I’m headed to Austin, TX this week to be part of a huge EdTech conference called TCEA (that’s the Texas Computer Educators Association). Like most excellent education conferences these days, there is no shortage of valuable information to be learned at TCEA. In fact, quite the opposite is the problem. It’s very much the “drinking from a fire hose” experience. So much is great at so many turns that even in the short time I was there last year, I had to stop and put everything on hold one afternoon or risk not retaining everything as I floated in the sea of knowledge that engulfed the Austin Convention Center.
So, I’ve been thinking about my TCEA16 experience as I’m about to begin this year’s event, and there are a few reminders I had for myself. Maybe they’ll help you out, too.
In any case, if you are headed to the event (I hope you are; it’s amazing), I hope your week is packed full of interesting conversations, challenging new ideas, and the perfect mix of tips that will help you impact learning for the better the following week and leave you thinking and rethinking through the way you do your work for months to come.
Without further ado, here’s how I plan to tackle the week (or at least my three days there):
Tip #1 – Reconnect with someone
The best thing about #TCEA16 wasn’t the amazing speakers (who were absolutely awesome), the incredible opportunities to learn from others, or the guilt free time to invest in my own learning away from the day to day stresses that come with being an assistant principal. No, by far, the absolute best thing about being at TCEA last year was being with people there.
There are just so many phenomenal educators innovating across Texas (and the rest of the country and world for that matter) that missing out on this opportunity to find and reconnect with some of those folks is just something we can’t miss.
But not everyone goes into a conference like this expecting to see some familiar faces. That’s ok, and tip #2 will be perfect for you if you find yourself in that situation.
Tip #2 – Connect with someone new
Not only did I have the chance to reconnect with a few folks I’d met previously, but I also had the chance to meet an incredible group of people from my PLN face to face. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I walked into my first session, Angela Maiers was speaking, but three friends were sitting across the room. We saw each other, and although we had never been in the same room, we instantly knew each other. It was nothing short of amazing to be standing there with these people who I knew from our connections online (whether it be Twitter chats, Voxer groups, or their blogs).
In a few years in our connected, I think this will become more and more the norm. But for now, it’s still surprising and sort of incredible to little old introverted me. Needless to say, the kickoff of TCEA16 did not disappoint. I’m really pumped about this year’s event.
Beyond that, those faces that I didn’t know in the crowd soon turned into familiar faces as we worked through some of the same sessions together. Conversations sparked throughout the short time I attended last year, and I’m looking forward to this process continuing this year.
Get to know the people sitting next to you. In our connected world, they’re going to be your allies as you all move back to campus and begin the change process all across our country.
Tip #3 – Hang out in the Playgrounds
I don’t know that I can overstate how overwhelmingly huge TCEA is. When I went last year, it was the first really massive conference I had ever attended. Sure, I had annually attended College Board training (which was invaluable to my survival and success as a high school English teacher), but those events never brought the same size and scale as TCEA (900+ sessions are advertised at this point… That’s a lot of options…).
All those options bring me to tip #3. At some point (really, at many points) you will end up with too many options or shut out of your first few choices. My suggestion is to head to the YOUnited and YOUniverse Playgrounds.
It’s an area on the first floor that can always fit one more standing person, and there are often chairs you can putt up from nearby to join the conversations happening there. If the environment wasn’t enough, the folks who are sharing here are top notch. Kasey Bell, Alice Keeler, Shannon Miller, Todd Nesloney, Eric Sheninger, Adam Bellow, Dean Shareski, and many, many more incredible educators will be setting up shop in these informal environments. Take advantage of the unique opportunities that seemed to come up regularly here last year. If all else fails, head to the playground. You won’t be disappointed.
Tip #4 – Tweet your learning to the #TCEA17 hashtag
When you get into those sessions, start tweeting out your learning. It’s imperative that we get the word out about what will make a difference for students, and there’s no easier way to do that than by Tweeting it out. If you include the #TCEA17 hashtag, you’ll add to the collective knowledge that’s being shared out by the entire conference (or at least by those who are doing it right).
When you do that, not only are you sharing your learning with others, but you are also taking notes for yourself. I love that I can head over to Twitter and search for my username and last year’s hashtag and come up with all this information documented for me to revisit any time I like. It’s not something I need to reference all the time, but every now and then I’ll be looking for a quotation from the conference or a link to an article or a Google Drive folder and there it all is.
Bonus tip: If you come across great nuggets that you want to get noticed a little more, create a few images to Tweet out. Here’s a post that chronicles a few of the sticky ideas I came across last year.
Tip #5 -Recap your learning often
Going through the process of taking notes is good. Sharing those highlight ideas as Tweets is even better. But leaving all that raw material on the page or on social media will only take you so far.
At the end of each day (or sometimes even at a mid day break), you have to take time to brain dump all that learning down into some useable nuggets. Think of it this way: What’s going to fall on your to do list for next week, before spring break, this spring semester, or by next fall? Plan things out. Categorize them. Put reminders in your calendar so your phone will remind you of those great end of year ideas or that brilliant concept for something at the beginning of next year.
I failed to do this last year at TCEA, and I’m sure I missed out on opportunities to equip teachers in the process. I fixed that at a summer conference, and I’ve committed to doing this faithfully at each conference I’ve attended since then. It’s made a profound difference.
Tip #6 – Blog your learning
Don’t skip past this. The next one’s not any easier.
Once you’ve got that set of notes or Tweets and you’ve arranged your thoughts into a manageable timeline of implementation, take time to blog your ideas out.
Yes, I know that all the excuses are there:
- I don’t have anything to say
- I’m not a good writer
- Other people will be sharing about this already
- Will anyone read what I have to say?
- What if someone doesn’t like what I have to say?
- But I’ve never blogged before
Honestly, we could go on for a while with others, but the reality is that although blogging is scary, this sort of reflection is vital to your growth as an educator. John Dewey says that, “We do not learn from experience… We learn from reflecting on experience.” If we believe that (and I do), then it’s no enough to simply take notes and make a plan. If we want to learn (and why would we be at a conference like this if we didn’t?), we need to get busy doing this and doing it well. Here’s a link to the only blog reflection I really did from TCEA last year.
It doesn’t have to be great at first. Just write down where you’re at, what you’re learning, and what you’re trying. That’s it. You don’t have to do anything other than to share what you are learning. If you can do that (and, yes, you can do that), you are a blogger.
When you become a blogger, your risks go more public, but so does your learning. With the accountability that’s included of having yourself our there, you are more likely to get more done, and, in the process, others are going to learn from seeing your reflections. I highly recommend it.
If you’re still not confident you can make this happen, join me on Thursday morning in Room 13AB from 8:00-9:00am. My session, “How Blogging Improved My Practice,” is really not about me much at all. Instead, it’s about setting you and others like you up to confidently share your learning online for your benefit and that of others. Whether you join me for that hour or not, take time to blog your learning. You will not regret it!
Tip #7 – Become an expert at something useful
Finally, leave with an expertise you didn’t arrive at TCEA with. None of this experience is cheap in terms of time, energy, or cost incurred. Have something to show for it when you return home (and not just great personal learning for yourself). Go into TCEA knowing what those you serve need and with a plan to find it and package it well for them when you return. You get the chance to be the hero to them. Make it happen!
I hope you have a blast at the conference, and as odd as it seems, I hope to maybe run into someone who’s read this. It’ll help us both accomplish a goal and get better as educators in the process. Isn’t that what we’re all psyched up about doing this week anyway?