Climate · Culture · growth mindset · innovation · Innovator's Mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections

The Ability to Change: It’s not about the technology

Today, I was at a Technology Director’s meeting. I know it may not sound riveting exactly, but it is one of the best cross-district meetings I attend. Basically, we get a bunch of super smart, incredibly kind and collaborative people in a room and we attempt to solve the world’s problems. My favorite part? This particular group begins almost every answer to a tech question with a focus on learning instead of tech. It makes my heart happy.

At one point, the question was raised regarding strategies for helping people deal with the constant technology changes both within schools and the growth of technology in general. I had spent a great deal of time last year and over the summer thinking about this and reaching out to my PLN to bounce ideas off of them, and what I came up with was a little bit of what we have been implementing at the beginning of this year, and it is also where I have seen the most changes in some of the teachers I work with. What I have noticed over the last few years of working with people and technology is that the ones that are the readiest for change have certain characteristics in common, and there are things that districts can do to help support teachers and admin in these areas. The part in all this that I think is the most interesting is that we are trying to get people comfortable with technology change, but it is not about the technology at all. It is about their ability to accept change in general. We are focusing on the wrong aspect of technology change if it is the technology we are concentrating on.

These characteristics are as follows:

Mindset

It’s more than Growth Mindset. Most likely Innovator’s Mindset. Maybe there’s even one step further…a Teacher’s Mindset. Knowing that change is inevitable and will continue to happen whether they accept it or not because our students are constantly changing, their needs are changing, their experience in the world is constantly changing. It doesn’t mean they like every change that comes down the pipe, but they pick their battles based off from what they feel is not good for students. They are also naturally reflective people (which, to me, is part of mindset), and their reflection goes beyond wondering if the lesson went well. They will also ask:

“Were my students engaged? Empowered?”
“Did each student get what they needed when they needed it?”
“Is there anything more I can do to support them? Help them enjoy their learning?”
“Are my expectations high enough?”

These questions don’t change much for an administrator. If you exchange “student” for “teacher”, they are actually identical.

Adaptability

People who are able to accept change are adaptable. We tell students that part of their career readiness skills is adaptability, but it is difficult to actually teach adaptability in a world where procedures and policies keep people safe (sane) and give us some controlled chaos. Through raising four of my own kids and being a teacher, I realized that kids actually LIKE structure. They like to know what is going to happen, and it makes them feel safe if they know what is expected. The same goes for when we become adults. Nothing will make a teacher more upset quicker than a new initiative that they haven’t been trained on because they don’t know what to expect or how to begin.

Anything that would work on our adaptability skills will take us out of our comfort zone. So, for some people, unless they have been regularly forced outside their comfort zone either by their own choice or by some sort of adversity, might not develop the skills to adjust to new conditions or environment as well as others. I believe that people can develop and work on their adaptability skills by pushing themselves to learn outside their comfort zones. Focusing on adaptability as a skill that we want teachers and admin to develop is the first step. Asking them to self-reflect on their skills would be the second, and then regular nudges to step outside their comfort zone, and supporting them when they do it, would be the next. This might actually be learning about and integrating technology into their classrooms, but the adaptability will come as they become more comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Professional Engagement

This might be one of the issues I’ve been noticing the most lately, and I only figured out it was a thing years ago after I had been disengaged, then subsequently re-engaged, from mine.

I was reading the School Leaders Dunk Tank by Rick Jetter and Rebecca Coda, and it discussed how people can become adversarial when they feel like they feel like they have not been supported and, therefore, develop feelings of hurt. The hurt turns into resentment, and that resentment infiltrates many other parts of their professional life. You could easily replace adversarial with disengaged. Disengaged professionals begin to dislike their jobs because they feel like they are no longer making a difference. They think that kids begin to do things to them “on purpose” just to irritate them, or they take new district initiatives as personal vendettas. But, they absolutely worst part of no longer being engaged is that they forget that they are there for students, and the difference they make in their lives every day. And if you’re disengaged, the positive difference that they got into teaching to make can then become a negative one.

I have been speaking with teachers about the concept of being disengaged, and the truly reflective ones can see where they have begun this transformation as well. I wholeheartedly believe that all of them can see it, some of them are just more willing to admit it than others. Noticing these parts of oneself is the first step to changing them. We have also been working on a “Back to Basics” initiative in our district. We have been trying to re-engage teachers with activities to help them remember why they got into teaching to begin with. For example, at the beginning of the year, we had all the teachers participate in a Flipgrid that asked them why they teach. We have also been focusing, in our high school, on personalized PD, not only because it is the right way to allow teachers to learn, but because we want them to remember what it’s like to be curious and love what you learn again. Back to basics.

