Conferences

2 Comments

Follow Me ISTE

A full year (365 days; 8,766 hours; 525, 948 seconds) has passed since I attended my first ISTE in San Antonio, Texas. One of the things I'm looking forward to most about this year (and have come to love about attending other conferences this past year) is reconnecting with friends. It starts like this: recognition from across the room, a big smile followed by an even bigger hug, and then the dendrites of personal networking begin to pulse again. Because we truly care about how the other has been and currently is the questions are asked: “So how are you? How was your year?” I am good, truly. But it’s been a year of change.

Change 1: I took on a new position at the central office level in school district and moved out of the classroom. I didn’t think this move would change me as much as it did, but that was a naïve thought. By the end of the year, I was frustrated, bitter, burnt out, and utterly defeated.

Change 2: I turned 30. That doesn’t seem like such a significant change, but it has affected me in ways I didn’t know it would. My body changed and what I thought about my body changed, and this affected my confidence both personally and professionally.

Change 3: I stopped writing and blogging and retreated from interacting, collaborating, and networking on social media because of Change #1.

Change 4: In order to rectify my general unhappiness and Change #3 caused by Change #1, I resigned from my district and my position as a district administrator and took a position as an instructional coach at the campus level that would put me back in touch with teachers, students, and the world of campus climate and education that I love.

Change 5 (in progress): I’m working on accepting Change #3 and making plans so Change #4 helps breathe some fresh life back into me.

This morning as my feet first found their way to Starbuck’s for coffee and then to registration, things felt different. Perhaps it was the different layout of this year’s lounges. Perhaps it was the difference in picking up a name badge from “Attendees” rather than “Presenters”. But really, the difference was me. And that’s okay. Because if I weren’t different, if I hadn’t changed, that would mean I was stagnate – that my learning was stagnate.  And that’s just not okay.

1 Comment

Heart of a Warrior

This weekend my dear friend Rafranz Davis and I crashed the Network for Public Education Conference being held in Austin, Texas.  Between sessions (and between trying to find a room with an empty seat), I sat in the first floor lobby for a bit listening to the conversations around me.  Now, I have heard and read a bit about the movements and happenings with regards to educators and education in Chicago, but it's always been kind of like watching through a one-way mirror: I can see what's going on, but it doesn't quite affect me the way it probably would if someone on the other side of the glass knew I was there.  On Saturday that pane of glass completely disappeared.

As I listened to a parent from Chicago relate her story of fighting for her children's education and their teachers, the gravity of the situation and the precarious position that public education is in hit me full force.  Her story was powerful because of her belief and because of the power of her heart.  Her tears became my tears, her strength became my strength, and her passion became my passion.  What she said resonated with me:  "If we only fight with our minds, we're only fighting with half of ourselves.  We have to fight with our hearts."

Her power of conviction and the physical pain of its manifestation was real.  It helped me understand that a fight cannot be won all through logic and strategy.  It is must be won through the strength of love.  Nor should we take tears as a sign of weakness.  Rather, we should recognize them as the  physical proof of armor we wear and the shield and sword we carry to defend those who may not have a voice and those who have been disenfranchised.  But most importantly, it is our bastion of solace, our home-field advantage we carry with us that will, ultimately, ensure our victory.

If we truly want to create change, we must act out of love.

Empower

One of the biggest hot button issues for schools in "transformation" and "21st century learning".  In fact, the theme for the conference I attended this week is "#TXFutureReady" which focuses heavily on transformation.  While there are several things happening at this conference that strike me as odd and throw some red flags, the one bright thing is that there are small conversations cropping up about whether we are empowering our students or hindering them.

One aspect of transformation and 21st century learning revolves around who should "own" the learning the classroom.  The current mode of school design and lesson delivery is reminiscent of the Industrial Era: desks in straight lines, standardization of mastery, and a campus "hierarchy" (owner, boss, floor men, and workers).  If we look at NCTE's Definition 21st Century Literacies, we become heartbreakingly aware that our standardized, factory-line schools are producing illiterate members of society.

