This past weekend I finally made my way to the University of Georgia’s JoLLE (Journal of Language & Literacy Education) conference in the Classic City, and I am so glad I did! At the vehemence of one of my graduate colleagues working his PhD in Athens, I pulled the trigger to go despite not having the conference on my mind as much as I had meant at the end of last year. Originally, I was hoping I would even put in a proposal to present, but that deadline went right by me. Thankfully my friend reminded me the week of the conference, and also thankfully I had the time and resources to go.
Inside today’s post I’ll give a modest reflection on the experience and my takeaways. I will tell you upfront that it is a brilliant and intimate conference for any of us involved in literacy studies and education. I highly, highly recommend attending.
First, I will wax poetically about how much I enjoyed meeting Peter Smagorinsky for the first time. I have read books and articles of his, but I have never had the pleasure of actually chatting with him. I was especially flattered when he mentioned he had heard some great things about me from my graduate friend who is working with Peter currently. While brief, I enjoyed the encounter, and I also found myself marveling at just how tall he is.
Second, what I think I loved most about the conference was its intimate feel. I have gone to many conferences that have hundreds if not thousands of people attending, but I found the smaller feel of this conference very inviting. The opening session on Friday night included around 100 people all from various places and various stages in their education careers. That small group made an interactive opening session possible as we listened to sj Miller’s work on LGBTQ youth and young adult literature. While we were all mostly strangers, we had a chance to interact and share stories as well as brainstorm how to support one another. As a straight, white male, the conversations being had were rich with new considerations for me as a public school educator and the students I serve. Beyond the opening event, the sessions themselves were intimate and mostly interactive. There was always something to do–there were no reading of papers or droning on and on about someone’s research. Almost everything was actionable and exploratory.
Third, my favorite takeaway from the sessions I attended (I only got in four since I had to leave mid-afternoon that Saturday) was how important it is to understand a student’s agentive and identity needs through their moments of silence as much as in their moments of discourse. The best part of this idea? It came directly from two undergraduate students at Notre Dame! To hear young, pre-service teachers point this out to other veteran teachers and scholars felt profound. I know the comments they provided left the biggest imprint on me. Part of what I found myself loving about the JoLLE conference was the opportunity participants at any level could impact conference goers. I found myself wondering what impact it would have had on me if I had presented at an event like JoLLE as a result of research I was doing with professors as an undergraduate. All I can say is that I believe it would have been very special and potentially life-changing.
Finally, I love Athens. The Classic City is still as classy as ever, and I thoroughly enjoyed dinning and hanging out with some old friends and some new ones. I had the pleasure of spending some time with a few awesome graduate students from the University of Buffalo. Whatever the occasion, Athens just tends to bring people together.