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Baptism by Fire ~ A Newbie’s ISTE ’11 Reflections, Part One

July 1, 2011

I Could Have Ignored the Email

Image by Nina Amaho via Flicker

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.

Image representing Diigo as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

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.

Coincidentally, this was staring out of a store window at me in Philadelphia on Day One of ISTE. I couldn't resist taking the photo.

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:

  • Examples of Student Groups in Diigo

    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 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.
  • The opportunity for a flood of feedback that looked something like this:

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. 

25 Comments leave one →
  1. July 2, 2011 2:08 PM

    Suzie, what an amazing experience for you! Thank you for your honesty in sharing this example of stretching and growing by taking risks. You are blessed to have @coolcatteacher as one of your mentors.

    I relate to your description of yourself: “While I’m a very outspoken person, I tend to be quite introverted around new folks,” so I look forward to your further writings on your ISTE experience. Have a wonderful holiday as well!

    • July 2, 2011 3:03 PM

      Hi Sandy!

      Thanks so much for the comment. I know there are others out there like me… typically outgoing, often outspoken, but sometimes introverted and intimidated, like myself. I’ve some more thoughts on this to come.

      If I truly reflect on this instances, I realize that ultimately, if at any time I felt excluded, it was because of my own shortcomings, not those of others. Part of reflection is not regret, but rather learning what we can do differently, or better, the next time around. I’ve learned so much.

      Thank you!

  2. July 2, 2011 4:46 PM

    I am still stunned by the fact that you’ve never presented before! I was at the Diigo session and remember talking to you about it briefly afterwards. I walked away from that conversation shaking my head and thinking, “Never? Seriously? Never presented?!” Well, you certainly fooled me! You have the presence of a seasoned conference presenter (I do hope that doesn’t make either of us sound old). You seemed calm, confident, and in total control during the entire session.

    I was impressed by your presentation even before finding out this was a first for you! Thank you, again, for the session.

    And thank you for this beautifully-written post that acknowledges the fact that it’s okay to be afraid. The important thing is to not let the fear stop us. I needed this reminder today…thank you so much!

    • July 3, 2011 9:11 AM

      Hi Karen!

      Thank you so much for the comment and the kind words. Comments like this help to affirm my decision to trudge onward and do the best I can, despite the fear. While I’ve only just begun blogging, I’m quickly learning this has very little to do with me and everything to do with what someone else might get from it. It’s how I’ve learned and grown along the way… because others have shared.

      I’m glad the nerves didn’t show. I think by the time the session rolled around, I worked out most of them. I just figured, “Hey. I do this nearly every day of my life. I teach. I learn. I teach students how to use Diigo, this is no different.”. I guess I just imagined I was in my classroom, doing what I love to do. Based on your comment, it must’ve worked. Thank you, again. I look forward to continued learning ‘with’ you along the journey.

  3. July 2, 2011 6:57 PM

    Suzie, and not only did you do an excellent job at ISTE as part of the Flat Classroom team… are great!….but you managed to blog about your experiences in a frank and sharing manner. Thanks so much! Look forward to the next adventure, online or f2f. One thing is for sure, there is never a dull moment when you are associated with Flat Classroom!

    • July 3, 2011 9:19 AM

      Ahh Julie,

      You deserve your own post, here, too. Just as much as Vicki, you’ve helped mold what I’m becoming. The two of you are the epitome of a model of transformational education paradigms through empowerment. You teach, you guide, you believe and as a result, great things happen. I’m honored to be considered a part of the Flat Classroom team. And yes, excited for the next adventure… whatever and wherever that may be. Thank you for being such an open and caring individual who has blessed me in more ways than you know.

  4. July 2, 2011 8:19 PM

    What a great story and experience! Thanks for sharing. Wish I could have made it to your session. 🙂

    • July 3, 2011 9:23 AM

      Hi Wes,

      Thanks for commenting. You are one of the folks I would have loved to meet this go around, but there are always just so many people that it becomes overwhelming for me. It takes me a bit more time to adjust to the social aspect of it all. Hopefully there will be another opportunity. Thanks!

      • July 3, 2011 10:55 AM

        Perhaps ISTE in San Diego, if not sooner! 🙂

      • July 3, 2011 5:24 PM

        Yes, hopefully, Wes. ISTE’12 in San Diego sounds so very inviting! I best start looking for grant opportunities and get writing now if there is any chance of me making it to that one. But, where there is a will, there is a way, right? 🙂

  5. July 2, 2011 8:45 PM

    You did an incredible job. All credit goes to you for your wonderful work. One thing to remember is that when others put their faith in you – if they are the type who does an excellent job (as I long to be) then it is for a reason. I knew that you would do a great job. Your passion and energy is evident. You do a phenomenal job and you LOVE your students. You want to do what is right and you stand up for what is right. I respect you as a person and admire you as a teacher.

    You deserve all the credit here.

    Steve Farber wrote a great book called “Greater than Yourself” and he talks about helping find others and help them become greater than yourself. This is about leaving a legacy. I have found that those with the staying power are unselfish, helpful, and respectful and you are all of those things. I’d like to be that way too.

    You have many things ahead of you that will be exciting. I hope you will always share and be transparent. You are a wonderful person and I count you as a dear friend. Pay forward the kindness.

    This shows that even struggles can be used as blessings if we get our face out of our pillow long enough to think of others first. I’m glad that it could be used to bless you. It was tough missing out but to hear your words here, that makes it a little better.