If we want to create literate 21st century members of a global society, educators (myself included) have to stop believing and acting as if we are the sole repositories of information.  We live in the greatest age where there is a wealth of information just waiting for someone to type in a key word search.  If knowledge as power, we have to empower our students to become researchers, creators, and designers of this information.

When it comes to transformation, we have to stop, ask, and truly answer ourselves: "Am I standing in the way of my students' success?"  I think often times the answer is yes.  It's not an intentional yes, but I feel sometimes that the "system" has enabled us to make excuses.  We need to step out of our echo chambers and begin rocking our own boats.

If we want real transformation, it has to come from within us.  We must look at ourselves and challenge and change our personal and professional practices.  We have to empower ourself to change.  Our excuses, or sometimes flat out refusal, is what is hindering our growth that will ultimately lead to students' success.

Vulnerability

I've been told a lot lately that I need a thicker skin.  That I need be careful and guard myself.  That I shouldn't be so vulnerable  And so I locked myself down.  I stepped away from blogging, collaborating and conversing via social media, and being passionately engaged with others.  I spent the last month taking the necessary precautions to ensure I was "safe", but it has been the most miserable month of my entire career as an educator.

On Thursday evening, I entered the hotel room where Kristy Vincent, Rafranz Davis, and Beth Still were waiting for me and for the opening of EduCon 2.6 the next day.  The second I stepped across the threshold and was greeted with hugs and smiles I felt an immediate relief (and some of my barricades cracking).  I could've cried I was so happy.  Finally, I was with people who understood me and how my passion-infused educator-brain worked.  Finally, I could let my guard down.

During the opening conversation last night, the panel discussed "Openness: Should We Create a More Transparent World?".  It seemed that every minute there was a concept, an idea, a thought, that stuck out which challenged me.  One more than all the others resonated with me: vulnerability.  In a truly transparent world, we share information about ourselves, successes AND failures, without prejudice and self-censoring.  Yes, there are "bad" things that could come form this transparency.  But there are "good" things that could come into our lives as well.

That's when I realized that the reason I had felt more successful and happier in the past was because I was vulnerable and allowed those opportunities to find me.  I also realized that going into shut-down mode the past month closed me off to countless learning opportunities and connections to others.

Yes, the "bad" was still there, and I felt it every single time it tried to breach my defenses.  It made me miserable, though, because I couldn't see the "good" that was out there that would give me the strength to make it through anything.

5 Comments

Echo ChamberI've been on a conference binge the last two weeks: Round Rock Google Ninja Academy, Tech Forum Texas and EdCampATX.  I presented my research at a higher ed conference, CREATE TX, today.  I will also be presenting at Star Tech (Region 6 Technology Conference) on Thursday and Friday this week. What do all of these conference have in common? The people there are brilliant, but they are all saying the same things. I am guilty of this, too.

This past Thursday, Adam Bellow keynoted Tech Forum Texas. One of the ideas that Bellow urged educators to undertake is stepping out of the echo chamber. Look at any Twitter chat on any day of the week, and you will more than likely see the same things being said on different streams. That's not to say those things are wrong - in fact those things need to continue to be shared. But where are the voices setting up challenges? Where are the voices asking questions? Where are the voices working towards solutions instead of focusing on the problems or the ideal world situations?

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to sit down with Jon Samuelson (@iPadSammy) who talked about this very thing. He discussed putting together a group of educators who got together, not to talk about the same things we see in Twitter chats and at EdCamps, but who focus on the steps necessary to enact change. That's what stepping out of the echo chamber does. It forces us to listen to what's really going on around us and start the steps necessary to begin change where we are.

That's not to say don't go back into the echo chamber to get ideas.  Just remember it's okay to question and to challenge those echoing voices.  I know that as I step out of the echo chamber and begin questioning others (including myself) I will be met with resistance or angst or frustration. But isn't that where my real learning is going to happen - when I take that unknown step out of the echo chamber and begin questioning and challenging the world around me and reflecting on the answers?