This past weekend, I was fortunate to attend my first national conference. I attended “Ignite 14″, the conference for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Being a music geek, the theme “Ignite 14″ made me think of the song “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light ‘Em Up)” by Fall Out Boy that has become so popular at sporting events (see “Mups have been lit”). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkIWmsP3c_s
First off, let me say that I was blown away by the production value of the entire conference. It’s amazing how they can bring so many “things” together and have it run so smoothly. From the opening thought leader session with Carol Dweck and Daniel Wong to the closing session with Simon T. Bailey, it was a demonstration of fluidity of motion. While the logistics of the conference were amazing, that wasn’t what made this such a powerful event for me.
When I landed in Dallas, the weather did not want to cooperate. While my trip to the hotel was an interesting story by itself, it wasn’t enough to prevent great things over the next few days. There were so many amazing sessions, my head was literally full by the end of the three days. It was an awesome opportunity to learn from some of the smartest leaders in our country, many who I have “known” from afar through Twitter, and others that I had never heard of before.
The best part of the entire event was the ability to connect face to face with educators I have admired and respected for years. At dinner on Thursday night, it was a veritable who’s who of rock stars on Twitter. Among the people in the room were authors (Todd Whittaker, Annette Breaux), National Digital Principals of the Year (Eric Sheninger, Daisy Dyer Duerr, Dwight Carter, Derek McCoy, Jason Markey) and National Principals and Assistant Principals of the Year (Laurie Barron, Jared Wastler). At one point at dinner, I looked around the table and had to grin at the compilation of great lead learners all in one place. It was a bit humbling to be at the table. Just sitting and listening was a PD that you could not put a price on. Thanks to Jimmy Casas for getting that set up (even though Jimmy was unable to attend because the weather delayed his flight from Iowa).
As the conference continued, I was able to connect with more and more educators from Twitter. Brad Currie, the “Godfather of #Satchat” was at dinner that first night and I was also able to eat with him the next night. Brad’s cousin is a speed skater on the Olympic team and we had a cool moment at dinner as we saw him enter the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. Brad and I were “adopted” by the Iowa gang and I enjoyed spending time with friends from Iowa including Matt Denger, Aaron Becker, and Lucas Ptacek. The day started with a session from the Bettendorf, Iowa group, a group of leaders I was fortunate to get to know this past fall and have tremendous respect for. If your child goes to the Bettendorf schools, your kids are in great hands with Kim Hoffman, Kristy Cleppe, Joy Kelly, Colin Wikan, and Jimmy Casas. I can’t put into the words the admiration and respect I have for this group of people. Thank you for allowing me to learn from you. Not only are these people smart, they are fun to be around. And as Annette Breaux said during the conference, “If there isn’t a big kid inside of you, there isn’t a great teacher coming out of you.”
The final speaker, Simon T. Bailey, really spoke to me, even though by late Saturday I was mentally full and really ready to be home with my family. He talked of the difference between average and brilliant leaders. Average is no longer acceptable. He also talked about taking care of the “people who will cry at your funeral.” That hit home to me. I know that I have worked very hard to be a “connected educator”, but it also makes me stop and take a moment and realize that disconnecting now and then may be the most important thing I can do. I hope there are many at my funeral, but I am sure of three that will be crying (or at least I hope). I am working to make the three of them know they are the most important people in the world to me. That is probably the most important thing I got from this conference.
There were many others I was happy to connect with for the first time, Paul Vieira, Chris Stogdill, Leslie Esenault, Darrin Jolly, Carrie Jackson among them. I was also glad to see and spend some time with my Missouri friends, Jason Eggers, Jim King, Phil Lewis, Matt Lindsey, Dave Steward, and John Faulkenberry. I’m sure there are others I have left out; it seems like a blur. I do know that I head back to my own students with Fall Out Boy singing in my head, because this event did “ignite” me, in fact, “I’m on fire!!!!”. Thanks to the many people who made it a great adventure.