Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Addiction

My name is Beth Still and I have a confession to make. I am a junkie with an incredibly expensive addiction. Since 2008 I have been hooked on educational technology conference. During the last seven years I have been to at least 2 dozen international, state, and regional conferences. My husband knows the exact dollar amount this addiction of mine has cost us, but I'd much rather focus on what I have gained. 

I have established thousands of connections of connections with educators from across the globe. Nearly every idea I have had and every project I have come up with over the last seven years can be traced back to an interaction with someone in my personal learning network (PLN). I have been influenced by so many fantastic educators over the years. The people with whom I am connected have challenged me, supported me, and have had a hand in molding me into the educator that I am today. 

For years I have dreamed of bringing a team of passionate and dedicated educators together to share their expertise with teachers in western Nebraska. I wanted teachers from my region to get a taste of my addiction. Teachers and administrators from western Nebraska rarely go to events like ISTE, Educon, NETA, or Google Summits so I decided to bring an event to them. 

With the blessing of my superintendent, Bob Hastings, I began planning the summit last September. (Shout out to Doug Mader from WNCC for being so great to work with!)  I began recruiting presenters who had reputations for being the best in different areas and I bribed them with the promise of covering their travel expenses, good food, and even better company. Registration opened early in April and I held my breath and prayed that we will hit the minimum number of registrations needed to break even by the end of the school year. I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I knew we had enough people registered to move forward! 

There were over 100 attendees and 20 presenters who represented 26 different districts. Take a look at this map to see where they came from. I could not have been more pleased with how everything went. There are a few things with the schedule we will change for future summits, but overall I was thrilled with how smoothly things went. The best part of the two day event was watching participants as they learned new things and listening to the excitement in their voices as they talked about all of the new things they wanted to try. My proudest moment was listening to my good friend Steven Anderson deliver his keynote address. He touched on some sensitive issues and I know there was not a single person in the room that was not forced to reflect on how they teach. 

The most difficult part of attending a conference is keeping the momentum going once the school year begins. People left the summit excited, energized and ready to jump into new things. That same excitement and desire to change what I had been doing turned into an addiction for me. Once I attended my first ed tech conference and connected with an entire community of learners, my entire world was turned upside down. I did everything possible to support my addiction to learning. I went to as many face-to-face events as possible and in between those events I stayed connected through Twitter, Google+, and other social networks. 

I had two goals with this summit. The first was to give educators an opportunity to see what they can gain from being a connected educator. Teachers cannot rely on their school to provide them with the training and professional development they need to stay current. There are not enough hours in the day and the needs of teachers varies too much. Teachers (and administrators!) need to know where to go to learn. Building a PLN is an essential part of taking control of our learning. 

The other goal I had was to push attendees out of their comfort zones. I wanted them to be exposed to ideas that were unfamiliar because that is how we grow. When we are surrounded by people who do everything exactly like we do we stop growing and learning. It is easier to stick with what we are familiar with, but it probably isn't what is best for students. 

I certainly do not believe in changing just for the sake of change, but I do believe that we need to take time to reflect on why we do what we do in our classrooms. It is time we have the uncomfortable conversations about what good tech integration looks like, curriculum, pacing guides, differentiation, flipped learning, student choice, teacher autonomy, and all of the other topics we tend to avoid because we don't always agree on them. 

Perhaps western Nebraska is ready for an Edcamp? 

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