Wednesday, July 13, 2016

NerdCampMI 2016

I'm a homebody. My absolute comfort zone is to be home and able to hear my boys playing somewhere in the house, most often in the basement on various video game consoles. I feel at peace at home, my anxiety is typically at bay, and it is where I am the happiest. This summer, however, has found me on the move. The last time I was home for a full week was the week of June 6th. I've traveled to Scholastic Summits (with another coming up in a week), a writing retreat, a vacation, and just recently - NerdCamp. 

This is the fourth year of NerdCamp Michigan. Colby and Alaina Sharp along with Suzanne Gibbs and a fabulous team (that I can't remember every member of, so I'll just stick with "team") have put together an amazing unconference. (And it's FREE! What??) I have attended three of the four years and every year I walk away amazed and ready to come back for more. 

This year was no different. While I was operating on adrenaline, and really needed to go home and sleep, there was no where I'd rather be. I arrived Sunday night and got to have a fabulous dinner with Teri Lesesne - what's not to love about that? We talked books, education, and current events. The pace of this conference is different than others. Time is given over to conversation, gathering with colleagues. It is glorious. While I'm typically stressed out about presenting and cannot sleep the night before, I crashed on Sunday night and awoke refreshed.

Monday I headed to the NerdCamp with Teri. We began in the gym for NerdTalks - wonderful fast paced speeches from authors and friends. By this point one of my colleagues, Benjie, had arrived and she and I looked around the gym in wonder - over 1000 people crowded in to kick off the day. We began with Kathy Burnette, whose speech about the power of books brought me to tears. Then Teri Lesesne came on to discuss censorship in all its forms. Raina Telgemeier was up next. My students would have flipped! She spoke about how real life people end up in stories and a special person who had been in her book, Smile. Pernille Ripp came on to talk about how we must listen to what our students tell us. I know Pernille online, but haven't spent much time with her in real life. This speech made me wish we taught down the hall from one another. Donalyn Miller came on and read a beautiful post she had once written for Nerdy Book Club on the power of books in our lives, how they can help us overcome hard beginnings. Finally, Colby had a surprise guest, and from the moment her head of hair appeared, people knew it was Kate DiCamillo. Man, what a presence. She can take an audience of over 1000, but make it feel like she's speaking directly to you. 

From there we had three sessions stretched in front of us for the afternoon. I was presenting for the first two sessions on building your classroom library. As I mentioned above, I'm typically nervous to present, but not at NerdCamp. Each session brought in amazing people. When I'd announce I was moving to middle school, middle school teachers would cheer. Yes! Tribe found. People were kind, gave great feedback, and had tons of energy. I loved it. For the final session I went to listen to Teri and Donalyn talk about reading identities and what shapes ours. Powerful stuff. 

Monday afternoon found many authors signing books in the cafeteria. Benjie and I headed over to get Gae Polisner's ARC of The Memory of Things. I'd read anything Gae ever wrote, but to Benjie and I, she's a rock star. Our book club read The Summer of Letting Go a while back. Gae Skyped into my dining room, we all sat and chatted with her about the book over wine. It was awesome. 

Monday night there was a dinner. More food, conversation, and time to just hang out. I was surprised and thrilled to find a friend at our table that reads this blog. Every time someone tells me they do, I shake my head in wonder. So cool! 

Tuesday is the "edcamp" portion of NerdCamp. People proposed sessions and you were asked to go to what you wanted. I went to a session on diverse books from Teri and Donalyn. My to read list has grown. Then I saw Pernille Ripp as she talked about what her Language Arts class looks like at the middle school level with only 45 minutes for a class. Whoa! She shared brilliant ideas. (See comment above - wishing again she was down the hall.)

Lunch was a trip. A bunch of us gathered in the commons area. Jillian Heise was kind enough to share F&Gs with us. I sat between Benjie and Karen Terlecky and we read, and read, and read. Looking up at one point I noticed we had around 15 teachers there, all snacking on one thing or another, some reading books on their own, many sharing a picture book with another. Laughter abounded. There were shouts of, "Pass that one to me next!" and "I know exactly how I want to share this one." 

In the afternoon we headed back to the gym to build the schedule for the remainder of the day. I joined Donalyn Miller and Cindy Minnich in proposing a session on writing for Nerdy Book Club. We gathered in the library with a great group of educators and talked about what Nerdy is and why it takes a community to run it. While there was one more session available after that, I headed home. I felt an extreme pull to get the drive underway. It was only upon sitting down in my car that I realized just how tired I was. 

Driving home gave me the chance to reflect. In one of her sessions Donalyn Miller mentioned that if she had been told eight years ago that many of her closest friends would be people she had met online, she would have thought that was nuts. In actual fact, that is exactly what has happened to her - and to me. Hugging friends goodbye, I felt gratitude at this chance to grow and learn for two days with these amazing people. What a blessing.

My heart has been heavy of late. As I wrote a week ago (HERE), the news is hard to handle. We have major issues going on in this country. NerdCamp gave me the chance to share that heartache with friends. In sessions, conversations with friends, talking to Benjie before we finally crashed for the night, or in impromptu talks on Tuesday - the news came up again and again. Diversity in books was a constant thread of conversation. Social justice topics in our classrooms came up repeatedly. Censorship, gatekeeping, equality....again and again, I was reminded of why I am proud to be a part of this group. These are hard conversations, but no one is shying away from having them. I left NerdCamp more hopeful than I have been for some time. Thank you to all that made an amazing two days possible. I cannot wait to go back next year.

Also - Teri Lesesne has a great recap of NerdCamp here