Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Power of Appreciation - Reflections from #TCEA15

Sometimes, as teachers, we forget the impact that we have on others.  Sometimes we also forget how much others impact us. And, sometimes we forget to tell people how important they are to us.

Over the past four days at TCEA in Austin Texas, I have been reminded of all three of those facts. As I hurtle through the air at 600 miles per hour 30,000 feet in the air on my way home, I want to take this post to remind those who impacted me so much in the past few days how appreciative I am.

Before I arrived in Texas, I had never met Karen Balbier, Andrea Keller, Joe Meza, or Gina Ruffcorn in person.  Karen, Andrea, Joe, and I have recorded podcasts together along with Dyane Smokorowski and Micah Brown for over a year now, but we had never met face to face. Gina and I had connected our students and talked through social media before, but had never met.  

I somehow won the PLN jackpot.  Sure, like many others, I’ve got an amazing group of thousands of teachers on Twitter, Facebook, and Skype that I learn from every day.  Beyond that, I have been so incredibly blessed in the past 12 months to get to really know so many of them as friends.  I don’t think there is anyone who has a more amazing group of friends who are changing the world than I do. Andrea, Joe, Karen, and Gina, are simply four of the most passionate, amazing educators that I know, and it was amazing to be able to see that in person for a few days.

Presenting a workshop to 90 teachers on global learning with Karen was a great experience.  Like many other sessions I’ve given before though, I was worried afterward that I hadn’t done as great a job helping them as I could have.  I am so passionate about the topics I talk about that sometimes I worry when I don’t see the same level of excitement from every member of my audience.  

I’m not sure if this is a feeling that all teachers get, but I’d imagine that we all face it at times.  Maybe this is one of the downsides to having an incredible PLN.  Being connected to other Top-50 finalists for the Global Teacher Prize, Presidential Award winning math and science teachers, Teachers of the Year, and thousands of others who have no award next to their name but deserve one can be humbling when you see the amazing things they are doing.

“Have I done enough?”
“Did I have the impact that I should have?”
“Would it have been better if I… ?”

These were the thoughts swirling around in my head after our session when I checked my Facebook notifications and saw that Nikki Greene had tagged me in a post. She was thanking me for encouraging her to apply for a grant that she had just received, and for giving her the confidence to pursue the things she is passionate about.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember encouraging her. She is a two-time state finalist for the Presidential Math Award, passionate about finding new ways to create great experiences for her students, and an amazing teacher, and I have no doubt that at the time I just told her the truth about herself.  But, her thanking me in that post did just as much for me as I could have ever done for her. It allowed me to see the positives from my session and to feel confident that my enthusiasm made a difference.

Her expression of appreciation allowed me to remember that the most important things we do as teachers often go totally unnoticed by us.  We do good for others because it’s who we are. The lunch money you give to the kid who is worried because Mom didn’t wake up before he left for school, or the smile you give to cheer up the girl who is walking down the hall with her head down are instantly forgotten by you.  But, for the student who can breath easier knowing they can get lunch, or the kid who sees that smile as a sign that someone cares about how they are feeling, those actions mean everything.

Over the next two days I ran into several people in the convention center, got private messages on Twitter, and emails from participants that confirmed that there was a ton of excitement built from our workshop. We generated an excitement in teachers to empower their students and connect with others around the world to provide amazing educational experiences for their students. I have no doubt now that the session was a complete success and that I was being overly hard on myself. 

I learned lots of new tools at TCEA that I am going to share with my colleagues. The one thing that I am most committed to as I travel home isn’t implementing a new tool, though.  I am committed to doing for the teachers around me what Nikki did for me.  I want to show them the unseen impact that they have on those around them. As we enter the time of year when state assessments and preparation can send even the most positive teacher into a funk spiral, I want to help those around me feel the joy that comes from knowing they are making a difference.  

Because they are, and they deserve to know it.