Change. Improvement. Technology. Productivity.
These are the words that seem to be a common theme in educational conferences as of late. We are in a point in time where we now have powerful enough technology to pretty much solve any issue that educators have outside of extending the amount of hours in a day.
I had the luxury and privilege to be able to travel to Georgia for the GaETC conference. This was a wonderful conference and one that I really hope to be able to attend again. This will sound a bit conceited, but I have hit a point where I rarely learn new things at conferences anymore. You feel like you sit in a few sessions that continue to be cycled through time and time again.
GaETC was different. I have a boatload of tips, tricks, ideas, and thoughts that I cannot wait to bring back to my school. I cannot wait to process through my thoughts to further develop my ideas. I feel like I was challenged all day long for 48 hours. I have several pages of thoughts, ideas, projects, and more to develop into action.
As I was sitting in the airport I was thinking about why this happened? What was it about GaETC that provided me so many great new things to be better as an educator?
I came up with two reasons
Reason 1: Delivery
You need to be a great presenter. This is an art. I will be honest here. I fully support and work like crazy to get teachers to share their messages. We need more teachers sharing what they are doing in the classroom. With that comes preparation. I did attend two presentations where the topic and idea being shared was powerful and great, but the delivery was poor. It kills the mood. It kills the investment of trying out the idea. Presenting and teaching adults is much different than teaching children. So, this leads to the bigger concept of the need for quality presenters that are great at entertaining and delivery that are not in the school systems vs. a poor presentation from someone in the trenches. What is more important?
This is not a knock on teachers. I know it is a generalization as I also sat in on a few sessions of teachers who were amazing. However, the featured and keynote speakers entertain. They know how to deliver many do this work as a job. There is a reason they have large groups. It is not by chance.
My point with all of this is that you must have something worthwhile to share and you must know how to deliver. I just finished reading Ted Talks by Chris Anderson and his idea of pushing for Presentation Literacy is spot on. We must learn how to deliver words. ( TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson).
I was super impressed by the delivery of Chris Craft @crafty184 and how he put the audience at ease. Leslie Fisher does the same but through sarcastic comments and jokes that people love @lesliefisher. Alice Keeler spins her ideas with her high energy @alicekeeler. I even witnessed a presentation lead by Don Wettrick @donwettrick, Doug Bergman @dougbergmanUSA , and Lou Zulli @lzulli where all three had very different styles, but it worked because they each connected with different people in the audience.
The point here is that everyone has a style, but it is essential that you understand how to read a crowd and deliver. When the delivery is good, the ideas feel even better. When deliver is bad, the best idea can be lost in translation.
This was an important lesson I learned to bring back to students. It was also an important lesson for myself as I continue to figure out how to engage and empower teachers through PD, conferences, and workshops.
Reason 2: Relationships
Social media allows us to develop friendships and connections without ever seeing people in person. When you have the chance to actually connect in person with someone you have been in contact with via social media you already have a sense of who they are and where they stand. You can now break the time suck of getting to know one another and instead dive right into quality conversation. Due to social media I know that there were certain people I wanted to learn from because I knew they had something to offer.
I was so pumped to actually hear Chris Craft speak. I follow his work online and to finally attend a session and later have a short conversation was amazing. I had a few minutes chatting with Vicki Davis after her long day of several presentations, but due to an online friendship and connection we were able to dive right into a conversation about our children that might have been one of the most needed talks I needed to have. This does not happen without relationships.
Many of us fear social media. This is not a plea to get you to use every channel. I am simply suggesting that reaching out online leads to a more powerful personal experience where your conference experience level can rise to new heights.
Let me give you an example. I have been chatting and talking back and forth with Don Wettrick for years. We connect on Facebook and Twitter. He has been a great sounding board for me with ideas over the years. I consider him a friend and yet we have never met in person.
At GaETC we finally connected. It was awesome. We attempted to solve the world problems one night over baseball and it was outstanding. The conversation with him, Doug Bergman, and Lou Zulli(who I have never met in person either) was good. I was pushed in my thinking and beliefs, yet it felt like connecting with long lost friends.
This would have never happened without building a PLN. I would have walked by them in the halls had I not known them from online. I would not have had my beliefs challenged. I would not have grown as a person.
The point here is that often times the greatest growth comes from relationships with the people.
Sandi Adams, an educator who I hold near and dear to my heart helped me at the conference. She made sure I was good to go. She supported me in my session along with many other amazing educators. She included me in a gathering of other outstanding MIE’s. She introduced me to other teachers that I would have never met otherwise(like the @edumigos). Because of her I felt more comfortable, met more people that I would have done myself(surprisingly I am quite an introvert when it comes to that), and I was able to learn more. She is one of the greatest educators I know and because of her I was able to grow as a person and educator. It lead to some good conversation with Lisa Lougheed and Suzy Lolley as a result.
While conferences like these are good to learn the latest technology, apps, extensions, and more, it is not the real power. Over time all of these ideas go away(Prezi anyone?). Technology will change, but being able to deliver content and build relationships do not. These are vital skills that help us stay ahead of the curve and allow us to grow together. Without these skills of speaking and learning how to connect with others we simply fall prey to sitting in our comfort bubble of the same people where we will never grow.
The emphasis of technology in many conferences will never go away because that is what draws people to them. That we cannot change. However, the real power is in people. Learning to communicate and learning to build relationships. That is where you get your bang for your buck.