Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to hear Kate DiCamillo speak in a neighboring town. I purchased my ticket weeks ago, as soon as I heard of the event. I’ve loved every Kate DiCamillo story I’ve ever read. On this particular evening, she was sharing her new book, La La La, and her story of growing up a writer. Kate shared that throughout her life, she has always been searching for connections- a theme found throughout her stories. She used the phrase “radiant strands of connection” several times, a line that has stuck with me. One of those radiant strands she discussed came from her elementary school days.
Kate had a real fear of a boy she described as a bully who would pinch her. But one day, as her teacher read aloud from Island of the Blue Dolphins, Kate sat engrossed in the story. She glanced over only to notice the bully, also overcome by the story. Their eyes met and he smiled at her. She began to see the boy in a new way because they shared this connection to the story.
The following day, on Friday, I was part of a professional development day in our district. It’s a unique opportunity for teachers to sign up for various PD sessions planned and presented by fellow colleagues. I was sharing a session on “The Power of Read Aloud” with another literacy coach. We began by sharing this quote from Lucy Calkin’s The Guide to the Reading Workshop and asking participants to talk about their reactions and experiences with read aloud:
Reading aloud is the best way we have to immerse children in the glories of reading, showing them both how and why one reads. Together with our children, we gulp down stories. We experience what it means to lose – and to find – ourselves in a story, in history. Word by word, chapter by chapter, we are led into another time and another place and another field of study.
Together, we shared and again I was reminded of the “radiant connections” as we discussed stories we remembered our own teachers reading aloud when we were students ourselves. Some of my clearest memories of elementary school revolve around read aloud. I can picture my teacher each of my teachers, K-6. The chairs they sat in. The books they read. The connections made.
Later, during another session at Westport Learns, I was presenting with another friend. We shared our experiences experimenting with the idea of “greenbelt writing” from Ralph Fletcher’s Joy Write. We had planned invitations and opportunities for teachers to play and write. One teacher, my good friend Elena, shared that she didn’t really remember writing during her own elementary school years. What she did remember was the deadlines and stress that came in middle school and high school. So one of her goals this year has been to create positive experiences with writing, so that someday her students will remember their year in second grade and the joy they found writing.
Listening to Kate DiCamillo and then my experiences during Westport Learns, the very next day, have me thinking of the tremendous power we have as educators. We can provide opportunities and foster these amazing connections. Connections to stories. Connections to writing. Connections to others. Radiant strands of connection.