Thursday, October 30, 2014

#ECET2NOLA Starting

I can't stop thinking about the Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching & Teachers conference that I attended last weekend. I keep thinking about the notions of leadership and being a change agent as I reflect on how I got to attend such an inspiring event.

I'd like to say it started on the plane on the way to New Orleans and #ECET2NOLA, but it started before that.  It started before we were at the gate waiting to board the plane. It started before the invitation to #ECET2NOLA. It even started before #NJPAECET2 where we met face to face after months of planning and prepping for the regional conference. I keep thinking (read: obsessing) about how I got to this point, and I realized after lengthy discussions and quick interactions with others, I've been asking the wrong question all along.

It is not about "when" or "where;"  it is about "who."

Every moments begins with someone that incites it. I keep thinking about how ECET2 as an organization got started. What was the chain of interactions; what was the inciting incident? I need to do some research.  And as I've been desconstructing and mulling all of this over while walking through the halls of my school with my thoughts being interrupted by greetings from present and former students, I realized that the inciting incident begins with the smallest of gestures.  What starts the interaction between two people that leads to more interactions that eventually escalates and expands into a conference? It is one word, "Hi." It is the courage to say one word, "Hi."

PD on a Plane

At the gate, seven of us make introductions and realize that we have been brought together by one person who had the courage to say hi to us on Twitter, at TeachMeetNJ, at NJPAECET2... Barry.  One might think there would be awkwardness or that tap-dance of give-take getting to know one another, but it was so natural and energizing. 

Fast forward to the embarking on the plane, finding seats, scrambling for overhead space, and then begins the hat dance of "will you trade seats with me?"  Moving so a husband and wife can sit closer together, I end up 5 rows back in an aisle seat next to a young woman in the window seat and across the aisle from two others in our #ECET2NOLA party. Our conversations at the gate spill over to the aisle of the plane. The three of us, Scott C., Ryan, and myself, chat about educational issues until I hear from the window seat, "Excuse me, I overhear you are teachers.... I am a teacher, too..."

What was scheduled to be a three hour flight becomes a three hour mini-conference on the plane. From a keynote address in the aisles to break out sessions about flipping and being an administrator, we talked about best practices and how to problem solve specific classroom issues. Christina, my window seat companion, thanked us profusely about how helpful the conversation was was for figuring out how to increase student engagement and ensure students are performing in her class. She even went on to say, "Thank you so much. You have no idea what you have done for me."  I replied, "Yes, I do know because someone did the same for me years ago."

Saying HI Matters

In year 12 of my teaching career four years ago, I experienced a crisis. Struggling with being a wife, mom, coach, and teacher, I was lacking a sense of community and a way to manage it all. I needed a new way of doing things and people that would lift me up. Poking around on Twitter and local conferences, I connected with Cheryl, Andrew, Karl, and Liz.  Without these people, I would not be where I am today.  I am grateful for the opportunity to pay it forward with Christina. 

The courage to say HI and engage in a conversation opens a door to a space that was not known prior. We can't get to new places if we aren't willing to start the process. And starting the process begins with the most simplest gesture of making a connection to someone else: make eye contact and say hi.

When I build relationships with new classes each year, I make sure I learn my students' names as fast as I can, and then outside of the classroom, I make sure that during the change of class that I say hi to my students in the hall.  Not only does it give me practice recognizing their names and faces in various contexts, but saying HI in the halls lets my students know in the simplest terms that I care about them and see them as people. When I first start saying Hi in the halls, I was the one to say HI first and some students would try to walk past me and not make eye contact. I will lean towards them or step in their way so they are forced to look up, see my smiling face and hear me say hi. And when I say hi, I am energetic and exuberant, showing my happiness at having "run into" the students in the hall. Now two months into the school year, both former and "new" students are saying hi to me first before I say hi to them. They know I care because I say HI, and I know they care because they say HI to me. 

If you want to elevate yourself or your students, start with saying HI. 

It isn't about when it started.
It isn't about where it started.

It is about WHO started it.

Be the person who starts the chain reaction.  Be the person who says HI to colleagues and students in the hall.  Be the person who joins a community of educators. Be the person recognizes the greatest in others.

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