That Time When It Didn’t Work Out

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I had an idea and shared it. The idea became a collaboration. The collaboration became a proposal. The proposal was accepted. The three of us rejoiced and shared the news in our networks. Friends congratulated us, offered us virtual pats on the back. We continued talking, refining our plan. We booked our travel and registered for the event. We were so excited to be sharing the stage, pooling our expertise, involving our audience, setting the world on fire, to be honest.

And then we got word. Not enough people signed up. Get more people and it can still run. We tried this, tried that. Reached out here, reached out there. It did not work. What we had was good but no match for the 14 other pre-conference offerings. We lost out to we don’t know exactly how many others. We only know that our gig is up; meaning cancelled. In the final program, erased, I guess.

That’s not what we planned. That’s not at all what we envisioned. But it is what happened. My colleague reminded me to not take it personally; to understand that big conferences operate this way to attract the maximum number of extra payers with minimal sacrifices. Our session was one such sacrifice, I guess. While I’m trying my best not to take it personally, that doesn’t make it easier to take.

Travel plans were cancelled. Now I will be a party of one instead of a member of the triumphant trio. At this conference we won’t be involving our audience or sharing the stage. We won’t be hearing the excellent keynotes together or wander from one lit reception to the next. No, it won’t be at all the way I had hoped. And I am just getting over that.

There’s no blame to lay. I feel like I was naive and lacked insight into the conference organization process. I’ll know for next time and think carefully about how to invest my energies into this event. Burned once and you learn, right? And to feel burned by an event I actually love and care for, that is especially bitter.

This is just to say

that not all the things I try

work out

the way I want them to

and I can grow to accept

that this is true for everyone

at some point

but it’s also true

that right now

it really just sucks.

 

 

Taking Conference Learning to Task

One week ago I was packing up to leave a marvelous educators’ conference. The Central and Eastern European Schools Association (CEESA) conference celebrated its 25th anniversary at a stunning resort location near Dubrovnik, Croatia. Spectacular views to the Adriatic Sea, attendance by just over 400 educators and school folk from the region and beyond, and a strong selection of workshop sessions around the theme of “transforming education through global citizenship” offered all the right ingredients for an outstanding professional experience.

In a nutshell, I could not have been happier with the conference and my attendance. Not a moment of my time or dose of energy felt wasted or superfluous. It was a conference put together with great care and attention to coherence and also ambient experience. Opportunities and invitations to visit Dubrovnik and drink in its unique history and atmosphere were actively incorporated into the program. The keynote speakers were extremely well-chosen to address the conference theme of global citizenship: Michael Furdyk spoke about the student service platform Taking It Global and Heidi Hayes-Jacobs described steps to create 21st century learning environments. Additional invited speakers led well-attended workshops of practical pedagogical importance.

Now, one week later, I am asking myself however, to what end? Yes, I had a rich and invigorating conference experience and enjoyed fun and also reflective times with some of my colleagues but what of it? How does that serve anyone besides me? Who benefits from my freshly gained (and perhaps as quickly dissipating) insights from this great learning experience? I imagine that I am not alone in this experience. It could be that many other conference participants left this spectacular event only to see those precious new ideas for innovation or tweaking quickly fade when they got back to school. They may have found that their colleagues who, during said absence were literally and figuratively “holding down the fort,” did not or could not share the same enthusiasm for new ideas or spare the time to appreciate them. For many of us this situation may be par for the course. Not every school has an active forum for conference participants to share their learning with colleagues upon return. Which is, of course, a shame.

Overcoming this situation would not necessarily require much effort. 5 minutes of a faculty meeting, perhaps. Or a world café style meeting where conference attendants share and moderate conversations around the most compelling take-aways from their conference experience and colleagues can choose 2-3 areas of interest in which to engage. The key lies in honoring time and effort spent on professional learning and providing space for those gains to be shared, spread and built upon. If you imagine sending teachers to a conference as an act of sowing seeds, then surely we must all take an interest in the ensuing growth and harvest that will follow.

