Take Aways and Reflection from #CELI15

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Dr. Bill Brennan shared this poem as he opened CELI15. Immediately this poem resonated with me, I looked around the auditorium and I could feel the energy, passion and dedication to students and learning. Sure, I have seen this in other educational gatherings, but CELI15 was different, these educators were all connected educators gathering on Long Island. I could feel the future so close in front of us and immediately I felt assured that we are in fact in good hands. These innovative educators had energy and clarity and I was joining in and sitting at the table with them to engage in forward thinking and innovation in the spirit of increasing student engagement and achievement. Connect. Share. Learn. These three words on listed on the website for Long Island Connected Educators Summit, this promise was one that was more than fulfilled on this day. This learning experience was so different from anything I have experienced in my professional development so far. I left with so many ideas about how I can grow in my own professional development as well as the professional development that I facilitate.

“In writing and speaking, three is more satisfying than any other number.”

-Carmine Gallo Talk Like TED

As I have been reflecting on this day and attempting to formulate some clarity in written expression I came across this quote from Carmine Gallo and then it occurred to me – Connect. Share. Learn. Three words.The rule of three can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece where three words were used to convey an idea. Carmine Gallo points out in his book numerous examples of how the rule of three is ever present in our world throughout history ranging from life liberty and happiness to the Three Little Pigs, three primary colors and Newton’s three laws. In fact there are so many threes in nature and in literature this could go on for a while and I might never get to my three take aways from CELI15.

The number three is all around us and so in the spirit of three I will name my three take-aways from CELI15 – which is long overdue since this was on March 28th! Better late than never, and truthfully it was challenging to only name three takeaways from such an inspiring day.


Just as teachers are guides on the side, Dr. Bill Brennan and Tony Sinanis did an amazing job of facilitating the conversations throughout the day from the opening to the closing. These two individuals are authentic leaders, who spoke honestly and inspired the Long Island educators who gathered on this last Saturday in March. Impressive to say the least!


Professional development does not have to cost a lot in order for you to learn a lot. In fact it can be FREE!  Each session I attended was created by an educator or educators who cared enough to share their ideas. There were two morning sessions and one afternoon session. As I was presenting at the first session that narrowed my choices and I found myself wishing each session was recorded and blasted out on YouTube so I could watch and learn later, in a way that I can check out Storify after a chat that I cannot attend. I do admit it is not the same as interacting in the discussion live, but it could help to share ideas further. I greatly appreciated reading the #CELI15 Tweets that came out of the day. The sessions I did attend were conversations that inspired and gave me cause to reflect.

 I attended Tony Sinasis‘ session, “Transparency: Keys to Building Trust and Social Capital.” I had to admit to him that I was in fact stalking his Twitter #Catiague and working at my school to tell our story. In truth, I learned so much more from him in this session because he was friendly and so willing to share how he told the story of his school and built trust among his community through using social media. Ideas that Tony shared I know will serve me well as I engage in leadership roles in education. It is no surprise that Tony received the honor of being designated as 2014 Principal of the Year in NY.  Quite an amazing leader to learn from.

The next session I attended was part of the “unconference” developed during lunch on a whiteboard, it started blank and soon filled up with many more sessions to attend. Again, difficult choices to make. The literacy based topics really were pulling me, “Reflective Writing” and “Literacy Lovers,” how could I choose?  In the end, I opted to go outside of my literacy comfort zone and attended “Making Thinking Visible” presented by Louisa Cataldo and Tina Guarnashelli. They shared with us Peardeck as well as a learning experience from attending  Project Zero Summer Institute at Harvard. I purchased the book they recommended, Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart. I started reading the book and so my learning that began at this session continues. I am grateful to Louisa and Tina as they have sent me on a continued learning journey. This brings me joy.


I can push myself out of my comfort zone and share good ideas. At first I heard about this event through Carol Varsolona– a year earlier in fact. I was not able to attend CELI14 due to another commitment, however when I saw CELI15 being shared on Twitter and I realized many educators I follow on Twitter and chat with on Voxer (Talks with Teachers)  were going, I signed up right away. I learned so much from them in the connected sense through social media, I couldn’t wait to meet them and learn from them in person.

At some point I came across the call for proposals and suggested to my in district colleague Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro that we submit a proposal. We just wrote and were facilitating an in district collegial circle titled “Making Social Studies “Social” for the 21st Century Student.” We were using technology and social media such as Twitter, Voxer, and Google Apps, to share all that we learned through the process with other educators seemed like a next step. We submitted our proposal and were more than excited when it was accepted.  We were going to be sitting at the table with these innovative, connected educators on Long Island and we could not wait to learn and share our story of learning. Here is the link to the description of our session. The QR below or this link will provide you with a view of our presentation as well as the participant folder we shared with the educators who joined us as we shared how our waves of learning spread.

