on belonging

The 7th annual Georgia Conference on Teaching Writing and Reading was a packed two days in June, attended by over 700 teachers from Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and a few scattered folks from even further away.

I worked with teachers on methods of teaching personal narrative writing, which is what I do when I visit schools. My good company included Karen Caine, Tim Rasinsky, Katie Wood Ray, Debbie Miller, Michael Smith, Lori Oczkus, Bob Wortman and Debra Hopkins. We spent two intense days teaching, and two fabulous evenings sharing stories and marvelous meals together, getting to know one another. What a treat. 

I was so busy, and so engaged, I didn't take a single photo of people. This place will teem with prize pumpkins and tomatoes and quilts and sheep and music and food and people-people-people, when the Fair is in full swing in October. It was soothingly silent, the morning I arrived early to take a few photos.
 This year, I'll go to the Fair, for the first time in the six years I've lived in Atlanta. And I will stay in touch with the good folks at Dodge Learning Resources, who organize the Georgia Conference on Teaching Writing and Reading. I could spout all day long on the wonderful things I learned in these two intense teaching days, on the joys of teaching as well. I sat in on sessions and couldn't take notes fast enough. I added wonderful tools to my teaching writing toolbox. And yet, one of my most important take-aways is something Al Dodge said to me on the first night we were all gathered together for supper, before the conference began.

"Thank you for inviting me," I said to Al, as I looked around the room at all these heavyweight presenters with their well-practiced skills and knowledgable books about writing, and their meaningful, useful statistics and anecdotes and methods.

Al looked me in the eye with great sincerity and said, "You belong here. You've always belonged here."

That was it. And isn't that what we long for in the world? To find places to belong, people to belong to, and something known and safe about our existence, which helps us to take risks, to learn and grow. It's what our students long for as well -- to belong. It's what writers hope for -- to find community. It's what we seek within our families of choice and chance.

It's what we actually teach, too, if you think about it... or it's what we don't teach, perhaps. Think about your classroom. How do you invite your students in? How do you say, every day, with conviction,

"Come in, come here. Welcome! You are part of us. You belong."

Was thinking of this, this morning, as I read this great piece at for the love of learning. Now I want to work with Joe Bower, too. I love teaching. And yet, I am always the student. I know you know what I mean.

Thank you, Al and Iris Dodge, Maria Karnik, and all the wonderful, talented, capable folks at Dodge Learning Resources, as well as the fabulous teachers I worked with in Perry -- may you have summers full of telling your stories, and a classroom next year where you can create that safe haven of belonging for every student... and yourself. 

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