I’m sitting in a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland. I’m attending the Common Ground Conference here. This is an annual trip that I have come to love. The location is a nice reprieve from my usual surroundings. The topics are usually of great help and relevance. The food down here is pretty good. However, the thing I like most about this trip is the people. Call it networking or schmoozing; I really enjoy being around folks of a like mind and purpose. This conference tends to bring me that. In just coming to this conference every year for the past 5 years, presenting here once or twice, I have made some dear friends who have helped me a great deal. This conference is the thing that opened my eyes to the larger world of education. I rarely thought of education outside of my classroom until my first visit here. I did not think of education as a particularly innovative field. It is safe to say that this conference led to me rethinking professional learning, which led to me rethinking how I taught, which led to me working on PD school-wide, which led to me working the job I work now. It also led to this blog. All of this leads me to my much larger point.
I was lucky. One day my Principal emailed me about Common Ground conference and asked if I wanted to go. In order to afford registration I would have to volunteer as a hall monitor, guiding people to bathrooms and helping them figure out the map. I said sure, mostly out of not wanting to disappoint my new boss, and figured it would be fun. Mostly, I was excited to have a day when I didn’t have to drive to work. Highway driving is fine for me but I hate having a commute. As a nation we need to get serious about public transportation. I digress. Soon after, my department chair, also new, came in and spoke to me about the conference. She too would be attending and she wanted to know which sessions I would attend and what we could bring back to the department. I recall this as a nerve racking conversation. Was I supposed to have ideas? I have always seen myself as the work horse type, not the creative mind.
The conference itself, though small compared to events like ISTE, was perfect for me. I learned so much about where education was going but most importantly, I learned that I liked learning about education. Learned is the wrong word. I remembered that I enjoyed pedagogy. I bought so many books. I made it my mission to visit every booth. I didn’t even know enough to be discerning. I just wanted to learn.
I remember taking the Light Rail back with my Principal and Department Chair. We talked about the things we were excited to bring back. We discussed how to get more teachers to attend the next year. I didn’t realize the path that I was starting but it’s very clear at this point that Common Ground was a first step for me. I was lucky.
I vent a lot about teachers who I feel don’t want to grow. I get angry when I hear teachers bad mouth Professional Development. I don’t understand not wanting to be better at your job or not taking advantage of learning when it is put right in front of you. My motherboard doesn’t compute getting to a point in your work where you feel you have nothing left to learn and then being comfortable there. Im always telling teachers to find the nugget of usefulness in PD even when it seems bad. I tell teachers that Professional Learning does not have to take place in a classroom after school. I say all of these things but I have to also admit that I was lucky.
Ryan Imbriale and Julie Cutlip saw something in me that led to my current happiness. I was lucky that I had people around me who didn’t see me as disengaged, even though, at the time, that’s how I would describe myself.
Im still lucky. I still have people like that around me and Im in a position to be that person for a group of pretty dedicated teachers.
Learned Lesson: Pay It Forward.