Counting Your Initiatives

This one is a district/building level issue. I worked with a district recently who said they had five initiatives. When I heard that I thought, “Whoa, only five? Not bad!” But, the fact was that when I expanded those initiatives, there were 53 initiatives within the five overarching initiatives that were being implemented. Being adaptable and willing to change is one thing, but people cannot be overloaded and then chastised for not changing with those kinds of crazy expectations. The perception of your ability to change should not be dependent on how willing you are to go with the flow when there is an exorbitant number of things on your plate. District leaders need to be reflective enough of their own expectations to know if what they are asking for is even reasonable.

change 2

Nobody would argue that change is inevitable. In speaking with a colleague the other day, she mentioned how our students, when they are parents, will have a better idea how to work the current technology than most current parents do now just because they grew up with it. The only issue with that is that the technology in 15-20 years is not going to look anything like it does now. Which means, if education professionals are still teaching then, the technology that they’re working with isn’t going to be nearly the same. We can’t focus on technology when we are focusing on change. We need to focus on the ability to accept and grow with change. The ability to work with the changing technology, with that mindset, will come.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships

Five Things My Mentors Taught Me

While I truly value my professional learning network that I’ve worked so diligently to build, there a few people in my life that I have carefully chosen to study the way they operate because I have such a massive amount of personal and professional respect for them. I have learned an immense amount of life and professional lessons from them. These people have been my mentors, my friends, and my biggest supporters. They have listened to me complain, celebrated my successes, and have laughed with me when I inevitably say or do something ridiculous. They have become like family to me, like a weird concoction of uncles and step-brothers and mothers that have made me who I am by being absolutely amazing leaders and mentors. And through them, I have learned the following lessons.

Ask for what you want

I have a terrible habit of hedging or asking questions in a passive voice. I’ve learned, however, that this tends to give the impression that I’m not confident in what I’m saying or asking. The secret is that I’m usually not confident, but I certainly don’t want people to know that. One of my mentors taught me that how you speak is as important as what you’re saying, and that the confidence you exhibit can dictate the way that people react to you. I always need to be especially cognizant of this when I’m speaking with people that intimidate me.

So, what happens if you don’t have the confidence that’s necessary? Another one of my mentors taught me this: fake it ’til you make it. I’ve learned myself that when you fake it long enough, you start to believe in yourself and build your own confidence until you’re not faking it anymore. Whenever I fall upon a situation that makes me feel like I don’t have the confidence I need, I fall back upon this rule to get me through.

Leaving a legacy is not about getting the credit

Especially not in education. Recently, I was at a volleyball tournament and a few of my former students came over to tell me that one of their former classmates still talks about me all the time and wants to get in touch with me to say hi. I would be willing to bet that she couldn’t pick out anything specific I taught her, and years down the line, she might not even remember my name, but she will remember the way she felt in my classroom and the connections that she made. Leaving a legacy in education isn’t about massive changes or a total disruption, although a few people are able to create those types of movements. For most of us, the legacy is in the way that we instill certain values in our students, whether it’s a love of learning, knowing that there are consequences for our decisions, or that everyone deserves someone who sticks by them no matter what choices they make. It’s about the small changes that we create in the educators around us, the programs we start to do things like help provide canned goods to the food pantry, or even leading a school-wide or district-wide mindset change. Our legacies are not in things, and years down the road people might not remember our names, but they will remember the connections, the programs that supported them or made them feel worthwhile, and the feeling they got from changes and relationships we made.

People make time for what they think is important

If people don’t jump on a new idea or initiative, it is most likely not because they are completely unwilling to learn something new. It is usually because they have not been given the why behind the change and how it is going to enhance learning. I have learned that when people think something is important, they will make time. When they think that their students will truly benefit and it could transform learning, they will be all in. People will move mountains for the things they believe are important.

The same is true with students and their learning. If they have not been shown the importance or connection of what they’re learning, or if they are not encouraged to find what inspires them, they will not spend the time to truly engage in what they are doing. They might do it out of compliance or just to get through their days, but they won’t show the qualities of an empowered learner that we want to see when a child truly loves what they’re doing.

