My brother works for oil and gas. When he was hired he got a blank check to go to Office Depot and pick out a big cushy chair and desk. When he travels he stays in nice hotels and takes his clients to fancy restaurants. We were raised by a public school teacher and pastor. While my brother and his family live a modest life, his professional life is definitely another world.
This weekend, I stepped into that world. I attended ECET2OK on May 12-13th in Tulsa, OK. Needless to say, it’s ruined all other professional developments for me.
Here’s what I did NOT do this weekend:
- Sit in uncomfortable student desks
- Watch a presenter fumble around another teacher’s classroom trying to work the projector or find some dry erase markers
- Endure boring keynote addresses in a stuffy school PAC or stadium bleachers
- Bring a bag of my own snacks
- Have to remember to pack my Chrome Book, paper, pens, etc.
- Use a bathroom made for a small child
- Feel sorry for people who looked and acted like they were forced to be there
- Buy my own dinner, breakfast, and lunch
- Listen to people gripe and whine about teaching and focus on all the problems
- Look at the clock to see how much more of this I had to put up with
- Smile and nod while presenters were really trying to sell me their “educational” program or sign up for the “real” (read: expensive) conference their “organization” (read: for-profit company) hosts
Attitude is everything, well almost everything. In any given professional development as an attendee, I truly get out of it what I put into it. That being said, never underestimate how a bunch of small things can drastically change the amount one is willing to put in…and, in turn, get out.
This is what my weekend looked like:
- I felt appreciated and celebrated.
- I was welcomed by genuinely excited people who were not paid to be there and got nothing out of hosting the event other than their own enjoyment and satisfaction.
- I savored luxuriously long and delicious meals in an elegant hotel banquet hall while being serenaded by talented-beyond-their-years young musicians.
- I had the choice of responsibly enjoying an adult beverage with my dinner.
- I enjoyed the niceties of being a hotel guest (beyond the catered meals) like complimentary coffee and water everywhere, fancy bathrooms, etc.
- Every place I sat was comfortable, like it was designed for someone to sit there for longer than five minutes without being miserable.
- In every session the technology and presentation tools were beyond expectations..
- LITERALLY EVERY SECOND YOU TURNED AROUND PEOPLE WERE WINNING INSANE PRIZES! Chromebook, iPads, FitBits, $300 Visa Giftcard, vacation getaway, multiple restaurant or gas gift cards, school supplies, beauty packages…the list goes on and on and on!
I know this sounds like a giant infomercial for comfy climate-controlled seating. Stick with me. The meat of the conference far surpassed the delightful details that made us all feel like pampered resort guess.
- 38 years. That’s how long the presenter of my first breakout session has been a full-time classroom teacher. Yeah, let that sink in. She didn’t have a high-tech presentation or fancy program to peddle. She had a piece of paper full of wisdom to share. She had stories. She had guiding principles and philosophies. It was genius.
- Uncomfortable. That’s the best word to describe how the School to Prison Pipeline session felt. It was marvelously uncomfortable. This topic has been on my heart for a few months, so the breakout session was just more kindling for the fire. The presenter, an incredibly knowledgeable elementary school teacher, was not just engaging but empowering.
We were privileged to attend five breakout sessions during the two days. Most of the sessions were designed to accommodate all levels and disciplines. The presenters were all current or former classroom teachers still working in education. The focus ranged from pedagogy to politics, kinesthetic learning to gamifying your classroom. While I hope to see more offerings in the future, I wholeheartedly benefited from the sessions I attended.
I’m not trendy enough to employ the proper slang to describe how awesome the keynote speakers were. They were epic! All that and a bag of chips! See, I shouldn’t have even tried. But I’m not sure what description would do them justice.
The most basic sentiment that I took away was teaching takes heart. I know because I listened to powerful forces in education speak from their heart, about heart, to my heart.
- Rep. Eric Proctor fired us up to stand for education.
- Superintendent Gist commended our efforts to do a lot when being given a little.
- John Waldron went history-teacher on us, focusing on who truly gets remembered and for what.
- OK Teacher of the Year Shawn Sheehan asked us which version of the story we’re telling by sharing two versions of his own.
- TPS Teacher of the Year Rob Kaiser inspired us to move mountains in our classrooms with every small step we can take.
- Booker T. Washington senior Warren Fuselier gave us hope that if he can look back with pride on his teachers, there’s a reason to keep going.
It’s said that the two most comforting words in the world are, “Me too.” This weekend was a giant blanket of me too’s. Through colleague circles, informal discussions, and breakout sessions, I was able to huddle up with educators.
It’s May. We’re exhausted. We don’t know what/who/where/you-fill-in-the-blank we’re teaching next year. We needed this. While social media is a great connector of like-minded individuals, there’s no substitute for sitting across the table from someone, listening to their story, and being able to say, “That’s awesome!” or “That sucks” or “Tell me more about that.” Just having the TIME to do this was invaluable.
I will probably never enjoy the luxuries of working for a big fancy company that has carafes of cucumber water in the lobby. I’ll never be wined and dined as a high-rolling client. In 20 years I’ll probably still have the same $8 chair I bought at a garage sale the summer before my first teaching job. And that’s ok.
The gift of ECET2OK was their delivering on their promise: elevating, celebrating, and empowering teachers. I can honestly say that right now in my career, that is worth more than any fringe benefit another job could offer. If you have the opportunity to attend an ECET convening, don’t hesitate to do so. If you have any hand in planning or executing professional developments for teachers, I hope my take-aways have sparked some thought for your future endeavors.