Common Thread


In the classroom, I’ve been working with kids to look for themes that can be found  across their books. Is that just a theme in this part of the story or does that carry throughout the book? This classroom work got me thinking about my day, Saturday, when I attended the 94th Saturday Reunion at Teachers College. I’ve been thinking about the theme that wove the day together? To do that, I need to start at the end of the day keynote given by Lucy Calkins.

Lucy jumped right into story. If you’ve never heard her tell a story, she is masterful. The overarching theme was about the importance of human connection. She said, “Paying attention to each other and seeing each other. I think that’s a big deal.” She went on to recall moments from her life when she experienced these connections. Her Dad going out into a storm to use a payphone, knowing she was expecting a call. Her mom returning to work to make good on the promise of an orange soda (my friend Peter captured this story really well in his slice yesterday). A look from a teacher encouraging a student to say “yes” in a moment where yes really mattered.

Towards the end of her keynote, Lucy shared that people always ask her and her staff how they do what they do. How do they give so much? It was then that she quoted Siddhartha. “The definition of love is when the line between giving and taking is as thin as it will ever be.” Lucy said, “I think teaching is the same way.” 

I loved this quote and think it sums up Lucy’s message beautifully. I’ve since gone back to reread my notes from all of the sessions I attended throughout the day to see if I could find a common thread. Here is what I found…

First, I saw Katie Clements present a session on using checklists and learning progressions in writing workshop. She shared that the greatest impact on achievement is feedback. Checklists and progressions can help us as teachers to give feedback to students and also help students to grow their own writing. Katie stressed the importance of giving kids checklists where they were able to check off “Yes, I’m doing that,” rather than a checklist where they would have to check off “not yet” for every category. Then working with students to take some of the boxes where they checked “Starting to” to turn into goals, places where it would be easy to grow strengths. I think that all of these examples relate back to the greater theme of connection and knowing kids. By knowing our students and their writing, we can help them to set attainable goals that build on their strengths. Working from a place of “I’m almost there,” versus “I can’t do this.” We can help kids to develop a vision of what is possible by believing in them.

Next, I went to Mary Ehrenworth’s session that was all about building bridges between social, academic, and assessment language. She made the case that the language used on the newer state tests is really challenging, not something our kids are confronted with in their day to day lives. If the first time they see this type of language is on the test itself, it can be really daunting. It was when Mary said that we should be “coaching kids into smart behaviors versus compliance” that I found the link to the theme of connection. To teach kids to be learners rather than compliant. So instead of teaching to the test, teach kids to be resilient and flexible. To see the bridge between concepts and applications and in doing so, give them power to persevere.

In my third session, Natalie Louis, talked about meeting kids where they are as it relates to literacy. For instance, if we encounter a new student who may speak a different language, we can’t jump right to teaching them how to write a thesis statement. Again, it matters when we really get to know kids and help them grow from where they are. By doing this, we show kids that we care about them and believe they can do the work.

For my fourth session, I had hoped to learn about nonfiction toolkits, but that session was full by the time I found my way. I randomly ended up attending Colleen Cruz’s workshop on using digital tools to support students with IEPs. I’m so glad I happened upon Colleen and this group. I’m not sure how she opened the workshop, but when I snuck in, participants were sharing challenges they face as special educators. Colleen kept asking, “Is that a student problem or a school issue?” She later went on to describe that students with special needs only have special needs at school. School is the obstacle. We need to shift our mindset “to think about how we can offer access instead of how they (the kids) can change.” This had me thinking about kids back at school and students from my past. How often had I pushed them to fit the mold, to fulfill my vision? Could I find ways to create greater access to help students compensate for some of the challenges they face? How differently some situations could go by rethinking the access point. I could easily see this making all the difference for students. The difference between success and defeat.

What I love about The Reading and Writing Project at Teachers College is that they are always one step ahead of the latest research surrounding literacy instruction. Yet, at the heart of the literacy is always a student. A student that matters, that deserves to be known, and to grow. That’s a thread I’ll keep working to spin.


13 thoughts on “Common Thread

  1. Thanks for sharing all the important information and insights you gained from your attendance at TC Saturday Reunion. Sometimes I wonder where is the child in the midst of all the new programs, strategies, standards, etc. But clearly, the TC focus is still the child, and that’s as it should be. And that makes me feel good.

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  2. What a gift, these notes and thoughts from the reunion…. I especially love the rainbow in the rain of missing your fourth session but ending up in Colleen’s and finding meaning in it. Funny how TCRWP helps us grow as teachers/coaches, not just grow our readers & writers. Glad you shared your threads with us.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing your experience at the reunion! I have yet to be able to attend TC, and I so appreciate how you captured and shared your learning. I’m a firm believer in keeping the child at the heart of every decision we make in schools, so knowing that is the motivation behind all the work done by TC makes me even more appreciative of their resources that I use every day.

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  4. I am so glad I read your slice, having been for a couple of summer institutes and returning for writing this summer. The important questions you shared that I needed to hear were: “How often had I pushed them to fit the mold, to fulfill my vision? Could I find ways to create greater access to help students compensate for some of the challenges they face?” For a particular student in my class, I am now reminded to approach the situation differently. Thank you for sharing your day. I learned a lot.

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  5. This post does a beautiful job of capturing your day with a summary and the overarching theme of connection. I love the giving/taking quote as it relates to both love and to teaching. I’m so glad we once again attended this reunion. I can’t wait to share our notes. This was a good start.

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  6. I learn so much from your post. I want t think more about each individual part. I hope you’ll blog more about transferring this thinking into your days. That test prep is so strong. Teaching flexible thinking. When we think of a skill ladder to that competency. 🧐


  7. I love that you searched for and found themes. Your lucky students that they will benefit from your learning. I followed the Reunion via Twitter and am sad that I will not be at TC this summer (too much to do with a move). It really is a special place and your summary captured the feeling well!

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  8. This is so powerful: “…Siddhartha. ‘The definition of love is when the line between giving and taking is as thin as it will ever be.’ Lucy said, ‘I think teaching is the same way.’ Thank you for sharing your learning.

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  9. The ending is perfect! It ties back to your lead with a search for theme! You wove your day and your search together seamlessly. The piece that stood out, for me, was when you reflected “How often had I pushed them to fit the mold, to fulfill my vision.” Holding onto our past practices, long enough to reflect on them alongside current learning, I believe, is the most powerful tool to move our own thinking forward. You, do this, on a daily basis and model it for others! Thanks for sharing!

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  10. This was such a great read! I love that you found the common theme in Lucy’s ending keynote. “The heart of literacy is always the student” – I will also continue to spin that thread. I’m glad I found you today because of where your comment was when I shared my slice for the day. 😉


  11. What a pleasure to read about the themes that emerged from the conference. Even though I’m no longer in the classroom, I found myself pondering how I might have been more effective by asking that important question–how often did I push students to fit a mold instead of meeting them where they were.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I love hearing about sessions at TC in general. I always wish I had taken better advantage of the proximity when I lived in CT. Your reflections were powerful too. I especially loved the part about school issue vs student problem. There’s a lot to think about there.


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