Never forget your teacher’s heart

It doesn’t matter what position you’re currently in. It’s that feeling you get when a kid has a lightbulb moment, or when a child with difficult behaviors seems happy instead of angry, or when a student comes back to your classroom years later and says, “Remember when we did __________ in class? That was awesome.” It is the combination of moments and feelings that you can only get from working with students, hearing them laugh, and watching them triumph over struggles. Because those are the moments that keep us pushing in education when we’re also dealing with new initiatives, rules made by government officials that have never been in a classroom as an educator, and active shooter drills. The second we forget our teacher’s heart, it will become significantly more difficult to remember why we teach to begin with, and kids deserve better than that.

Being a leader was never about you

If you are truly serving people as a leader, your personal professional agenda will never be considered, because being a real leader is never about you. Instead, it’s about what the people around you need and the best way they can be supported. All the time. Period. I’ve seen agendas that include things like being seen as the first district to “pave the way” for other districts all the time, or implementing copious numbers of devices to prove they have more than their neighbors, or building a massive football field. Many times these agendas might start out with student learning as the reason (sometimes they don’t) but the focus gets lost along the way because the focus becomes the agenda instead. Sometimes, these agendas are followed up with or connected to the desire to build a legacy. But, like legacies are not about things, a true leader is not concerned with leaving a legacy, and certainly not worried about agendas because they realize that leading is not about them but rather the ones they serve.

I continue to learn from the people around me every day, but the people who believe in me and mentor me on a daily basis have made a profound impact on my personal and professional life. It’s the reason that I believe choosing mentors that support the different areas of your different facets of your career is one of the most important professional decisions you can make. Recently, a new connection without any prior knowledge, actually asked me if I somehow knew one of my mentors because my work had pieces of him in it. At first, honestly, I was embarrassed that my work was seen as that close to his. After reflecting on it though, I thought that I couldn’t imagine connecting myself to many other people that I respected more. Eventually, I hope that there is a little of all my mentors inside my work, because I chose to model myself after these amazing people for a reason.

influence

Genius Bar · innovation · Mandy Froehlich · my classroom · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media · Trust

The Creation of a Genius Bar: How our student led tech teams have formed

Although our district has been 1:1 for about eight years, this is the first year we have implemented a student led helpdesk. I’m not going to lie, at first I was dreading it, not because I didn’t believe in the idea or think it would be fantastic for students, but because I didn’t even know where to start or how to manage it. There are logistics to the helpdesk when it’s been led by students that are difficult to anticipate. I didn’t know what they were going to do all day. I didn’t know how they would interact with our tech department. I didn’t even know how we were going to take attendance since their assigned teacher wasn’t in the same spot as the physical helpdesk. It has been a project that has taken me a year to put together with researching other helpdesks, and calling up my teacher instincts and going with them. I’m proud with what we have put together so far, but as with every major implementation, will need to continue to adjust throughout the year.

Where did you go to research?

As per usual, I used my professional learning network to really connect and see what other people were doing. I had gotten some amazing information from the Director of Technology for the Leyden School District, Bryan Weinert. Their TSI system is a nationally recognized student led tech support program with pathways that the students choose and follow to support the skills that they want to focus on. As part of the program, Leyden pays for the students to get the certifications. Thanks to Bryan, I was able to get invaluable information on how they started their program and continue to make it a successful way for students to be involved in the technology department for both students and the district.

I also loved this article by Jennifer Scheffer. I have borrowed many ideas of how they run their Genius Bar (as ours is called as well) and have implemented them. Basically, our Genius Bar is a combination of information from this article and the resources and information I received from Bryan.

How did you recruit kids?

Our Genius Bar is a class that is available every hour throughout the day. In our first semester, we have 16 kids who have taken the course. Realistically, some kids have taken it because they needed something to fill an hour in their schedule. Some have taken it because they wanted to try something different and had an interest in technology. Some are a part of the program because they had formed a relationship with our department and were excited to be a part of the Genius Bar. The most important thing we did was explain to teachers and the guidance counselors that the Genius Bar kids did NOT need to know a lot about technology. When I first told them this, they looked at me like I had lost my mind (a look that I feel I get a lot), but here’s my reasoning: if they have an interest but don’t think they know enough to be a part of the program, how are they ever going to learn if it’s something they really want to do or not? I made sure I erased “tech-savvy” out of our vocabulary. Might this change as the program becomes more popular? I have no idea, but I sure hope not. I want anyone to feel comfortable at any level coming to the Genius Bar, knowing they’re going to learn, not that they are only going to employ the skills they already have. This has hands-down been my best decision.

george

When talking to one of the girls that now works the Genius Bar, she told me she doesn’t really know anything about technology and that she is not tech-savvy. The next day she was so insanely excited when we told her to YouTube how to change a Chromebook screen and handed her a broken one, and she did it on her first try (with the support of one of our tech services ladies). To me, THAT is the function of the Genius Bar. We want to open kids up to the possibility that technology might be an area they want to look at, and when we tell them they need to be tech savvy, we automatically exclude the population of kids that have an interest but don’t consider themselves to know a lot about tech.

