February 19, 2017 - Michael Salinger

Write to Learn Conference – Osage Beach MO

“What are you afraid of?”


Sara and Nikki Giovanni

That’s how Nikki Giovanni kicked off her luncheon Keynote at the Write to Learn conference in Osage Beach, Missouri. This is the second time Sara and I have presented at this conference run by our friend Willy Wood. It’s a good one. It has to be it is almost impossible to get to.


We enjoyed full rooms for our presentations

Not really but it is a hike – about two hours from either St. Louis or Springfield situated on the Lake of the Ozarks. The trip is worth it – either as an attendee or a presenter. Willy brings in some really big names in the pedagogical posse. Besides Nikki, we shared the sessions with Kelly Gallagher, Kristin Ziemke and other stellar teacher presenters.


Simile we-write we did with our elementary teachers.

Sara and I presented five times. We started with a pre-conference all day institute. Six hours of writing across the curriculum. We also shared some strategies for public speaking, figurative language sessions for elementary and upper school and a session on reading and writing about images.

We participated in an open mic evening (where Willy read a high soaring piece about summer teenage employment pitching watermelons), and got to hang out with our pedagogical adopted daughter Kristin who we finally heard deliver a keynote (every time we’ve been at the same conference in the past we’ve been working at the same time in different sessions.) Needless to say she rocked it – reminding us that technology in the classroom should be there to amplify our students stories. Chrome books, YouTube, iPads etc. etc. are tools not a goal.


middle and high school teachers working on extended metaphor

Nikki was referring to the present political climate when she asked what do we have to be afraid of and of course, she is right. But, also this question resonates across teaching. Kristin talked about a classroom where the teacher is not necessarily the central focus, where kids discover and share their own stories teaching each other in the process.

This could be scary for an educator used to a lecture style class. Sara and I talked about students using their voices out loud to evidence their learning and the disservice we feel we do to our students when we give them a pass on speaking out in class because they may be “too shy.” This can be scary, for the student and for the teacher trying to prod the reluctant to speak with conviction. We also spoke on using poetry across the curriculum – the word poetry can be scary sometimes!


Willy and Kristin poised and caffeinated

Willy puts a lot of sweat and time into planning these conferences – rounding up speakers – making sure there is coffee – arranging venues – all with the hope that attendees will show up – this too could be scary.

But the one unifying thread within all these scary situations is that folks are standing up looking these fears in the eye and tackling them because fear is not an excuse for inaction when one knows the right thing to do.


I’m pretty sure this was what Nikki was getting at in her keynote and I think just about all the folks at the conference this weekend could truthfully answer her question by saying, “Not much.”


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“Sara and Michael bring infectious energy and joy leavened with deep knowledge of best practices in literacy to their work with children and teachers.” Ellin Keene – Author of Mosaic of Thought and The Teacher You Want to Be
“Sara and Michael bring magic, and a contagious love of words to both students and teachers alike!” Georgia Heard - Author of Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School More testimonials...