    I missed everyone at ISTE horribly. Every tweet was like a knife in some ways as I wanted to be there so badly. A few times I had to get offline and go run so I could get out the frustration, but it was all in God’s hands and it turned out fine. You are wonderful. Keep up the great work.

    • July 3, 2011 9:52 AM

      Thank you, Vicki! You were certainly missed by many and you’ve got some tough shoes to fill, you know. You are unselfish, helpful and respectful and that is why this happened. Despite your ease in paying it forward, I know it was killing a part of you to not be there yourself.

      You truly were there in spirit. Heck, you made it in on the big screen. Please remember that YOU come through others given the way in which you teach and mentor. There was a figurative part of you there with me… the whole time.

      The feelings above are quite mutual and I get it. Truly I do. In fact, before this even came to fruition, I’ve noticed traits and characteristics about an individual I feel the same way about, although I haven’t known her all that long yet: Beth Sanders (@MsSandersTHS). Her personality comes through her tweets and it was confirmed, in person, for me. She gets it and she does it. I hope I can help her along in the way you’ve helped me.

      It’s been an amazing journey with you and Julie and I know it’s only just begun. See you soon.

  6. July 3, 2011 10:05 AM

    I was in your session at ISTE11 and had no idea that you were just “thrown in” the mix at the last minute. You were FABULOUS! I was very excited that Vicki got to Skype in briefly, too,as I had signed up because of all of her wonderful work shared via Twitter.
    Thank you for jumping in and giving it your all. You are an inspiration! It was fun getting to briefly chat with you after the session as well.

    • July 3, 2011 5:14 PM

      Thanks, Joan, so much. I am so glad I got the opportunity to meet you! Sometimes, we get discouraged about the inability to meet up with Twitter folks we’ve followed/interacted with for a while because it just isn’t possible to meet everyone at a vast conference like this.

      Other times, the truly blessed meetings are the unplanned, unanticipated ones such as the case of coincidentally ending up sitting on the floor next to you during Angela Maiers’ ISTE Unplugged session. Funny that the very conversation we had on the floor was about passion-driven teaching and learning. 🙂

      So glad to have found you and certainly looking forward to learning from you now that we’ve connected!

  7. Brian Mannix permalink
    July 3, 2011 12:24 PM

    What a post. Suzie, your passion and the most essential characteristic of any teacher, your authenticity, shines through for all of us to see. Thank you for that. What a fantastic experience! Good for you for seizing the day and paying it forward all in one swift act. You, Vicki, and Julie all serve as such a great inspiration and model for all of the rest of us to follow. Never let up and always trust your heart. Congratulations on such great experience!

    • July 3, 2011 5:20 PM

      Thanks for commenting, Brian. We’re all in this together, you know. The FCP Certified Teachers may be only two semesters old, but we’ve got one heck of a group already. It’s exciting to think about where this type of teacher-sourced collaboration can take us as we move forward.

      I’m very much looking forward to talking with you and your teachers about the power of a PLN. ‘See’ you in your faculty PD session in Skype on Tuesday!

  8. July 4, 2011 9:02 PM

    Congratulations Suzie. Very impressive. Collaboration and PD at its best. Well done.

    • July 5, 2011 2:29 PM

      Thank you, Heidi! Hopefully I will make it to ISTE again next year. You are certainly one I’d like to meet. The work you do in your classroom is inspiring and I really appreciate the transparent nature in which you share the ups and the downs of projects in your classroom. The students in your class must learn so much!

  9. July 4, 2011 9:39 PM

    Fantastic post – love the sharing of the process! The reflection is so well articulated…and though I missed the actual session, I know the spectrum of emotion you felt as you gathered your courage and your confidence. You will continue to shine! 🙂

  10. July 5, 2011 9:18 AM

    Suzie, when I saw this post I had to take time to read it. I’ve had it up on my tabs for a few days but just got time to sit down and read your experience.

    What an amazing experience and opportunity! I’m sure you were well prepared from all of the things you are involved in through FCP, Digiteen, and the certified teacher program. I know they have prepared me in many ways as well.

    I enjoy learning from you and seeing you grow with the FCP teacher program just this past year has been tremendous! You are a great leader!

  11. Kenneth Jobea permalink
    July 7, 2011 6:32 PM

    I was inspired by this! I would love to be able to have a 1 to 1 with you. I think you are fabulous!

    • July 20, 2011 7:45 AM

      Thanks, Kenny! Appreciate your comment! As you continue along in FCP, I am confident that opportunity will present itself. You are quite interesting yourself and bring so very much to the table. The best part about collaboration and teacher-sourcing is, no matter how much we know, there is always, always, someone else who knows something we do not. That is the very essence of what makes learning so powerful in this setting/environment.

  12. July 20, 2011 6:49 AM

    Great story and great experience, Suzie! Yes, sometimes it’s better to dive right in and learn from the experience than to second guess and never do anything different. Thanks for sharingI really do regret NOT going to ISTE this year when it was so close to home.

    • July 20, 2011 7:42 AM


      Thanks for the comment. It certainly would have been nice to have a colleague along! So many ideas. So many different perspectives. It just all happened so fast. Had I known you were interested, I would have hounded you a bit more to go. 🙂 A bit intimidating, but oh so very worth it. See you soon. Won’t be long now!


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