What do they do all day?

The Genius Bar assistants are the the first line of defense for technology that faculty and other students are having difficulty with whether it’s that it is actually broken or just isn’t working right. They troubleshoot and have forms to fill out to document issues so we can see patterns in the data. They must answer help request emails and tickets assigned to them. Beyond the technical aspects of the Genius Bar, they are also responsible for researching new tech learning tools and working with students and teachers to use them. Aside from their actual desk functions, they work on these things:

Canvas LMS Course: Our students have a course that they complete in Canvas that is a work in progress. They have access to the logistical parts of the course, video explanations with how to use the forms and what their expectations are. We use discussion boards to collaborate on projects as a team since the kids are scattered across seven class periods. There are also learning modules and assignments on concepts like customer service and creating a positive digital footprint.

Blog: We have a helpdesk manager, which is a student that is a paid internship. This year, it is a student named Brock (an absolutely amazing person) who spent some of his free time last year helping me brainstorm and develop the Genius Bar, and he is in charge of various projects, and has both designed and will maintain and schedule blog posts that focus on technology integration for both students and faculty. Genius Bar students will be expected to contribute to the blog on a regular basis.

20% Time Project: Students will be creating goals based on what area of technology they would like to know more about. There are multiple ways they could design this project, but if the project requires the knowledge base of a certification to support that goal, the technology department will support them by paying for the certification. Project goals are monitored by myself and the assigned teacher, and the students will meet with us on a regular basis to update us on their progress and let us know if they need support in any way. Their 20% time project will also be documented in a portfolio on EduBlogs that they will be able to take with them when they graduate.

Additional projects: The Genius Bar assistants are also in charge of additional projects that might come up as needed. For example, currently we found that third through fifth grade kiddos are not handling their Chromebooks with as much care as we would like. As our Kinder through second graders’ touchscreen Chromebooks are coming in soon, we are anticipating a similar issue. The Genius Bar kids have been asked to create videos for each level demonstrating the proper use of the devices. So far, they have been brainstorming if they would like to create cartoons or use the green screen, but they are in charge of producing the videos.

The students always have a multitude of things to be working on. They will need to manage their time wisely, stay focused and organized. They also will need to collaborate with each other and our tech services department, as well as students and teachers that they may not know or necessarily have. They are treated as they an extension of our department. We have placed immediate trust in every student that works behind the desk, no matter what. Another decision that I think is imperative to the success of the students, and ultimately the Genius Bar.

Moreover, as a director, I have been more removed from the classroom than any other position I’ve had in education. My focus has become the adults, and I do enjoy this because I know that I can affect student learning by supporting their amazing teachers. However, an unexpected side-effect from working with the kids from the Genius Bar has been remembering how incredible it is to work directly with students again. One day, I was sitting in my office, and I could hear them laughing while they worked. I literally stopped what I was doing and just listened. Working with the Genius Bar students has kept me focused on why I do what I do. I might be supporting their learning, and I hope that I have awakened or support a love for technology in the students like I have, but they are reminding me every day why I keep going when things get difficult, and why I love being in this profession so much. They do so much more for me on a daily basis than I could ever do for them.

 

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growth mindset · leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN

Allowing Fear to Write Your Story

I truly believe that our stories make us who we are. Our experiences come together to help us determine how we will react to situations, treat the people around us, and the path we choose to move forward. It’s one of the reasons that teaching is so complicated. There is never an easy way to account for people’s stories and how they affect their learning or the path they’ve put themselves on.

I had two experiences this week that were eye-opening while I was presenting at the #NetX17 conference in Texas. Even though these conversations came from two different people who didn’t know each other at two completely separate times, to me, they were so closely related that it was difficult to ignore.

