In my former life, I was a 4th/5th grade teacher. I was good at it. I [mostly] knew what I was doing. I loved the kids, and they loved me. I happily showed up to work, and knew my purpose.
Times have changed a bit. I am now in the middle of my third year as a Technology Integration Specialist. In this job, I rarely know what I'm doing. My "kids" are [mostly] teachers, and sometimes I'm not exactly sure how they feel about me. I still happily show up for work, but it's only because in this crazy adventure that has become my job, there are a few pretty cool, impressive, and awesomely geeky people who have really inspired me on my journey. While I could actually list hundreds of them, these four kind-of-a-big-deal people have really impacted me over the last year or so:
Geek. Brian Housand, PhD.
I had the opportunity to see Brian give a presentation called Geeks Have Inherited the Earth at a Gifted & Talented conference in 2014. He didn't know it was me (we never got to actually meet), but I was the ornery audience participant in the back of the room. The cool thing about Brian was that he taught me, simply by modeling, the importance of a really darn good visual presentation (queue Tony's awesome graphics). Even more usefully, though, he schooled me on the subtle differences between geeks, nerds, and dorks. I think of his presentation every time I refer to Google Green as 009925, which probably places me in the category of "NORK."
Person??? Jeff Utecht
While all of these people have inspired my work, my products, and my productivity, the person who has probably influenced my thoughts more than any one else has to be Jeff Utecht. My colleague Jamie Jarvis (who is an inspirational master himself!) had the opportunity to see Jeff present at NCCE in Seattle in 2014, and came back raving about the incredible ideas he heard from this "Jeff Utecht" guy. So obviously when I had the chance to attend NCCE in 2015, I made sure to search for his name in the list of sessions.
WHOA. His presentation, "Moving from Consumers to Producers of Knowledge," blew my mind. At the time, I was wrestling with the frustration how we, as teachers, seem to be at the mercy of public opinion when it comes to getting our successes out there into the world. Jeff proclaimed, "The world has changed from having an 'on/off' switch to simply being always on." We are constantly connected (as evidenced by the fact that it's only 1:45 pm and I've already had to recharge both my computer AND my phone!). If we, as educators, don't capitalize on that, we are not only fooling ourselves about our level of transparency, but we are missing an opportunity to connect with our students, their families, our colleagues, and our communities.
A huge take-away for me were two specific stories Jeff told. One was about how he and his wife were driving down the freeway when they noticed a car pulled off to the side of the road. As they passed, they notice a man crouched, mechanic-style, beside the car while his female travel partner was crouched beside him, holding her smart phone out for him to see. The Utechts surmised that she was surely pulling up a YouTube video to help him repair the automotive malady that had vexed them on their journey. That brought to light the question, "What are we having our students learn that will actually help them out in the world?" If you can pull up a YouTube video that will teach you how to change a tire, what's the point in making that a requisite skill in a CTE class? If I can summon a video that teaches me exactly how to design a fool-proof safety cage for my 5-story egg drop, then what exactly is the point of that "challenge?"
Along that same line, he shared another story of how, when he and his wife were remodeling their bathroom, there came a particularly tricky toilet task they didn't know how to tackle. They conducted a search in YouTube with the exact part number, and lo and behold, they discovered a 3-minute video on exactly how to install that very part. Not only did they get a helpful toilet tutorial, but they were also directed to a link that would allow them to order the exact part they needed, right from the toilet tutor's website. Even though they lived in the Seattle area, there they were, buying a part from a Houston-area plumber who simply had the knowledge to create a 3-minute YouTube video. How can we capitalize on this to have our students not only become creators (vs simply consumers of information), but to profit from it?!
Jump forward about one year. In that amount of time, I have not only pulled a Jamie Jarvis and told (and retold) these "Jeff Utecht" stories, but I took up his call to think of myself as a CREATOR, and not just a consumer. I decided that the parapet on which I was standing required a leap to move me to the next level of sharing; I needed to present at NCCE myself. I submitted my proposals, crossed my fingers (hoping for what, though, I couldn't be sure), and waited. When I received notice that all of my proposals were accepted, I jumped for joy (and jitters).
So NOW, after months of preparation and practice, it's NCCE, Day 2:
Shaundel and I were about 10 minutes into this presentation:
. . . and in walked THE Jeff Utecht. He popped in for only a second, but long enough for me to catch his eye. Even though I was in the middle of explaining how to use the Paint Format tool in a Google Doc, I found myself gasping to the crowd at large, "Was that Jeff Utecht who just came in here?!" A man in the back of the room (near the door where Jeff had just been AND which also happened to be right beside the RedCat speaker) confirmed that, yes, it was. Well clearly, that RedCat system had done its job, because back came Jeff. Shocked at my . . . shock . . . I threw my arms wildly into the air and shouted "Hey! You're the reason I'm here! YOU MAKE ME WANT TO BE A BETTER PERSON!!!!"
BUT LET ME EXPLAIN! I wasn't trying to be some creepy, weird fan-girl. I wasn't trying to guilt him into staying (which he did!!!). I was just so surprised that one of my all-time tech HEROES had just walked into the room in which I was only standing because of HIS words, and was now sitting there IN MY PRESENTATION. The words just flew [weirdly] out of my mouth!
I'll admit, I did track him down later and apologize. He was super classy about it, and actually paid us a really nice compliment about our presentation. We chatted for a few minutes - he was VERY nice! But I finally got to tell him what I meant: that he challenged my thinking, made me want to hop out of my comfort zone, and unintentionally asked me to become someone who I hadn't considered being before. Yes, a better person.
And so I wonder. Who has inspired you? Who makes you think? What do you want to do better because of them? Thinking of them, how would you finish this sentence:
You make me want to be a better...
Submit your response by visiting govote.at and entering code 392834.
Then, after you've told me, go tell your person! Just do me a favor and think about your answer ahead of time - don't make it awkward.