Baptism by Fire ~ A Newbie’s ISTE ’11 Reflections, Part One
I Could Have Ignored the Email
My ISTE 2011 story goes a little something like this. Since last year, I’ve had my sights set on attending ISTE given that it would be nearby, in my home state, and I would not have to worry about airfare. Initially, I hoped I could convince my school to send me. Unfortunately, state budget cuts caused recent furloughs in my district so making a request for an extravagant PD conference was out of the question. In the end, I decided it worth my while to invest in this opportunity myself.
I scheduled a number of sessions I thought I would be able to learn from. I packed. I tweeted. I connected. I was excited and due in Philadelphia late in the evening on Friday, June 24, 2011. Early Friday morning, an email labeled “URGENT” came from my dear friend, Vicki Davis. Due to a family emergency, she was unexpectedly unable to make the trip north for the ISTE 2011 conference. Vicki was scheduled to present in multiple sessions and was doing everything in her power to see that none of them were cancelled.
I’ve worked with Vicki pretty closely over the past two years through the Flat Classroom Project, the Digiteen Project, & the Flat Classroom Certified Teacher course. We’ve been together, in person, on multiple occasions and have developed somewhat of a friendship. Between the circle of folks who received the “URGENT” email, Vicki was able to assure every one of her sessions was covered and then some. That, my friends, is the power of a PLN.
So, of course, in responding to my friend’s need for help, and with the help of ISTE’s Program Coordinator, Anita McAnear, I agreed to serve as lead presenter for the Diigo BYOL workshop, Bookmarks, PLN’s & More: Supercharge Your Learning, Teaching & Research. Vicki and I spoke and decided of all the workshops she had herself scheduled to do, I could easily do the Diigo workshop given the various ways I use Diigo in my own classroom with students and the way we utilize Diigo in the Flat Classroom Project. In about two hours, this was made official. I went from first time conference goer to lead presenter. How exciting! Right?
I could have ignored the email, but this was my time to give back and help a friend in need who has given oh so very much.
I Could Have Let Fear Get the Best of Me
Absolutely exciting! Except, I’d never presented at a conference before, let alone one of this magnitude. After the excitement died down within the next few hours, I sat down and fear and dread began to set in as the following thoughts began coming to mind:
There will be over 17,000 people at this conference. This is the end-all, be-all of educational technology conferences. This particular BYOL session is one of the ‘sold out’ sessions. People who signed up for this session are coming to see Vicki (if you’ve ever had the privilege to work with Vicki or see her Keynote or present, you’d understand why). I am not Vicki.
And then the final, near crushing thoughts to myself:
You agreed to WHAT? WHAT were you THINKING? You need to leave in several hours to travel to this conference. You’ve only three days to prepare (in the middle of the flurry of other conference activities). You’ve no presentation ready. Are you CRAZY?
At one point in the phone conversation I did ask Vicki if she had a presentation ready to go and that I could easily and simply present on her behalf. Vicki’s response went something like, “I do. But you need to do this your own way. You’ll figure it out and you’ll do fine.” Gee, thanks Vicki. (sarcasm intended… keep reading)
I could have let fear get the best of me, but I didn’t. What kind of example would I be for my students if I didn’t embrace challenge and new opportunities to learn?
I Could Have Said No
In an effort to fend off the potential stress, I could have just said no. Simple enough, right? I have a bit of a problem saying no in some instances. Others generally criticize this tendency about me because I take on too much. I am a “yes” person. It’s just who I am. Period. Had I said no, I would have missed some incredible experiences like:
The opportunity to show other teachers how my students utilize Diigo groups to conduct authentic research, socially. Students create their own groups based on similar topics and annotate and comment on each others articles for social studies classes such as Current Events and Principles of Democracy. After all, this is about our students.
- The opportunity to Skype Vicki into the session for an introduction at the beginning in an effort to still give folks in the room a piece of what they came for in the first place.
- The opportunity to meet and co-plan this workshop with Maggie Tsai, co-founder and Chief Ambassador of Diigo. We Skyped Maggie into the beginning of the workshop to briefly introduce Diigo and its wide array of features. Maggie worked with us in the short three days to help organize the session in a way that participants would get broad, yet detailed, ideas about the ways to utilize Diigo in education in just an hour’s time.
