There are two times of the year when education conferences seem to be plentiful. October/November, and February. Snow is quite possible, particularly for those in February, and sometimes it feels like they all happen at once…soon as one is done, the next pops up and you’re off again.
I had the opportunity to speak at two conferences this week: the CAGT (Colorado Association for Gifted and Talented) Conference and for a mini-conference for PPIRA (a local chapter of CCIRA, which is a wonderful organization that supports literacy in our state).
The audiences couldn’t have been more different, and though I’d presented the same information this summer at ComicCon (SQUEE!!! REMEMBER THAT?), the audience and purpose for each session this week was much different than the first so I did some revision and editing, and refined it for time, in particular, whittling it down to just under an hour.
I’d had a full day of sessions on Monday at CAGT, from which I had jotted down a thousand notes, everything from ideas discussed on the drive up and over meals with colleagues to golden nuggets of information shared by other brilliant minds that I wanted to be sure to touch on, not only to ensure that those who said them first got credit and that those ideas got reiterated, but to demonstrate what the mind of a teacher does at an education conference–we steal ideas for ourselves and use them later with our own students. My students are just a little older now…
I sat with my veggie burger, sweet potato tots, and a cider (#selfcare #healthyeating) at the desk in our hotel room Monday night, with whatever was on BBC and began tweaking again.
I’d listened to Temple Grandin speak that morning and she always shares wording that is helpful–we need all kinds of minds.
I’d listened to ideas from Mark Hess (https://www.giftedlearners.org/), Patty Gaddo Walden (Her Website), and Jenny Hecht (Karuna Healing) as they spoke about understanding the needs of our gifted kids that go beyond academics…and the needs we as gifted adults have as well. My notes were a mess, but my “To Do list” marks were clear. I was up a long while editing and running through everything again, just like I did on Sunday afternoons when I taught in a classroom and made my notebooks for the week…
When it was my turn to present on Tuesday I felt pretty good but worried that few would come. Pop culture isn’t exactly traditional academics. I’d overheard teachers and GRTs discussing sessions their administrators were requiring they go to, and I worried that admin requirements and the innate sense of obligation would win.
I’d set up early and sat in the back of the room with a cup of hot chocolate to run through things one last time. People trickled in, left their things and went to snag coffee and snacks, or buy books to take home. Some reconsidered and left altogether. A few familiar faces sat down, some willing to do so in the front. (Even if they’d come just for moral support, it was so appreciated.) Suddenly, the room was full, and some were standing in the back, others parked at the sides where the tech could be plugged in.
I won’t run through the whole presentation, but I will say that there’s a reason I loved teaching kids. You can tell immediately how what you are sharing goes over…kids have no filter and their non-verbal messages are VERY clear. Gifted adults are pretty similar. Grins and nods, furious notetaking, giggles and sidebars with colleagues while pointing…they got it. The room as a whole vibrated with excitement and a sense of possibility.
As I packed up, I was giddy. It had gone well. People left chatting about their thinking and were considering ideas. And they understood a piece of the kids we serve every day a bit better. And maybe someone will take something I shared and tweak it to meet the needs of some kids they serve this week…putting the pieces of these kids together to help them access content and know that someone really sees them.
Saturday, I presented the same session again, twice, to a very different audience. PPIRA’s mini-conference was called “Special Populations.” I’d helped put the conference together and we had some really wonderful speakers, people doing the work with kids out there in local schools. I’d always come away from the conference with ideas when I’d come as a participant, and I hoped that those attending would as well. We’d worked hard to market it and felt that we had valuable expertise to share.
Again, the worry was there that I’d have few participants simply because the needs of gifted kids aren’t discussed at conferences very often unless they’re conferences ABOUT gifted learners. Some classroom teachers say that the needs of their struggling students are their biggest concern–the gifted ones will have to wait.
I was pleased to see that the signup sheets were mostly full and as people filed into the room, that same excitement I’d had on Tuesday returned. Initially, the non-verbal feedback was different with crossed arms and thinking faces. Gradually though, some of the grins and furious notetaking came through. The second session was similar, and feedback I received from people as I packed up and we made our way back to the main room was positive. Again, ideas to take home and share, a few things to try, and intentional thoughts on how whole teams might incorporate pop culture references into their teaching.
I left exhausted and drained, but happy. I’m an introvert, and while I get energy from an audience while I’m speaking, once I’m not speaking and the audience has left, I am like a car on a long, flat road between towns with no gas station in sight.
I read through the survey feedback from Saturday’s conference this morning and it was overall very positive. Teachers liked the diversity of topics, enjoyed the speakers, and for the most part, had left with a little inspiration from one or more of us, and had good suggestions for next year. A few noted they’d be willing to present. There were some specific positive comments about my presentation and those of the colleagues I work with who also presented for us, but one comment stood out in the question about what they’d like to see topic-wise next year:
Someone got it.