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.
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.