Day Zero – Bendigo Writers Festival – Pre-conference Dinner

Day Zero happens when you go to the pre-conference dinner (in Bendigo) straight from work (in Mentone) with a side trip to home (Mt Eliza) to pick up your laptop that you left behind in the morning!

After that inauspicious beginning, the only way was up, baby!

A quick freshen-up in the lovely room at Barclay on View, and then I headed off to the Platinum Room at The Foundry. Damn, it is LOVELY to be in a town where you know where everything is!

The evening was scheduled 6pm for 6:30pm, but the clock crept passed the half hour and continued on, with no sign of the speaker, our current Australian Children’s Laureate and “National Treasure”, Jackie French. The audience was polite, but starting to get a bit questioning – you could feel the curiosity in the room. Where was she? What was the hold up?

Finally, Georgie stepped on stage to welcome us and introduce Sarah Mayor Cox, who, in turn, introduced Jackie, a woman who needs no introduction, IMHO. Petite, smiley, chatty…she’s JACKIE FRENCH!

And then…and then.

Jackie decided to explain why she was late. She didn’t have to, but she did choose to. Whilst waiting to be collected to go to the dinner Jackie had heard a woman screaming, and some men laughing, and in her words she “completely over-reacted”. We heard that Jackie was thrown back to the night, the exact same date in fact, when her sister was murdered. Well, you could have heard a pin drop. This was an aspect of Jackie’s life that, I suspect, not many people know. It was a privilege to be trusted to hear that story, on that night, from her.

Jackie French
Jackie French

We heard about how, at age 7, Jackie discovered Socrates, and how he became her guide and friend during a traumatic childhood. About her journey through Europe with her then boyfriend and being involved in the war in Spain. About her travels through outback Australia, and her work with Yes, I Can, and back to her family, the importance of reading, reading, reading, and all around her writing.

And she was MAGNIFICENT!

I am in awe of Jackie French. Articulate, wise, compassionate, passionate, brave, wonderful. What an honour. What an amazing start to this conference!

PS. I was so blown away with Jackie on the night that I forgot that I met Sophie Masson (author) and Lyn White (editor). Squee!

Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
Sophie Masson being very polite about my fangirl carry-on
The lovely Lyn White - editor and 'creator' of the "Through My Eyes" series
The lovely Lyn White – editor and ‘creator’ of the
“Through My Eyes” series

What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform – Tim Elmore

What Parents Should Say as Their Kids Perform – Tim Elmore.

This is so powerful, and applies equally well to sports AND education.

“I love watching you play”

“I love watching you read”

“I love seeing you do well on your tests”

“I love seeing you practice”

“I love watching you support your team”

How do you quantify this moment?

So, yesterday, I’m standing up in front of a Year 10 class, waxing lyrical as I do, when one of the students chimes in with, “You know that book you gave me last time, Miss? Well, it was really good. I finished it in 3 days.” “That’s great,” I reply. “Have you returned it today?” “Yes, Miss. It’s in the chute thingy.”

So I go and get it out of the chute thingy, and ask the student if he can give the group a run-down of the plot, unless it will be too spoilery. And he thinks it will be too spoilery, so he just says, “It was really, really good, Miss”. The book is a little over 300 pages – it’s Bruiser – and I say out loud that this boy has read 100 pages a day – “So it must be a really good book.”

One of the other boys asks to read it. I admit it, I’m a bit disappointed that he’s got it, because last time this class was in the library, two weeks ago, I had to reprimand him for talking and interrupting other students when the focus is all on reading in a sustained way in preparation for VCE. At the end of the lesson he was the last to leave, so we had a bit of a chat about his focus, and what he wants to do with his life, and he’s pretty honest. He has no idea. And I agree that focus is hard when you don’t know where you want to go. And that’s that.

So we settled down to reading, and this week the class is on fire. They are reading their heads off. It’s all quiet, and everyone is giving their books a chance to speak to them. The 45 mins passes really quickly (I’m reading Alex as Well – must read!) and it’s time to borrow.

I suggest that the students need to borrow their books as we have had a few books get snitched out from under noses because the kids won’t borrow them (!) and then I notice that Bruiser boy is walking towards the exit with the book. I ask him, “Are you going to borrow that?” And I hope my surprise isn’t showing on my face when he replies, “You know what, Miss. I think I will borrow it. I’m really enjoying it.” I act really cool, and just say, “Great”, but inside I am doing a happy dance and my heart is singing, because a boy who has resisted and avoided and downright refused to read for the last three years is BORROWING A BOOK!

And this is my question – how in the hell do I quantify this? It has taken three years, with new suggestions of great books given every week, for this young man to borrow one book. His English teachers and I have despaired of this moment ever happening. It sounds small, and in some respects that’s true. But really it’s a triumph. It’s a win. It’s a bloody miracle.

And I’ve worked really hard to provide great books, to work with the teachers and kids, to read widely and enthusiastically, but how do you quantify this when you are trying to show Senior Management that what you do all day, every day, is important. I can’t test it, or examine it. I can’t count it or test it.

But this moment is an A+ moment. And there is no way to measure it other than to share it as a story.