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Connect. Learn. Share. The three words I first saw on the website for Long Island Connected Educators’ Summit (#CELI14, #CELI15), now there was a fourth word, ACT. Now is the time to ACT.  Once we have connected, we are always learning and sharing, but we need to also act. In reflecting on my experience this day, that was my first call to “ACT.” I believe that it is worthy to spend time sharing and spreading what you are passionate about, especially in learning when it can help others. This post is yet another “ACT” and although it took long for me to publish it, it is finally published. I could have continued to deliberate my reflections and revise and revise for several more weeks.  I could probably revise until CELI16, but I will take the advice of Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook, “Done is better than perfect.” I thought by tying in the idea of the rule of three I could somehow keep my reflection short, things don’t always go as planned.  We are all works in progress and while I continue to connect, learn, share and act I will no doubt continue to revise. For now, this post is done and that is better than perfect.


Choice Words, Opening Minds- Peter Johnston Spoke to Me

The Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Challenge ended a few days ago, I am reserving my reflection on that amazing learning experience until I complete this series that I started to reflect on several days of professional learning.

This post is part of the series I planned and explained here in a prior post:

  1. Professional Development with Maggie Beattie Roberts from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project 
  2. Comsewogue School District Google Leadership Symposium
  3. Peter Johnston Conference
  4. Long Island Connected Educators’ Summit #CELI

Peter Johnston Conference

This was the second time I saw Peter Johnston present, the venues were very different.  When he presented at TCRWP it was in a larger, auditorium style room and this time at ES-Boces the room was small, the setting was more personal.  Even better I was with my two closest school friends and favorite reading specialists, Danielle Jacobs and Barbara Marsicano. They were with me when Peter Johnston spoke to me.

His talk related mostly to his more recent book, Opening Minds.  I already read this book but you should know this book, just like his book Choice Words it begs to be read and reread and reread.

Choice Words is a book that changed my life.  This book connects to my life not only as an educator, but also to my life as a mother and wife.  This book gave me time to pause and think about the words I choose when I talk.  I suppose that is just a little obvious from the title Peter Johnston chose for his book, Choice Words.  Funny thing about this though is that it requires constant practice to change my words and make purposeful choices in my words. It requires constant reflection and then thoughtful practice until the words become natural.  I am still working on this each and everyday, especially as a literacy coach—I think about what I will say before a meeting, and I reflect on what I said after the interaction.  Sometimes it works well and other times—I am still learning.

Peter Johnston began his discussion talking about four fundamental needs for humans.  I love how he looks at this as needs for humans, not just mentioning students.  I often think this way in learning, it is not just about how kids learn, it is about how humans learn.  This makes sense to me and although there may be slight differences in adult learners and children learners, essentially we are all human and it turns out our brains work mostly the same—so the generalization works.

Four Fundamental Needs for Humans

  1. A sense of autonomy
  2. A sense of belonging
  3. A sense of competence
  4. A sense of meaningfulness

Of course children and adults need these four fundamental things, it is a great place to begin when thinking about how we establish our reading and writing workshops in our classrooms and how we structure our professional development.

Meeting the Four Needs in Reading and Writing Workshop

1. Students have choice, voice and time in reading and writing workshop.  Students are in control of their own learning and we encourage agency and independence (autonomy).

2. In a reading and writing workshop we establish a community (belonging) where students feel safe to take risks

3. Teachers believe that students are readers and writers (competence).

4.  Students read and write for meaning (meaningfulness), there is a sense of purpose and significance to the way students engage in both reading and writing workshop.


During the day Johnston referred to several quotes from Lev Vygotsky, and when I think about these quotes it makes me realize how critical it is that we are not just good educators, we are called to something greater, we have to be great.  These two quotes are the quotes that I have always carried with me, but seem to weigh heavier on me now, as I heard them spoke by Peter Johnston and as I read them on his slides.  He held these quotes from Vygotsky up and through his words I know it is not enough to just be good, that is not enough when you truly consider the gravity of these quotes.  I know I will always have to do more, more to reflect and move from good to great.

As I plan upcoming professional development in my building, in classrooms, in our professional learning community and with our staff developer I will hold these four fundamental needs for humans close in my mind.  I will have to move from just good in this area to something more.  Peter Johnston has spoke to me on this day.  The call is greater and I need to be greater.  If children grow into the intellectual life around them, as Vygotsky claims, then children are at the heart of it all and it is for them I must answer this call to be better.  I believe we all must answer this call to be better.

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I am grateful to have others around me who can help me become myself, only better.  I am grateful for the work with my friend and staff developer Maggie Beattie Roberts, my friend and colleague Jeanne-Marie Mazzaferro and my friend and colleague Jenn Hayhurst and so many others who are part of my PLN.  It is through all these other people that I can become myself, only better.  Mostly in moving from good to great, I lean on Dr. Mary Howard, she is a leader in this domain.  Check out her book, Good to Great Teaching, you will see her passion,reflection and her support for teachers and students.

If you want to join me on this quest to move from good to great, answering Peter Johnston’s call and following Dr. Mary Howard’s lead there is a place for you. Jenn Hayhurst and I gather on Twitter to move from Good to Great with amazing educators who week after week show us how to move from good to great. Dr. Mary Howard joins in the chat and has been an amazing resource for all of us, always guiding us on this path.

Check out the #G2Great chat on Thursday nights where I co-moderate with @Hayhurst3 and @Dr.MaryHoward at 8:30 EST.