Last month, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project (TCRWP) celebrated their 100th Reunion with 5000 teachers virtually attending more than 250 free workshops. For 100 Saturdays spread over four decades, the organization, founded in 1981 by Lucy Calkins, has opened its doors to teachers and principals from throughout the world.
Calkins, the College’s Robinson Professor in Children’s Literature, praised the educators who “pivoted over and over, day after virtual day” during the pandemic. “Today, my message is that family matters in our classrooms and among our colleagues in this big, wide world,” said Calkins, expressing that for many educators, the TCRWP “is family.”
Kicking off a symposium of influential writers, scholars and educators, bestselling author and keynote speaker Jason Reynolds inspired attendees with a vivid, heartfelt framework for how educators may better connect with their students.
“How do we use humility, intimacy and gratitude to engage with our babies? All they want to know is that you love them enough to care about what they care about,” said Reynolds, who in collaboration with Ibram X. Kendi, authored Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, a teen-centered version of Kendi’s earlier work, in 2020.
“Once they know that someone knows them and sees them, then they can read the book,” Reynolds said. “Our children are alright. They are complicated, but they are also children. There is trauma, but there is also triumph.”
It was an action-packed day of workshops that explored an impressive breadth and depth of literacy education. Reunions, such as this one, occur twice each year for TCRWP. In addition, the Project leads approximately forty mini-institutes each year, one hundred conferences, and more than one hundred locally-based institutes in school districts worldwide.
“As a teacher who did attend these workshops, I know how much educators benefit from the ongoing professional development and learning,” says Emily Butler Smith, TCRWP’s Associate Director for Professional Development. “One of the things that makes teaching as a profession great is that educators can keep learning and growing. The Reading and Writing Project also fosters a sense of community among people who are committed to life-long learning.”
Attendees also heard other esteemed authors and researchers, including Jennifer Serravallo, Carl Ciaramitaro, Randy Bomer and Sonja Cherry-Paul, who also serves as TCRWP’s Director of Diversity and Equity. “The institution of schooling was never built with Black and brown students in mind,” Cherry-Paul explained during her workshop on culturally relevant and sustaining teaching practices. “But we can teach in ways that aim to dismantle these oppressive systems.”
Closing the reunion, famed children’s author Kate DiCamillo — author of The Tale of Desperaux and Because of Winn-Dixie — discussed learning to read as a child, her new book, and her writing process.
“How do you do this, how do you turn words into a story?” posed DiCamillo, reflecting on how early in her career, the folktale “The Elves and the Shoemaker” offered what she wanted most: a magical solution to the hard work of writing. “How does it happen without magic, without elves?”
For DiCamillo, a two-time winner of the Newbery Medal and author of more than two-dozen books for children, the process of writing is akin to that of teaching. Quoting fellow novelist Jeanette Winterson, DiCamillo noted: “The challenge is to continue to do it.”
This article was originally published by Teachers College, Columbia University, on Nov. 3.