Who knew there was this little pocket of heaven in Elkhorn, Nebraska, where librarians, teachers, principals, and staff collaborate to make learning -- for everyone -- their number one priority? Who knew that so much laughing could go on while all this collaborating was happening? All this ease? All this comfort within the context of hard work?
I've brought you some photos from my time in Elkhorn schools -- what an experience, y'all. What a wonderful couple of packed days.
I thought I might not make it on Monday afternoon, as storms rolled through Atlanta, and my flight to Chicago was delayed several times. My connecting flight was also delayed, however, so I flew to O'Hare five hours late, at 9pm, only to miss my connection, and spend the night in Chicago.
At midnight in the craziness of O'Hare, I managed to get booked on the first flight to Omaha the next morning, so got three hours sleep near the airport, grabbed the 6am to Omaha, and landed at 7:30, just in time to jump into librarian Melissa Lightle's car and be whisked to Fire Ridge Elementary School, where I began my day at 8:30 with Kindergarteners. Whoa!
The day was fabulous -- three sessions at Fire Ridge, lunch there, then a whisk to Westridge, where I did one session. The next day was a repeat, with three sessions at Spring Ridge, and back to smaller Westridge for a last session.
Students were so well prepared for me! They knew my books, so when I talked about characters and where they came from, about the storyline and how it came to be, and related this to their lives, they could make ready connections, and were scribbling away. Whether they were finger writing with me, as younger students do in assembly, or writing in their notebooks as the fourth and fifth graders did, I put them to work, and they were fully engaged. Teachers modeled for their students --they even danced to One Wide Sky.
Dinner on Tuesday night included -- principals. Sometimes in schools, I never meet the principal or assistant principal, and an author visit is viewed much like the cultural arts programs I used to attend with my own children when they were in school -- wonderful singers and dancers and animal handlers and more, who were often tied into the curriculum and were so much fun for the students, but not viewed as an integral part of the day. These folks would whisk in for two sessions with the entire school, and whisk out, but often they weren't seen as partners in education in the way that an author program is by many schools today.
It's part entertainment, yes, it's part educational, yes, but mostly, authors come into schools as teaching partners, as literacy advocates, as writing coaches for teachers as well as students, and -- truth to tell -- as inspiration. You can do it. You can write well, you can teach writing well, you can learn this difficult thing and even rejoice in its power to move, to instruct, to heal, to give shape to your life, to help you understand yourself and others, to empower the world... this thing we call Story does all these things. How amazing is our personal narrative.
I ask students to tell me about their lives, to write them, draw them, sing them, dance them, tell them... and they do. It's always thrilling to see Story begin to take shape, isn't it? Teachers tell me they are inspired to write now, too -- yes! Do it! Tell your story! Show it to your students, share your work in progress, your challenges, your victories, and encourage your students to do the same. It's more of an organic process than it is a rule-bound one -- it is, I promise. The rules are important to learn, yes they are, but the process is intrinsic to who we are. We MUST tell our stories: we are human. It's what we do. It is our task, our life's work. So -- how best to tell them? What are my tools? Who can help me?
I still ask these questions myself. I am still learning, even as I teach. I am always learning, and so are you.
It's thrilling to do good work in schools, it really is. It's thrilling, too, to finish up that good work and return home. Home to the little house in the little woods, with its little garden and spring colors, its waiting little family, and lovely homecooked meals. Thank you, Jim. It's good to be home.
And thanks so much, everyone at Fire Ridge, particularly librarian Melissa Lightle and principal Ann Doerr, everyone at Spring Ridge, including librarian Marsha Flanders and principal Don Pechous, and everyone at Westridge Elementary School, especially principal Troy Sidders, and librarian Stephany Albritton -- and all media assistants as well -- you are all so special, so awesome, and did a mountain of work to prepare your schools and to bring an author and a meaningful literacy program to your students and teachers. Your students are lucky to have you. And I know you feel you are lucky to have them, and one another.
Thank you so much for making me feel so welcome, and such an integral part of your big-hearted community. I am honored. It was my pleasure to work with you.