Saturday, November 24, 2012

Reflecting on NCTE & ALAN 2012

One of my absolute favorite events that I get to go to in my entire year was last week, and I was lucky enough to be able to have a family, staff, and administration that understand how important this is to me and facilitate my being able to go. It was the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention followed by the two day Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) Workshop. This was my second year going to the NCTE Convention and my fifth year attending the ALAN Workshop. If you haven't been, I'm not sure I can adequately express how amazing and reinvigorating and refreshing and exhausting attending these events are, but if you're an English or reading teacher or librarian, I highly encourage you to find a way to join us in Boston next year.

My journey all started during last year's NCTE, when I met my twitter friend, Sarah Andersen (@yaloveblog) in person for the first time. Sarah is a high school teacher in Michigan, and we knew we got along really well, and after spending every meal together in 2011, we became official "convention buddies" and concocted our Super Secret Plan to submit a proposal to present at NCTE 2012. We recruited two other twitter teacher friends, Danielle (@MyMercurialMuse), a high school teacher in New Jersey, and Mindi (@mindi_r), a middle school literacy coach in IL, to join in our planning. We were all really excited to find out back in the spring that our proposal had been accepted and we would be presenting at NCTE 2012 in Vegas! Our session was titled Facilitating Choice Within Curriculum Constraints (you can find the slideshow here if you're interested) and we had a nice size audience in attendance on Friday afternoon and heard good feedback about our presentation. Special shout out to Chris Lehman (@ichrislehman) who tweeted out a bunch of our highlights from our session, and it was so great to meet him in person for the first time. I'm now hooked and have already started the gears in motion for Super Secret Plan #2 with Sarah, which we hope will culminate in presenting in Boston in 2013.
Because of this, most of my focus this year was on my presentation. I arrived early on Thursday and attended an incredible pre-session (one of four offered) by Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Jim Burke. If you're a teacher, you know these are powerhouse names in our field. Hearing them talk about reading and writing instruction validated much of what I do and encouraged me to go further in taking those next steps to improving what I do in the classroom and making it even more meaningful and beneficial for my students. One of the best part of hearing them talk was that I got to do it with some of my twitter teacher friends, some who I had met last year, and some who I was meeting for the first time this year. I have to say that one of the most meaningful parts of this convention for the past two years, for me, has been getting to meet so many of my twitter PLN in person, and continuing our conversations well beyond the sessions and onto the exhibit floor and our meal times beyond. I think I almost had more great Professional Development during meals with teacher and librarian friends as we talked and challenged each other about our classroom practices. It's so true-get smart teachers together who are knowledgeable about best practices, and we create our own best PD - that's pretty much the entire NCTE experience.
Special shout out to my awesome PLN I got to hang out with this year and learn and grow from throughout the six days we were together: Brian Wyzlic, Sarah Andersen, Jennifer Fountain, Lea Kelley, Beth Shaum, Mindi Rench, Danielle Kulawiak, Sherry Gick, Donalyn Miller, Kellee Moye, Jen Vincent, Cynthia Alaniz, Teresa Bunner, Alyson Beecher, Cindy Minnich, and Niki Ohs Barnes. 
I have to give a special mention to my convention buddies and hotel buddies group from this year. Just about every meal was spent with these amazing people, and I am so thankful to call them all friends, especially ones who I can spend almost all day with for six days straight and not get sick of at all! :) Sarah, Lea, Jennifer, and Brian (and sometimes Sherry) Also, they challenge me and inspire me and build me up int he way only another teacher/librarian can, and I thank them for it. Can't wait to convention together again next year!
This is how we spend our time between sessions in Vegas! Books and Twitter
I better not forget to mention one of the absolute best parts of the first day - getting to meet my amazing sister classroom teacher, Brian Wyzlic (WyzReads), in person for the first time. Although we had previously Skyped, emailed, called, texted, facebooked, twittered, and communicated in every other way about our various Sister Classroom Project adventures, and already felt like bonus siblings, it was our first time getting to meet in person. Definitely a highlight.
Another highlight? Getting to see and talk with Michelle Hodkin again, who is the author of one of my all-time favorite series, THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER and THE EVOLUTION OF MARA DYER. She's the sweetest person and I got to introduce her to some of my friends and get a second copy of Evolution signed by her to put into my classroom (because as much as I adore the first copy she signed for me, I can't put it in my classroom, so Lea gave her a little reminder before signing this one). She also grabbed me to introduce me to Eliot Schrefer, author of ENDANGERED, a book that I was raving about a couple of weeks ago. He was super nice also and it was so great to meet him in person after loving his book so much. Thanks to Michelle for making that introduction happen by yelling, "Jillian, stop!" as I was walking out of the exhibit hall to get lunch.
Another great part of the NCTE Convention is the exhibit hall. Last year I was so overjoyed and overwhelmed by the generosity of the publishers giving teachers books that I vowed to be a little more selective this year. I still ended up with almost 70 books, but every single one of them is one that I was on the lookout for, or wanted to get signed by the author, or was booktalked to me by the publisher reps and sounded like something I or one of my students would love to read. I can't wait to see the excitement on my students' faces when they walk into my classroom and see all of these books spread out on tables for them to do a book pass and see which books to add to their "Want to Read" lists. It was also great to see some of the awesome School & Library department reps from the publishing houses who are always so generous to us teachers at these conventions.
Special shout out to the awesomeness in reading material, booktalking, and author signings provided by: HarperCollins, Little Brown, Sourcebooks, Simon & Shuster, Penguin, Disney Hyperion, Scholastic, Macmillan, and Bloomsbury

