Middle schoolers in Islip’s EXCEL program for the academically gifted were treated to a visit this year from Dr. Christopher Smalley, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, as part of EXCEL’s ongoing “Inventing Self” series of inspirational guest lectures.
Smalley, who previously served as principal at Wing, is the author of the book “The Energy of Friends and Bullies,” illustrated by Alexandria Bouchard and independently published in December 2017. He spoke to the sixth-graders about being a writer.
“I’ve run Scholastic Book fairs and worked as a roofer, carpenter and ski facility manager, and a whole bunch of other things in between,” Smalley said. “With all those experiences, the one thing that’s remained consistent since I’ve been about 9 years old is being a writer.”
“Think about what a writer really is,” Smalley asked the students. “Writers write about an event so people know what happened. Over the majority of the course of history, there was no such thing as a camera. The only way people knew what had happened was either word of mouth over time, or if someone wrote something down.”
He also delved into neuroscience, noting that writing equals thinking, and discussed the differences between writing with a pen and a keyboard.
“I’m very interested in the way the brain works,” Smalley said. “Just the act of holding a pen makes your brain start thinking. When you are creating a thought in your head, the generation of the thought is different if you are typing or writing with a pen, because you can’t write as fast as you can type. What a pen does is two things: It takes longer to write something, and when you use two hands, you use two sides of your brain. When you use one hand, you use one.”
Before sitting down to a read-through of his book, the assistant superintendent told the sixth-graders that books start with ideas, as his own did. Over time, Smalley had noted his own observations, gathered ideas and wrote them down in notebooks, which led to penning “The Energy of Friends and Bullies.”
“I realized that I dealt a lot with bullying – where it comes from, where it starts, why it exists – and I learned a lot about friendship and what it means,” he said.