First, I met Trevor Regan. Trevor speaks about failure and fear, how our brain is wired to make us hesitant to put ourselves out there and take risks, and how purposeful, positive reinforcement can change the way that we react to a situation. Our brains truly are amazing, and word choice can be a powerful weapon for both good and evil. While I learned a ton from Trevor, this concept really stuck with me:

Don't try to defeat fear, dance with it. When we appreciate the role of fear, we can thank it and move on anyway.

Fear keeps us from having amazing experiences when we are afraid to try in the first place. It made me reflect on my fear of getting up in front of people, and how I had to take 18 credits of public speaking in college just to gain control. People often ask me how I “got rid” of that fear, and my answer is that I haven’t. I still have it all the time. I need to take deep breaths before I present, still doubt my abilities, still sweat and shake, and I still get up and do it because I have learned that the feeling of working with people in that capacity is more important and rewarding than my fear and anxiety of public speaking. It’s definitely not gone, it’s just controlled. I danced with this fear, acknowledged it, stepped on it’s toes a little, and do my best to let it go as much as possible. The important part is that I persevered because I chose that I wouldn’t let that fear keep me from something I really wanted, but I had to make a conscious choice for that to happen, had to work at it, regularly failed but kept going, and I still actively continue to fight against it every single time I get up to speak.

That same day, I was having a discussion with a friend of mine about our stories and when choices need to be made. He said, “You need to decide how you’re going to write your story. Don’t allow it to be written for you.” This really hit home for me. It’s easy to feel in control when times are good, but in times when things are difficult the amount of effort to take control can seem insurmountable. Between those two conversations, it dawned on me that all the times that I have had surprising, positive outcomes from decisions, it has been when I have gone through something difficult, struggled, and have decided to not allow fear of the unknown to dictate my life. But, every single time this has happened, it has been me that has had to decide that I was going to be the one to take control of my situation. When I was a teacher and I began to disengage from my profession after five years, I had to take the bull by the horns and figure out what I needed in order to be passionate about my work again. There was no district, administrator or curriculum that was going to do that for me. It was scary because I had to put myself out there and admit that I had been relying on other people to make me feel happy and successful. Again, and example of when I made the decision and took control of my story.

eleanor roosevelt

So often we sit back and think about everything that needs to change for us to be happy or successful, but fear keeps us from taking control and making those things happen, so we allow our stories to be written for us because then we have someone else to blame and a reason to complain. Then we have no reason to be afraid of failure because we didn’t try in the first place. Change is so difficult, but it’s also a constant. We have a choice about how we react to that change. Are we allowing change to happen to us or are we using change to work to our advantage? Does the change keep us living in whatever fear we’ve allowed our brains to hang on to, or do we decide how our stories will turn out? It doesn’t really matter what kind of change it is, whether it’s the fear of integrating more technology into your lessons, changing jobs, making a personal life change, writing a book…although there may be different levels of anxiety for each of these, if we never try, we have a 0% chance of being successful and we are allowing either our fear or other people write our stories for us. We all have the chance to make decisions that will ultimately change our trajectory. We just need to be brave, persevere, and take control.

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections

Give Me Three Reasons Why

In speaking with a fellow educator and friend at the First conference today, we discussed issues between the administrators and teachers in his district. There is a group of people that desire change, and then there is the opposing group that does not. Relationships are shaky. Trust is missing. The climate is dismal. I’ve heard this story so many times.

He also told me that the opposing group often uses the phrase “That’s the way we’ve always done it” as their why. Now, in being a new admin myself and walking into a situation where we needed to make changes in order to move forward, streamline processes and create some consistency across the district, there are very few phrases that will ruffle my feathers faster, with one of the only challengers being “It is what it is”. Maybe whatever the process is has been done for so long that people have forgotten why they do it. Maybe they didn’t know the why to begin with. Or, maybe they are just satisfied and don’t want to deal with the struggle of change, but saying we will continue to do something because that’s the way we have always done it tells me nothing of what the process has to do with supporting student learning.

How much more powerful would it be if the answer to “Why do we do it that way?” would be a list of at least three why’s as to how it is effective and supports learning? If you can’t give the reasons why, then we need to seriously ask, why do we continue to do it that way? But, if I want to make a change and it’s met with solid reasons as to why it is effective, I will take these reasons into consideration as I think about moving forward. I’m not saying that the change won’t still be necessary, but in recognizing the strengths in how it had been done in the past, possibly adjustments to the new process can be made to make it even better.

always got

If we continue to do things we’ve always done, we will continue to create a system that struggles in moving forward.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

“It is what it is.”

