wondering.
Stefanie Lombardo

Keep teaching students how to dig deeper.
Troy Hicks

Looking for the world? Look under the wonder.
Paul W. Hankins

Wonder leads to creativity, 
which leads to life-long learning.
Margaret Simon

Enjoy the process of unlearning.
Seek change before it swallows you!
Ed Kemnitzer

Be human, be transparent, ask questions, learn alongside the teachers and students. 
Dr. Steve Chapman

We need students to take back the learning.
Holly Mueller

This is a sampling of some of the wonderful statements made during the chat. There are many more #eduinspirations that will be created as tweachers and leaders continue to convene in educational chat rooms. This Wonder Wall will grow to bring awareness to the idea that wonder must be ignited in teachers and students across the world to positively impact learning. Join the ranks of difference makers who continue to inspire students to greatness. 

If you want to contribute a mantra or words to live by statement, 
please send it to me for posting.

Now please visit Two Writing Teachers for the Tuesday Slice of Life. Read how other educational bloggers are viewing life this week.