- The opportunity to work first-hand with an outstanding PA Technology Integration Coach, Michelle Krill. Michelle noticed Vicki’s call for help on Twitter and was quick to respond and lend a hand given her own experience presenting about Diigo and how some of her classroom teachers use Diigo with their students.
- The opportunity to work with education Professional Development pioneers, Ben Curran and Neil Wetherby from Engaging Educators who monitored the back channel chat throughout the workshop. You need to check out their website. they have some great ideas about Professional Development for teachers.
- The opportunity to work with a jam-packed room full of engaged educators, passionate about learning more ways to engage students in their very own classroom. The audience was fantastic and had great, relevant questions. We hope we met the needs of all levels of Diigo users and tried our best to pace the workshop accordingly.
I could have said no, but I would have also missed these incredible experiences and opportunities. I learned more than I taught.
Could Haves, Should Haves & Would Haves
I simply refuse to fall into this habit of going back and questioning everything. I may have missed out on some of the workshops I wanted to attend, but still managed to get some in. More on a few fantastic sessions later. I would not trade this experience for anything. It was worth every bit of sweat and stress.
This was only but one of my newly found presenter opportunities at ISTE ’11. I co-presented with Wikispaces Co-founder, Adam Frey & Flat Classroom Co-founder, Julie Lindsay in the Wonderful World of Wikis workshop. I also helped Julie to facilitate the day-long Digiteacher Workshop, along with Barbara Barreda. It was rewarding to watch participants work throughout the day to create their own multi-media presentations and wikis.
Perhaps, however, the most fulfilling aspect of participating in ISTE ’11 in this way was helping Julie conduct the Flat Classroom Global Gallery Learning Station Session. Personally, this was the most rewarding professional experience for me because I got to talk with numerous teachers and technology integration specialists, one-on-one, about one of the things of which I am most passionate: global collaboration. There was no preparation necessary for this. I talked and talked and talked about how this type of Project-Based work has changed my teaching practice, my students, and quite frankly, my life. I could have done this throughout the entire conference. It was just that fulfilling for me and I met some fantastic teachers.
When I returned to my room later that night, I emailed Vicki. Here is an excerpt from that email:
I just had the MOST fun EVER talking about FCP for 1.5 hrs. straight.
Helped Julie earlier w/Digiteacher workshop and it was great, but working the poster session and getting to talk about the project and what it means to students… well, can’t quite put it into words. You’d of thought I was part of a hired sales team. Funny, while I never consciously think about it, as I was talking (and talking and talking and talking), one-on-one w/ teachers and tech integrators, I realized how much this project genuinely means to me, how it benefits my students, and how authentically passionate I am about this stuff … I could’ve talked for hours (and I’m not the best upon initially meeting new people) but it came so naturally tonight. It finally felt like someone, other than the students, were REALLY listening.
My eyes are bloodshot & swollen w/ dark circles underneath, back is killing me, feet hurt, I’m laying on the floor in Marie Coleman’s hotel room typing in the dark because I had to change hotels due to a mix-up and she took me in. AND I’M LOVING EVERY BLESSED MINUTE.
You’ve just empowered a teacher… again. Thank you. Just wanted you to know. Miss that you’re not here, but I know there will be other opportunities in the future.
And so, I will not ‘could have, should have or would have’ about much of my ISTE ’11 experience. Neither should you. Vicki, yet again, empowered a teacher, who will in turn, go back and empower her students. This is the very essence of what ISTE should be and is all about.
Stay tuned for more about the socialization aspects and my own struggles acclimating myself to the overwhelming, but still fantastic, ISTE experience. While I’m a very outspoken person, I tend to be quite introverted around new folks. This gets interesting…
Family picnics, graduation parties and social gatherings await me. As much as I’d like to keep writing right now, my family and friends come first. A blessed and safe holiday weekend to you and your family, wherever you may be!
**This post is undoubtedly dedicated to Vicki Davis for her willingness to share, ability to empower, and belief in me to do right by her.
- ISTE 2011 Final Thoughts (http://engagingeducators.com)
- Connecting, Cooperating & Collaboration (coalcrackerclassroom.wordpress.com)
- Voices of #iste11 – Dr. Leigh Zeitz (Dr Z) on Digital Portfolios (speedofcreativity.org)
- If you’re at #iste11 and Serious about Global Collaboration: Today at 5pm (coolcatteacher.blogspot.com)
- A Tribute to #ISTE11 and the Teaching Profession (mbfxc.wordpress.com)