What do you get when you combine 1000+ miles of travel, 4 crazy English teachers who met on Instagram, 60 passionate teachers (from as far away as LA), and 1 magical bookstore? One exhilarating and empowering workshop that I will never, ever forget: the first-ever Keeping the Wonder Workshop in Monroe, Georgia.
It’s been a few weeks since I presented at the workshop, and I’m still full of wonder at this whimsical idea-turned incredible PD. All credit goes to the amazing Ashley Bible at Building Book Love, because she was the mastermind/superhero/possible unicorn/genius teacher lady/creative dreamer behind all of this. I had the fun part of showing up and presenting on stuff that I love: learning stations and mock trials. I was humbled to present alongside Ashley, as well as Jenna Copper from Doc Cop Teaching and Staci Lamb from The Engaging Station. These ladies have inspired me for years, and never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would meet them, let alone work with them to create a magical workshop for fellow teachers from around the country.
Because she’s a superwoman, Ashley planned this entire event in less than a month, and it exceeded everyone’s expectations—not an easy task when the event advertises “wonder,” “magic,” and “whimsy.” These are words that we don’t hear often, especially not in the context of secondary English education. But why not? Why can’t learning be magical? Why do elementary students beg for their teachers to read “just one more page,” while high school students often dread opening a book? Who says our “big kids” in high school can’t have fun while being challenged with rigorous content? How can we keep the wonder and whimsy in secondary ELA?
Those were the questions we aimed to answer. We believe that learning is more than a lesson; it’s an experience that teachers creatively craft for their students. We believe in the power of magic, passion, whimsy, and play. I’ll admit that we are a bit selfish, too—we love to have fun while teaching. We know that when we are bored, our students are too, so we strive to create learning experiences that engage and empower.
Our mission was to orchestrate a magical experience for our teacher attendees—to show, not tell, them how to keep the wonder within the four walls of their classrooms back home. Truth be told, our venue, The Story Shop, was enough to spark the magic inside any fellow nerdy English teacher. We all joked around afterwards, wondering if our attendees even liked our sessions, or if they were just blinded by their love for the Story Shop. The magic was on the walls, shelves, and even in the holes (yes, you read that right). THERE WAS AN ACTUAL HOBBIT HOLE IN THE WALL of this enchanting book shop. Yes, I crouched down and walked inside because I am a 10-year-old at heart.
FACILITATING THE WORKSHOP
First, I presented on learning stations, a great place to start if you’re looking to make your secondary ELA class more engaging. Stations, or centers, have always been popular in elementary grades, but I think secondary teachers have a lot to learn from the lower grades, where learning is still “magical.” Being a secondary teacher is not easy because many of our students come to us jaded, burnt out, and ready to merely “sit and get.” It’s challenging to keep—or bring back—the wonder, curiosity, and excitement. If you’re interested in learning more about stations, you can check out my series of blog posts here.
After presenting on stations, we modeled stations for our attendees. My station was all about facilitating mock trials during novel units. I designed my first mock trial this year, and it was one of the most authentic, engaging learning experiences I’ve ever created for my students. Stay tuned for a future blog post! 🙂
Other stations included topics such as teaching tone with picture books, writing strategies, question trails, and using Storybird. After the stations, attendees rotated through 3 longer sessions: one with Jenna, one with Staci, and one browsing the shop.
KEEPING THE MAGIC
You could feel the energy in the bookshop that day. You could sense the enthusiasm of like-minded teachers determined to bring the magic back to the “big kids” in secondary. It was exhilarating and empowering to be among so many passionate educators. I felt so lucky.
I came to this workshop to teach others, but I left knowing I had learned more than I had taught. Humbled and inspired, I spent the entire 9 hour drive talking to and brainstorming ideas with my best friend/fellow teacher down the hall who came along as my moral support and co-presenter. That spark hasn’t died yet, and it’s nearly a month later. Other PD has motivated me for a few hours, or maybe a few days, but this PD has given me lasting momentum that will carry me into the upcoming school year.
All PD should be this magical. We believe there is a real need for magical and valuable PD at the secondary level, especially specific ELA PD. Because this first workshop was such a hit, we are now on a mission to dream up some more magical workshops around the country. You deserve PD that inspires you, not PD that wastes your time or burns you out.
If you have any ideas for future venues or session topics, please reach out in the comments. We would love to hear from you! While you’re waiting on us to announce our next PD, you can read Ashley’s reflection on Keeping the Wonder here, Jenna’s thoughts here, and Staci’s summary here.
Stay gold & keep the wonder,