Wednesday, March 23, 2016

5 Reasons to Attend the Next Education Conference

EduConference.pngThe thought of missing a school day or dedicating free time on the weekend to attend a conference is daunting to some educators. Many of us are used to professional development that comes in the homogeneous style of ‘sit and get’, rather than personalized PD that allows us to actively choose when, how, where and what we learn. Attending conferences has been the single most rewarding form of professional development thus far for me. Here are the most important reasons why I recommend checking out an upcoming conference.

  1. Create and grow your PLN → Teaching tends to be a career that lends itself to isolation. We are in our classrooms all day and often don’t have the luxury of time or opportunities to collaborate or reflect with colleagues. Conferences allow you to network, make connections with educators and vendors, provide feedback or ask for help, meet your Twitter pals face to face, and best of all - find your tribe.

... those weirdos are your tribe.:


For me, that tribe is the #EdJusticeLeague. Chris Nesi, Adam Schoenbart, Stacey Lindes, AJ Bianco, Chrissy Romano. Our group of six met at the Ednado conference last spring and have since kept in touch via Voxer every single day. We discuss ideas, frustrations, #eduwins, and personal aspirations or goals. Despite working in different states and different schools, our shared goal of creating positive and productive change in education binds us all together and inspires us daily to continue striving to be the best version of ourselves possible. We inspire, create, collaborate and communicate each day, which allows me to reflect on the aspects of my practice that I want to improve and grow. I am passionate about encouraging all educators to find their tribe and connect with a core group of people that share a common vision and mindset as you.  

  1. Find your passion/niche. At the beginning of my teaching career, I was passionate about make an immediate and tangible impact in my school community, but I wasn’t sure of the ‘how’ or ‘what’. The first time I attended an education conference (an EdCamp, to be exact) I immediately felt a sense of belonging; an overwhelming feeling of ‘Yes! This is what I am meant to do.’ If it isn’t innovation and educational technology that you are passionate about, try participating in Twitter chats or reading books to discover what most resonates with you. And once you find that wave of inspiration and excitement, ride it and create those bigger waves!  
  2. Learn about new tools. Keeping abreast of new trends and tools enables educators to create engaging and interactive lessons that focus on authentic assessments and promoting student choice and student voice. I first learned about some of my favorite tools, such as Kahoot!, TodaysMeet, the power of Google Forms, and BreakoutEDU, at education conferences. After introducing these tools to the staff and students in my school, teachers were in awe of the transformations they saw in their classes in terms of  increased student engagement and motivation.
  3. Rediscover your ‘why’. Simon Sinek’s Start With Why is easily one of my favorite TEDTalks of all time. He reminds us of the importance of focusing not on what we do, but why we do it. It is easy to become frustrated and angered by school politics, student misbehavior, and never-ending grading. Education conferences remind us why we choose to come to school everyday and deal with some of the unpleasantries of our job. I have never left a conference without feeling a deep sense of empowerment and a better understanding of my role as an educator and leader. As we interact with educators with whom we share common goals and visions, we are reminded that even though we might not work in the same building, we are working towards the same purpose.  

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(Simon Sinek book ‘Start With Why’)

  1. Free goodies: Depending on which conferences you go to, you are in for a real treat in terms of freebies! First let’s talk about everyone’s favorite freebie - The food! From crispy bacon, to multiberry waffles and savory Panera sandwiches, educators and conference planners absolutely understand that food is love, and that great good is brain fuel for a day of extended learning. In addition to food, many vendors attend conferences which is a great opportunity to connect with #edtech companies. They often give away stickers, products, pens, T-shirts, stress balls, and other goodies.

Let’s keep growing and learning together! I hope to connect with my PLN at future education conferences, and I hope that you find and grow with your tribe! To find the latest education conferences check out www.theeducationcalendar.com

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Professor For A Day: My Experience at Rutgers University

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Last Monday I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker/professor at Rutgers University with the amazing Chris Nesi of the House of EdTech Podcast. Chris and I met on Twitter last year and in person at one of his awesome ‘Stop Curating, Start Creating’ sessions at an EdCamp. Since then, Chris and I talk daily about our shared passion for inspiring positivity and collaboration in education. When he invited me to come into his Leadership in Digital Contexts class, I was absolutely thrilled about the opportunity!

Recently, I have been thinking about what is next for me - I have entertained the idea of teaching at the college level, which got me thinking about the differences and similarities between the college and high school settings. I am drawn to the potential for elevated conversation and meaningful application to a career field that comes with teaching at the college level. My experience at Rutgers certainly did not disappoint! The class was comprised of college sophomores, juniors, and seniors working towards a minor in Digital Leadership. Our conversations touched on many different topics and then steered back to the main topic of establishing a positive digital presence and connecting with others in a professional capacity. We debated the pros and cons of Blab.im, LinkedIn.com, and even their course curriculum. One of the coolest parts was using Periscope to broadcast part of the conversation! It was great to show students the power of social media, as we had up to 60 viewers and lots of audience participation.  
In reflecting on my experience, I found that there will always be students in class - regardless of atmosphere - who simply just get it. Students (like me) that are eager to participate, criticize, and reflect. Then there are those students who will be on the opposite spectrum - Disengaged and disinterested, to be put it bluntly. It is those students that motivate me to continue teaching. I strive to connect with those students who struggle to understand or relate to content and skills by bridging gaps and finding meaningful ways to make those students a part of the classroom conversation and culture. At the college level, I was able to do this in a light hearted and fun that my 9th grade Special Education Social Studies classes do not generally allow.
Overall, I was so impressed with the ability of the students to rationalize and justify their opinions and relate the information back to their specific fields of career interest. The most rewarding part of the class was the genuine connections I made with the students. There were two students in particular who stayed after class to chat and ask questions. Knowing that these students were inspired and excited to take action and implement ideas we had discussed in class truly inspired me.