Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I've Had the Time of My Life - #DENSI2014

Favorite movie! Favorite week of the year! It just makes sense :D

I'm back in Texas after an amazing 8 days in Nashville, TN living? surviving? growing? through (not sure of the right word) #DENSI2014. That's the hashtag we used for the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute. Comparing it to any other PD or conference just doesn't seem possible. It is truly unlike anything else an educator will ever experience. It isn't "a conference". It isn't "PD". It's a week long personal development opportunity that will forever change your professional and personal life.

I've admitted to being a conference junkie. I enjoy them... ALOT! There is freedom is choosing my own learning opportunities. I enjoy the after hours networking and using five forms of social media to decide where we will eat at night. Faces come and go through the halls rushing from one session to the next. Most of those faces will become avatars in one of my social media channels. Another conference, another time, our paths may again cross.

Professional Development is kind of my thing. I've been a PD facilitator almost as long as I've been in education. I ENJOY it. I get it. There are few things as exciting as watching light bulbs turn on for educators. All too often, it is a "thing" that is done or taught and hopefully learned but then it too comes to an end.

#DENSI2014 was neither of these. Yes we had badges and sessions for attending during the day. Yes we all wanted the coveted "conference shirt" and we all followed the hashtag. But the faces I passed in those hallways were also in my dorm at night. Those faces weren't connecting on social media to figure out dinner because we were all in the dining hall. Those faces are forever in my memory and family. We have already connected and will continue to do so, many of us daily.

Yes I learned. I'm still going through session notes, tweets, posts, and random pieces of paper trying to piece it all together. I have SO MUCH to bring back to my own district and the twitterverse. Friendships are made. Specifically, bonded ones that will continue on for eternity. Thoughts, ideas, and learning styles are challenged. New ideas and connections are made and explored. Light years beyond the superficial exchange of business cards and pleasantries, the connections made at DENSI are permanent. They aren't colleagueas and friends. They are family. PERIOD.

Every day held a new surprise and adventure. From the outings at the Ryman Auditorium to the conversations that carried on into the wee hours of the morning, each moment felt special. Daily I woke up singing "This is gonna be the best day of my life"! Now that the time has come to an end, we go out into the world and share our new knowledge.  Until next spring when applications open, we change the trajectory of students as we build upon the connections we have made.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

We've Got the Magic! #DENSI2014

Tonight was magical. There is simply no other word for it. Just pure magic.

Tonight was the inaugural DENovator Faire at DENSI2014 in Nashville, TN. From 7:00 – 9:00 pm tonight, the DEN family made, created, learned and shared. The talents were diverse. From one table to the next, DENovators shared their love and passion with each other. In one room, people made guitar picks, jewelry, ornaments, pillows, and even Smores. Not a few feet away, the talent flowed over into the hallway with augmented reality books, camouflage geocaches, and even homemade chapstick. Walking around checking on the DENovators, I had the privilege of being able to take over 100 pictures and more than 5 minutes of video. Going back through them, I noticed the same thing time and again: Smiles.

The DENovators were smiling. The participants were smiling. Everywhere I looked there were smiles. While the DENovators shared their passion and crafts, the participants learned, played, and created. Over and over again, people shared their ideas to bring this back to their faculty meetings, schools, and communities. The space was full and completely at a buzz.

As the night came to an end and the clean-up began, I heard stories. One DENovator shared with me that two people were beaming when they finished the craft he was sharing. The pure joy in their eyes shone bright as they exclaimed that they had never actually created anything before. They felt accomplished. Many told me about DENovators who had come out of their shell and shared their passion with so much authenticity, that the real was so very apparent. Participants enjoyed the evening as much or more than those who had volunteered their time and passion.

Many gave me hugs and thanked me for organizing the event. Like everything within the DEN, it truly was pure team work. Without each individual DENovator, the support of the DEN team, and the many others who stepped up to set up, share, create, learn and clean-up, it would not have been possible in any way. Therein lies the beauty of an event like that. It takes everyone activiely participating for it to be successful. Every single person there was personally responsible for the vast amounts of learning that occurred.

Is this true for your classroom? For your school? Does the success of every day rest fully on the shoulders of every participant? Is every one there fully versted and engaged with what is happening?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Today I Cried #ISTE2014

It has happened again. ISTE came. ISTE went. A world apart from where I was a year ago, yet I still find myself.... sad. Crying even. Sad for the friends I miss. Sad for the opportunities that won't present again for a year. Sad. Sad at the awkwardness that hung over the conference that I can't quite figure out.
"Sad - feeling or showing sorrow; unhappy"
That's just CRAZY! I just returned from the largest edtech gathering in the world and shared memories with the brightest minds bar none. Shouldn't I be elated? Giddy? Well yeah. I should. Instead, I feel my introverted self taking over. No, really. I am introverted. The high that I experience when I'm around my friends and colleagues always crashes. ALWAYS. After a week with people that literally warm my soul, I need to recharge with me. Time to think. Time to reflect. Time to grow... and apparently write.

The one nagging aura hanging over me is the "off" of ISTE this year. I can't quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was the space that felt disconnected or simply the change to Eastern time for a week but something was just... off. I felt it in the conference center. I felt it at the after parties. It was a prevalent feeling that has no name.

Don't get me wrong; by all accounts ISTE was a raving success. So very many people smiled, laughed, loved, and learned so much last week. It literally brought joy to my soul to find first time attendees gushing with all they were learning. I met a young lady at the Welcome Lounge early Friday morning who had only picked up her badge and was already feeling overwhelmed. In the midst of 16,000+ attendees, I strangely kept running into her. Each time, I stopped and asked her how she was doing. Post Friday, she was smiling, laughing, and collecting ribbons. When I last saw her on the vendor floor, she was elated that she had just won a Chromebook. Yay! On the final day of the conference, I passed her in the hall by the Blogger's Lounge. That time, I didn't stop her. I quietly fell in behind her and the couple of friends she was with and I listened. I heard the happiness in her voice that was a complete 180 from when I first met her Friday morning. She gushed about her experience and everything she had experienced. She was obviously oblivious to whatever this "thing" was that I had felt all week. And for her, I was happy.

While many of my friends expressed the same feeling of "off" that I had, when I step back from them and think back, I realized that we were thankfully in the minority. SO VERY MANY educators escaped that feeling. Many learned, laughed, loved. Many have returned home excited about next year, anxious to bring something new to their students. I suppose it just goes to show how very individualized each experience is.

For me, #ISTE2014 created some very special memories. Many are private between myself and one or two other people. Those will forever remain in that moment. I leave those with #noRegrets. Others were a year or more in the making as I met new connections and made time to catch up with colleagues I see only once a year. The vendor floor held great promise in a few spots and the poster sessions of course impressed. Next year, I will return for ISTE2015 and one of my most favorite cities. There I hope to make new memories and new connections. And whatever this "off" is, may it stay in Atlanta.