Just Do It! (Sorry, Nike)

When my colleagues learn that I’m a writer and a national speaker, they are surprised.  I wouldn’t say shocked only because they know my personality for wanting to share the profession, but they usually have many questions; the typical ones being:  how did you get into that?  Did you know somebody?  Why would my voice be any different than the hundreds of writers, bloggers, and presenters already out there?

I believe wholeheartedly in walking the walk of teaching and talking the talk of teaching, but, one might wonder what does that look like?

In order for me to have credibility among other professional educators, I believe it’s imperative to be a role model of the profession.  I co-authored my first article for publication in 1995.  Subsequently we wrote an article about our project for the Wisconsin State Reading Association Journal.  We took our “show on the road,” and presented at the WSRA Convention and again at the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) in Minnesota in 1996.  Without a doubt, I was hooked!  I loved everything about writing and even more about presenting!

If you think you have nothing to say, trust me, you do.  As an expert in your classroom, you can share the academic strategies and behavior interventions you use every day.  Think about it, the typical love song has been written thousands of times.  But, is there really a “typical” love song?  A new artist will record another love song, and it will sound new again.  Use that same analogy in your classroom: annotation has been taught thousands of times in thousands of classrooms; but, in your classroom the strategy might be “brand-new” because it’s how you put your teaching slant on it that makes it uniquely yours.

I have presented locally, regionally and nationally on a variety of topics: from student behavior to student engagement to student literacy.  I have presented nationwide.  I have presented at private colleges, public universities and charter schools.  Here’s my point:  if you have an idea – get out there and share it!

While creating a presentation takes time, I find the process exhilarating!  Just coming up with a catchy title can take hours!!  But, if you have a lesson plan that inspires and student artifacts that engage – be creative and create!!  Professional educators want to know what their colleagues are doing, they want to be motivated and awed by what others are thinking and achieving.  Don’t disappoint them!  Get out there and be the one to contribute!

Writing can be a little more challenging, but still extremely rewarding.  Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, take time to put your thoughts on paper and ask someone you trust to proofread and offer critical feedback. Writing creates a very personal relationship between the writer and the reader.  You build a connection where sometimes all it might take is a subtle word or inference for the reader to realize that there is someone else who understands him/her and that understanding leads to a link, an association or dare I say it, “friendship.”

As a seasoned presenter, I embolden you to create a presentation.  Don’t be afraid to begin.  If you’re not sure how to write a presentation proposal, I encourage you to check out the Wisconsin State Reading Association (one of my favorites) website.  WSRA is very user friendly and their goal is to focus on educators from Wisconsin.  I have presented at WSRA numerous times and consider them to be extremely dedicated to educators and the profession.  Also, if you’re willing to travel, take a look at local chapters of reading conferences.  If you’re feeling adventurous, try NAREN, now based in Baltimore.  They focus on the at-risk student and their distinctive set of circumstances and needs.  NAREN is now in its 13th year and has grown exponentially.  Again, a worthwhile organization that embraces professional educators, a.k.a., Warriors and Angels!

Also, if you’re looking for writing opportunities, often you don’t have to look any further than your own district.  Think about the possibility of writing for your school or district.  However, remember who your audience is - parents and community members.  Therefore, don’t use teacher-ese and try to keep the article general.  

Finally, take the challenge!  Decide that this is the Spring Break or summer vacation where you will choose one conference proposal to submit and one article to write – this will be the year you will put yourself out there and take that risk!

In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller, “Yep, I’ll say it before and I’ll say it again, life moves pretty fast.  If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Don’t miss it!!