But, wait, the fun and excitement is not over yet! After the craziness of NCTE, things wind down, (and I headed down to Encore for an amazing much-needed massage and few hours of relaxation thanks to my mom), and then ALAN begins starting with the cocktail party on Sunday night. This is basically all of us mingling with all of the authors who will be presenting. In other words, a whole bunch of introverts trying not to gush and create awkward silences with each other. But there's mutual love between teachers/librarians and authors, so it's always a fun time. I always feel like I'm just surrounded by my rockstar heroes. Then I went into two days of hanging out with the Nerdy Book Club group who stayed for ALAN. It's always so much fun to go in the first morning and see everyone acting like it's Christmas morning as they tear open their boxes of 30 or more books and start stacking piles of what they want to keep, what they want to get signed, and what they want to trade with others. And then the negotiations begin. Being surrounded by books and bookish people and authors is definitely a room where I want to hang out for two days - and I did. We heard some amazing authors speak about inspiring things, had a brilliant keynote from Teri Lesene (@Professor Nana - if you're not following her, why not?!) who I want to be when I grow up, and lots of lines for silent signings in the back of the room after the authors spoke on their panels.
Waiting, waiting, waiting for them to open the doors for ALAN
The ALAN Nerdy Book Club contingent
Already adding titles to my goodreads list!
So that's it. I'm exhausted and exhilarated and rejuvenated and ready to go again next year. Tuesday was a sad day as I had to say goodbye to friends I'd spend the whole six days with - it was a bit like summer camp ending, but I know I get to talk to them on twitter all the time and just because we again scattered across the country, I know we're all still supporting each other every day. Plus, NCTE 2013 in Boston is only 11 months away, and I'm sure it will come up much faster than we think.

Thanks again to all of my friends who I got to spend time learning and talking and laughing with, to the publisher reps who were so overly generous and supportive, and to the authors who allowed me to gush over them and their writing and never looked at me like I was too crazy. See you next year!


  1. Great recap and pictures, Jillian! I'm so excited about our new Super Secret Plan :)

  2. love this! you managed to capture the whole experience :) I didn't realize it was the first time you & Brian had met in person!

  3. Glad y'all had a great time even though I am so jealous!! I mean like GREEN with envy! :)

    Maybe Boston is in my future? :)


  4. I never made it to NCTE during my teaching years. What an amazing experience!