I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend the Northwest Council for Computers in Education for a second year, and as I should have expected, I came away from it a great deal smarter. While my brain was inundated with new ideas, tools, resources, connections, and inspirations, the main difference between this year and last was that this time, I wasn’t just there to sit back and take it all in. This time, I tried to be part of someone else’s “take home” because this time, I presented.
Standing up in front of a room full of strangers is not a new thing for me. From my days as a classroom teacher to my weeks as a Weight Watchers leader, I have become accustomed to being a talker, and if I’m truly honest about it, my talkativeness started LONG before that. A glance at my 4th grade report card will prove that…
But talking to a crowd of people who come to understand you and getting up in front of a group of strangers who paid a lot of money to attend the show at which you’re speaking are two totally different concepts. When I submitted my proposals, I was hoping that they would be accepted, not just because I had information I wanted to share, but also because this was a step outside my comfort zone. As Friday’s NCCE keynote speaker Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestseller Wild put it, “The key to innovation is getting comfortable being uncomfortable.” If I never took a risk in even applying, I never would have had the opportunity. If I had never taken the opportunity, I would never have had the chance to share. If I had never shared, someone might not have had the chance to learn. If they hadn’t learned, then whomever they turned around and impacted would never had the chance to grow. And in the last stage of that cycle, where I sat at this same time last year, I had the epiphany that growing sometimes happens when we “force” the next step.
This is not to say that I’m always so brave. In fact, of the three of my sessions that were accepted, I only ended up presenting two – one of my own (Iterations in Google Drawing), and one with my colleague Shaundel (GAFE Showdown). The presentation I had proposed on Gamification freaked me out because, while I know many theories about it and have even dabbled in it a bit, I had simply not used and/or applied it enough to really feel like I had any authority to actually present about it. I didn’t want to risk getting up there and feeling like a fraud because I was “pretending” to have the knowledge, experience, background, etc, without actually having it. Part of this happened because I had the best of intentions, back when I submitted that proposal, of putting my research into practice with some of my professional development groups – my plan was to gamify their PD experience; but it never actually happened. And so, at the last minute (ok, actually the last month), I chickened out.
To make up for my lack of bravery in the presentation department, I decided to put that extra hour to good use by volunteering at the event. I was assigned the role of “Ticket Taker/Door Counter” at one of the 2-hour workshops, which I found funny because of my experience with a volunteer in that very position last year. I had taken my seat in the room, and when he came in to collect tickets, my coveted pass was nowhere to be found. Even though my convention buddy Shaundel was there to vouch for me, as she tried to explain that I had just had that ticket in my hand, our story apparently became less and less credible to this fancy “Ticket Taker/Door Counter” man. He informed me that I would need to scurry back to the registration center, have them reprint my “supposed” ticket, then return toot-sweet for him to verify that I wasn’t just trying to sneak in for free knowledge. I did as I was asked, but even when I returned with the “SO THERE!” proof in my hand, he wasn’t exactly friendly, so I assumed that these must be highly paid and well-qualified members of some exclusive Board of Directors, policing the rooms to keep any errant miscreants from stealing the secret knowledge of how to leverage Twitter in the classroom. Imagine my chuckle, then, when they picked ME to be “that guy” this year! Nowhere in the job description say that I needed to be a jerk, and no where did it explain that I needed to be a hard-nosed bouncer, flinging people from the room if they couldn’t produce their proof of belonging. All the email said was to have people without tickets wait in a line outside, and that 5 minutes before the workshop began, I could start letting the non-ticketed workshop wanna-be participants in. And so I went out of my way to be SUPER friendly. I chatted up the ticket holders and non-ticket holders alike, selected “Don’t Stop Believin’” for my phone’s alarm tone when the 5-minute call hit, and even made sure to make nice to the room’s presenter. And why not? We’re all just here to learn!
Volunteering was one thing. I figured that if I messed that up, there was no real harm done (plus it earned me a really cool little flag to add to my name tag). Presenting (another super-cool flag) was another. If I messed that up, people might be wandering around griping about their wasted hour, or how I talked way too fast, or how they thought my Google shirt was over the top, or how my bangs kept splitting funny in the front causing me to look like I had a nervous tic as I brushed them aside every 30 seconds. If they already knew what I was explaining, it would be a waste of their time. If they didn’t know what I was saying, I wouldn’t have the right handout to give them at the end. If they started asking me questions, I might have to say, “I don’t know, but let’s find out!” too many times. If they started nodding off, I might get distracted and lose my train of thought. If, if, if.
But what if I never took the chance? How would I ever know whether or not ANY of those things would happen? How would I know if I helped someone learn something brand new? How would I know if they would come up to me at the end and tell me it was their favorite session of the day? How would I know if I gave someone that little nugget that made them excited to go back and use on Monday? How, how, how?
I’m thrilled to say that both of my presentations went very well. Several people came up to me after the Google Drawings session and told me that they had never used the tool because they had no idea it could do all of those things. Another technology integration specialist from a district in Washington told me that my presentation format was exactly what she had been looking for. One of my all-time tech heroes, Jeff Utecht, not only attended but complemented my session with Shaundel! Several people tracked us down, even the next day, to tell us how much they loved our enthusiasm and all of the cool “tricks” we shared. But my favorite thing about ALL of it was the learning. I love learning new things – and while I learned so much in preparing and actually giving my own sessions, I still very, very much loved attending sessions as a learner.
One of the tops again this year was a “30 in 50” session by Jason Neiffer and Mike Agostinelli, in which they share 30 cool new things in 50 minutes. Not only did they share at least 25 things I had never heard of before (I LOVE that!!!), but I also loved that the Internet was HORRIBLE for them. That sounds really awful, so let me clarify that I’m not gleefully gloating over their misfortune. What I mean is that they experienced real life! Classroom teachers – it happens all the time! Google Summit – it happens all the time! National conference – it happens all the time! Not only did this experience teach me to be prepared with a good, solid, Internet-proof backup plan, but handle it well! I am sure it would have been really easy for Mike and Jason to say, “Eh, forget it you guys. The Internet isn’t working, so let’s just end early and we’ll post in on the website.” That is NOT what they did. They used humor, they used their pre-loaded, pre-opened tabs as a back-up, they kept trying, they asked for patience, and they made it all just seem like it was part of the show, because the fact of the matter is . . . it was! I very much doubt they were hoping that would happen, but they were ready for it.
And so this brings me to the thing I learned most. If you never get out there and allow yourself to be uncomfortable, you never will know what it feels like to become comfortable. If you never try something new, you’ll never know whether it works or not. If we’re constantly thinking and saying things like “someone should present on this,” or “someone should give us a training on that,” someone might never know that you need it or want it. If you never decide that you ARE the “someone” who can be someone else’s someone, then all of us out there will just continue to be some one. Nope, friends - we’re all in this together!