Neither tell me a why. Neither are a convincing argument for being satisfied with the status quo.

#1stEDU

leadership · Mandy Froehlich · PLN · professional development · reflections · relationships · Uncategorized

New Beginnings: Five Reminders For Leaders

I don’t typically make New Year’s Resolutions because I feel reflection and change should be fluid, not fixed to a certain date or time, but going into a new school is a time for new beginnings. Within this time of busyness and change, it’s imperative to take time to mindfully focus on certain things that keep us leading the way we would want to be lead.

Remember your teacher’s heart.

You were once a teacher, focusing on all the changes and new initiatives and new classrooms and new kids…returning to school at the beginning of a school year is overwhelming and exciting all at the same time. Don’t forget what it was like to reconnect with colleagues that you haven’t seen over the summer, and anticipate viewing your class lists for the first time. It’s easy to get bogged down by budgets  and making tough decisions that not everyone understands, but when it comes down to it, the people you support and the kids are why you’re there. It’s why you became a teacher in the first place. Don’t forget that.

There is always a place for fun.

dance

Like Ren McCormack says in Footloose, “A time to laugh… and a time to weep. A time to mourn… and there is a time to dance… See, this is our time to dance. It is our way of celebrating life. It’s the way it was in the beginning. It’s the way it’s always been. It’s the way it should be now.” There is a time for professional development, training, and planning, but there also needs to be a time for fun. Never underestimate the power of laughter to connect people. So many deep connections can be made by getting to know people on a personal level, and the best way to do that is to give them time to interact in a non-threatening way where they can relax and enjoy themselves. Build bonds. Like each other.

Your PLN is your best asset. Cultivate it.

My PLN, which includes the teachers in my district, are the people that support, challenge and give me the best ideas. As I’ve said a hundred times, I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. Every single day I am amazed with the people that I have had the good fortune to connect with, and I am a better person and leader because of it. I need to be aware, however, that it’s important for me to give back to my PLN as well. I try to do this by being available if they need support, working on projects together, even if we are states away, tweeting ideas I find, and frankly, keeping this blog. If I’m not giving back what I’m getting, I’m not being a very good PLN member.

Model what you want to see.

All. The. Time.

We ask teachers to do this with their students. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want the students reading, you should read as well. If you want them journaling, you should keep a journal, too. Yet, sometimes we don’t put enough focus on leaders modeling what they want to see from teachers. If you want teachers tweeting, you better be on Twitter. If you want teachers integrating tech into their lessons, you better be integrating tech into their PD. Think they should be learning a new tool once a week? Then ask yourself what tool you’ve learned more about this week. There is nothing that will ruin a relationship faster than the “do as I say not as I do” mentality. If you’re afraid of a teacher asking you to show them an example of yours that you’ve asked them to do because you haven’t actually done it, that’s a problem. So, listen like you want to be listened to. Support others the way you want to be supported. Treat others they way you’d like to be treated.

Decide on the climate & culture you want to create.

I really do believe that we have the power, every one of us, from teachers and students to administrators, to create or change the climate and culture. There really are some simple truths when it comes to this. There must be trust amongst all people. They need to feel valued and that what they do actually means something. People desire positivity but are more likely to gravitate toward the negative, so what can we do about that? The amazing part of being a reflective professional is that we have the power every day to decide what kind of climate and culture we want to create in our offices, buildings and district. If we make the changes in ourselves, people will follow suit.

It’s so easy to get lost in both the craziness of the beginning of the year and then the subsequent tedium of day to day, that it’s especially important to be mindful of our objectives and goals, and purposeful in the way that we plan, implement, and interact with others so we are supporting people in the best way we can. Many of us have had the opportunity to work with leaders that we do not want to emulate. Lets decide on the leaders we want to be, and then actually be those people every day.

Mandy Froehlich · PLN · reflections · relationships · Social Media

The ISTE Effect

There is a certain feeling, a certain effect, that going to ISTE has on the majority of the attendees. Sometimes you can see it in their glazed expressions or hear it in the animated conversations as they walk by. The hordes of people come, and then the hordes of people go, and they leave with more commonalities than just their new box of tech tools and vendor swag. Sometimes, going to ISTE reminds me of the weeks just after having a baby…you’re happy but exhausted, you want to remember everything everyone has told you, and your focus is making connections with another human being. It’s difficult to explain the ISTE effect to someone who hasn’t been there, but there are a few overarching reactions you can see wherever you go.

