Yesterday, I got a text from one of my pre-service teachers who will be attending NCTE with me next week:
“How in the world are we supposed to pick sessions?! I’m currently signed up to attend 26 sessions from 9:30-12:15 on Friday according to my app. Whoops!”
I think all of us who have been to NCTE know exactly what she means. With so many great sessions, how can we possibly choose?
Here are the 8 principles I try to keep in mind as I’m filling out my schedule:
Highlight an area for improvement and go deep. What’s one area of your practice that you’d like to improve? Attending multiple sessions about one topic makes it more likely that you’ll return home after NCTE with ideas to implement change.
Consider a theme. One year, my theme was smorgasbord: a little of everything. Another year, my theme was making picture books. This year, my theme is “my sadly neglected writing life.” I’m targeting sessions that will inspire me to write and even give me time and space within the session to produce some quick writing.
Get outside your comfort zone. It’s easy to find yourself in an echo chamber at NCTE. Sign up for one or two sessions that will push your thinking and invite you to consider different perspectives. As a college professor, I’ve found that some of my best learning comes from elementary teachers, so I usually skip the sessions for teacher educators and immerse myself in the world of K-5.
Support diverse voices. The NCTE app makes it easy to find sessions highlighting diverse perspectives, experiences, and texts. Look through the LGBTQ and Rainbow Coalition sessions under Strands and under the Equity and Social Justice sessions under Topics.
Learn from the authors of your favorite professional development books. My pre-service teachers are digging Penny Kittle, Tom Romano, Nancie Atwell, Jeff Anderson, Linda Christensen, and Kelly Gallagher—and they’re all presenting at NCTE.
Learn from your favorite teacher bloggers. We just read Julieanne Harmatz’s thought-provoking Slice of Life, What Scares You?, and she’s presenting at a session called “Don’t Give Up on Boys! How to Nurture Boy Readers and Writers.” We’ve toured Katherine Sokolowski’s classroom space through her blog, and she’s sharing her work in three different sessions. I’m excited to learn in person from the authors of my favorite blog about teaching high school English, Three Teachers Talk.
Meet your favorite authors. Of course the Exhibit Hall is great for this too, but as someone who doesn’t care about signed books and doesn’t like meeting strangers, author sessions work far better for me. Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl and All’s Faire in Middle School are making the rounds in my Methods class, and she’s presenting at a session called “Writing Your Own Story: Encouraging Middle Grade Students to Find Their Own Voice.” We’re all obsessed with Jason Reynolds’s books, and he happens to be an amazing speaker AND presenting several times.
Take a flyer on a session you know nothing about. I have a very unscientific way of doing this: at some point during the convention, when I’m really tired, I just stay in the same room for a couple of sessions and take my chances on the next presentation. Oddly enough, this has worked out well for me. That’s how I stumbled upon The Paper Graders a few years ago. It’s also how I ended up in a powerful session last year on teaching writing in prison.
Even with a clear vision for my NCTE schedule, it’s still tough to choose and I always suffer from massive FOMO at least a couple of times while I’m there—usually when I see impassioned tweets flying from a session I almost attended.
So here’s bonus tip #9: Plan to follow and contribute to the convention hashtag, #ncte17.
What advice do you have for my overwhelmed pre-service teachers as they try to plan their schedules?