Conversations that Inspire

My wife took my daughter to the zoo, which means that I am sitting at home…by myself (well, except for the cat who is sitting on the table next to my computer and my dog who is sitting directly on top of my feet and the other cat who keeps wandering by hoping I will stop what I am doing to pet her on the head).

This is a rare occurrence.  I find myself with time.  Time to do anything I want.

And all I can do is think about the conversation that I had yesterday with the incredibly smart, unbelievably passionate, and unendingly generous Ellin Keene.  Our district has been lucky enough to work with Ellin for the past few years.  She has done countless hours of professional development with our district as we work to better our literacy instruction.  And besides all of that, she is just amazing.

I recently read Meenoo Rami‘s book Thrive (which I highly recommend to all educators!) and in it she talks of the importance of finding mentors.  People who will inspire us, people who will push us, people who will see the things in us that we often do not see in ourselves.  In every possible way, Ellin Keene has been one of my most important mentors.  She has made me a better teacher, she has helped me to be a better person, she has guided me toward thinking deeply, toward always putting the children at the very center of what we do, and towards being the kind of reflective teacher that always thinks of how we can do better for our students.

And yesterday I got to steal a little bit of her time to discuss my action research for the Heinemann Fellows.  I will admit that I had not done a whole lot of thinking about my project since I returned from my trip to New Hampshire.  I can say that it was because I was busy running after my 18 month old, but the truth is that I just wasn’t feeling very inspired.

Knowing that I was going to meet with Ellin, I spent the past few nights pulling together a very, very, very rough beginning plan for my action research.  I tried to refine my question, think of possible ways to gather data and think of instructional strategies that might help me to help my students to do what I hope that they can do.  And I felt okay about it all.

And then I spoke to Ellin. I am assuming that anyone reading this knows the feeling that I am about to describe.  It is what happens when you sit down with someone you respect, someone who “gets it.” It is the feeling of being excited by the possibilities that you start to imagine in the course of the conversation.  It is the feeling of wishing that, for that one moment, summer vacation would end and that you could run back into your classroom full of kids and just get started.  It is the feeling of being inspired. And. It. Is. Amazing.

Recently, I have had more opportunities to feel this kind of inspiration.  It has been brought back into my life by Twitter, by this blog, by my work as a Heinemann Fellow and by my conversations around the action research project I am undertaking.

And still, I can’t help but wonder, “Why don’t I feel this way every day?” Why don’t I feel this way after face-to-face conversations with my co-workers? Why don’t I feel this way when I leave a PD session from my district? Is it just because we get so bogged down with the stress of the day-to-day stuff? Is is because when we gather face-to-face with co-workers we are more likely to slip into conversations that revolve around complaints?

I don’t know the answer. What I do know is that I crave conversations that inspire.  I feel so lucky to have found opportunities to have those conversations and now I want to push myself to create situations in my day-to-day work environment that lead to those same kinds of conversations.  I don’t know exactly how one does that, but I know that I going to try.

As for my conversation yesterday with Ellin…that gets tucked away in a very special space in my heart.  It will be there when I need to pull from it for a boost of inspiration.  I want to sit down and write about my action research plan, but that can wait for later.  What I needed to capture today was that incredible conversation and what it made me feel and my desire to replicate those kinds of conversations with the people I am surrounded by every day.