Exhaustion

No matter what role you have at ISTE (attendee, presenter, vendor…) you leave in a haze of complete and utter exhaustion. I was sitting, chatting with my friend Cassie Reynolds who was a first timer, and the look of “I need a nap” was written all over her face. I could tell that it was approaching the time that she needed to leave, but getting up was going to be difficult. The struggle was real. While I think that the level of exhaustion is exponentially higher for first timers, I found myself with a fog around my brain by Wednesday afternoon that I couldn’t shake regardless of the extra expresso shots I was adding into my Starbucks. The amazing Barry Haines asked me to sit and chat about some ideas he had, and I was trying. So. Hard. Had he actually picked my brain, he would have found nothing there. I stared at him with a completely blank expression. I wanted to so badly to say something intelligent, inspiring, and truly helpful, but the more I tried to think, the louder the backfire and clunking noises in my brain became. I did the only thing I could muster at the time and tried for a coherent sentence. I’m pretty sure the sentence had words. Whether they were coherent, well, not sure I reached that goal either. I counted the fact that I don’t think I was drooling as a win.

Learning, even learning about something we are passionate about and challenges us, works our brains into a frenzy. Couple that with the 20K steps Fitbits around ISTE were counting, and you may find that you are the most tired you’ve ever been. But, it’s a satisfied, elated tired. The best kind of tired. When you feel like yea, I just rocked being here and I can’t wait until I can be tired like this again.

The Inspired Glow

This is typically accompanied with a look of awe or a huge teeth baring smile.

It would be difficult not to be inspired at least once during ISTE. Whether it’s in a session or just in speaking with another attendee, there are multiple opportunities to find inspiration. While I wasn’t able to see her keynote because of another previously planned engagement, I heard cries of wonder and excitement regarding Jennie Magiera‘s keynote with words like “life changing”, “empowering”, “inspiring”, and “amazing” (which doesn’t surprise me because Jennie herself is phenomenal). Evan Abramson told me that after attending ISTE this year, he has be reminded why he entered education in the first place. That’s powerful stuff. While ISTE is a technology conference, there are so many awesome opportunities to have conversations regarding good teaching and learning, how to empower and engage students, and how we can be the people our students expect us to be and we want to be for them. Basically, I think it’s because when you’re at ISTE, everyone around you is awesome. Everyone. Not just the presenters or the keynoters, but there is a chance for a professional life changing conversation around every corner.

Power of Connection

And I don’t mean the wifi, because if that were the case, we might have had an issue.

The connections I’ve made through the Twittersphere and going to conferences is something that I have a difficult time putting into words to people who have not had the same experiences. I didn’t make it to many sessions, but my ISTE was complete by the side conversations and connections I was able to have at the Blogger’s Cafe, at the playgrounds, in the hallways, with the vendors (see upcoming post “Vendors are People, Too”) or at dinner. I have worked tirelessly building my #PLN because I truly believe in my soul that I am only as good as the people I surround myself with. My PLN, however, is more than a professional learning network. I do learn from these people, that’s true, but more often than not, they have become my extended family that just so happens to also work in the same industry. My new friend Amanda Glover (who makes me giggle every time I see her Instagram handle of redheaded_tech_child) posted a tweet with #PLF – Professional Learning Family (it did NOT mean Porcupine Leather Futon like Sarah Thomas tried to tell us it did), but after letting that soak in for a minute, I think that it is the perfect way to describe the strong connections that are there for the taking at a conference like ISTE. For me, ISTE is not about the sessions. It is about the connections I make to the people that I adore while I’m there. And I don’t mean in a fangirl way, although poor Jennifer Gonzalez could probably argue that as I knocked over my chair and accidentally pushed someone out of the way to hug her when Rodney Turner introduced us. I mean it in a you-make-me-not-only-a-better-educator-but-also-a-better-person kind of way. I love my #eduweird friends, and ISTE is one of the places that I am able to rekindle those connections and make new ones.

I’ve had discussions regarding the cost of attending conferences and if they are worth it. I actually do understand analyzing the cost when money and resources are tight. For me, however, the personal AND professional benefits that I gain from ISTE are worth the price. I come home exhausted but rejuvenated and ready to take on education. Be a difference-maker. Diverge from the norm. And I really don’t think you can ask much more than that.

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#ISTE17