One of the thoughts that kept coming back to me at the conference was: given the theme of global citizenship, how adept do I feel in my own capacity to model, (not even explicitly teach yet) some of these principles for my students? All the topics of what and how to change the educational experiences of our students come back to me as a teacher and the role I plan to take in making it happen. Reflecting on this question “in my own private Idaho” appears to be of little use. This is a question whose response insists on company and dialogue and challenge in order to make sense. Without the benefit of outside and other perspectives, I will continue to see things not as they are, but as I am.

This strikes me as the fundamental glitch in our ability to transfer great conference learning and experiences to community benefit and growth. How might we move from “one and done” professional learning events to something like “one and share and extend….”? How might we bring those insights back to our students to let them know that we were learning on their behalf? When will it become commonplace for us to highlight and value learning that takes place outside of our schools, districts, and subject areas?

These are big questions and critical to sustaining the purposeful use of conferences as a wise professional learning option. My time in Dubrovnik could be written off as a delightful vacation opportunity with a little education(al) banter thrown in. But the fact that it was so much more than that would hardly be known unless I broadcast it here. That speaks volumes about how far we have to go.

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Try on someone else’s shoes – Alternative summer PD

Shoes to try on... Pixabay.com

Shoes to try on…

Opportunities for learning abound when we open ourselves to the possibilities.
Here’s an example: My 6 year old son is attending summer day camp at my school this week. For him it’s a novel situation. He’s involved with peers who hail from all over the world and speaks English all day long (instead of German). He’s familiar with the school but is not a student there. He is having a blast and enjoys telling me about all the games they play and what he made during arts and crafts. The difference for me is that I get to take on the role of parent/customer on my home turf. And in this case, it’s awesome.

I drop him off with my smiling and good humored colleagues. He then starts chatting with his favorite counselors, most of whom are alumni or high school students whom I taught or coached at one point. I am also acutely aware of my responsibilities as a parent in making the cooperation a good one: packing him a good lunch, putting on the sunscreen, respecting the pick-up and drop-off times. When I come to pick him up, I get to stand among the other parents: relaxed, unhurried and so glad to be on the receiving end of excellent care and service. My appreciation for what my colleagues do in these days to challenge, encourage and delight my youngest is immeasurable. What a gift it is to be able to experience the operation from the other side!

This got me thinking about how valuable it can be for us not only as educators, simply as people, to shift our typical perspective and try on someone else’s shoes for a bit. It might be as easy as acknowledging the good work that someone is doing with your child or children and considering the specific elements which contribute to making that a reality. Other contexts present other opportunities. Listening to my oldest son describe the details of his creative process in putting together a well edited video of his last big drum and bass set and feeling his disappointment when the rendering got stuck some 20 hours in helped me think about the challenges of making art and the personal investment it requires. While researching for my coaching practice I recently enjoyed a conversation with a high school principal in which I asked him about the demands, rewards, and challenges of his job. The anecdotes and reflections he shared with me proved thoroughly enriching and enlightening. My curiosity was rewarded tenfold thanks to his openness and a generous time frame. He afforded me the chance to try on his leadership shoes and all I did up front was request a conversation.

Going to a conference? Take advantage of being the participant/learner and benefiting from someone else’s efforts to enhance understanding, generate enthusiasm or spark action.  And before you unleash the criticism, remind yourself of the bravery and preparation that most likely went into creating the offering. If you were his or her coach, what feedback would you give to help that person do better the next time? Try on the shoes.

While the summer is a great stretch of time for educators to explore a variety of professional development options, it can also provide countless opportunities for us to engage in the other PD: Personal Development. In these situations we can actively strengthen and grow the greatest difference-making resource we have at our disposal: our full humanity. That said, I see that  the muscles I really need to train this summer are : outreach, connection and perspective.  There are so many different shoes out there to see and try on!  My PD agenda just got a whole lot richer and deeper.