March 11, 2019 - Michael Salinger

Zaharis Literacy Conference, Mesa, AZ

If you’re not doing things that scare you a little you’re not progressing.


First off – Visiting the Zaharis Literacy Conference wasn’t scary at all – it was a delight. How do these oases of stellar learning spring up? Principal Mike Oliver has created a read read read friendly environment that made me wish I were a six-year-old starting over again.

First graders work spaces were treated as their “offices” splendored with family photos and personalization – one could see that the students had taken ownership of their learning in a serious, authentic and inviting way. We toured several classrooms as well as Mike’s office (which looked like a display room for picture books) and each was an inviting chamber of inquiry and deep thinking. What a great school.


Here’s Landon’s office.

Now the scary part: Doing a Keynote.

Sara and I were slated to do a keynote based on our new Scholastic title – From Striving to Thriving Writers. We are excellent at breakout sessions – nuts and bolts applications of the strategies we present – writing with teacher – demonstrating and modeling the lessons contained in the book. But – a keynote is a different beast. You’re expected to feed the spirit as much or more than the brain during a keynote. This was uncharted territory for the two o us. We have each done solo talks about ourselves and our creative writing, but this was the first time for this book – together.

I’d give an 8.5 on the first outing. We got a lot of our point s across fine and we signed a bunch of books afterwards so I’m pretty sure we did not harm. But, and there always is a but, we know we can improve. We debriefed with our patient and incredibly intelligent editor Lois and we came up with some strategies of our own for a keynote.


We need to front load the concept of how our framework process of teaching writing elements provide the scaffolding for our Strivers and the guiding structure for our Thrivers – but they then drop away, just like the scaffolding used in construction. Once they are not needed they go away – and the frame, it is hidden inside the building – providing the support but by no means the focal point.

We need to showcase our success in the classroom by bringing out more student samples – sometimes we sell ourselves a little short by not tooting this horn out of self-conscious and misplaced modesty. But, it’s the kid’s work that show how well these lessons jumpstart students writing. That’s another good analogy – these things are like jumper cables – once the car is started you don’t go driving off with the cables still attached flapping in the wind sparking against the pavement. The cables are unhooked, and you drive off into the sunset, charged and victorious.


All these ideas become apparent when we are in a breakout session and walking through the lessons from start to finish – Just like in the classroom allowing the participants to discover the concepts as we work through them, but the ideas are better front loaded for a keynote.

We are all learners. We strive. This notion was on full display at Zaharis Elementary and Sara and I embrace it with what we hope approximates the same fervor the teachers and students there do.


Inviting and cozy.

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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...