Over the last two days I had the extreme honor to be part of PLP Live 2012. This was my first time being a facilitator at a conference, and it was a pretty wild experience. Even though I haven't been to many conferences (three total in my 15 years - not that I don't want to do more, but it's often not in my budget) it's pretty easy to take a guess at the tremendous amount of work required to pull off even a one day affair. Kudos to both Brenda and Peter, whose hard work helped this day go off without a hitch.
I suppose I have to first mention how starstruck I was to be part of this group of people, and on several occasions while we were mingling, talking, and having dinner, I thought to myself, "How does a 4th grade teacher end up here with these people?" I don't mean to belittle myself by saying I'm *just* a 4th grade teacher, but really - experienced conference coordinators, innovative thinkers, foundation presidents, authors, community voices, well-written bloggers, national board certified teachers - these people are b-i-g deals, in my mind and in the minds of many others. From their formal keynotes to the informal discussions we had I was able to learn so much. And it reinforced what I have really been thinking about for the last few months: we really need to change the way we do things in schools.
(Edit added 9/29 at 11:10 PM - so after posting this and thinking more about a conversation I had this morning, I think I get it. I can see how *just* a 4th grade teacher fits into this group. These are amazing philosophers and thinkers, but that's just it - they are philosophers and thinkers. A majority of them aren't teachers or principals or if they are they haven't been in the classroom for years. So they can do all the talking they want, but really, this big change, this shift? That is up to us. Those of us who are *just* teachers are really the ones who are going to take their words and actually put it into action. How's that for a crazy revelation?? They can inspire us with their words, but without our action there will be no change. Makes us a lot more than *just* teachers, doesn't it??)
The second thing I loved about this conference was the format of our session. I was part of a fabulous team: Marsha, Gene, Sister Geralyn and Wendy, that created a series of stations that actually gave teachers some concrete ways that they could take the motivational keynotes they heard in the morning and put them in to practice in their classrooms. The beauty of the Minds on Media approach is that I wasn't the expert, and I didn't stand up in front of the group to tell them what to do and how to do it. Attendees were free to move through our five stations at any time or they could skip our stations and explore a topic of their interest. They could listen in on a conversation and then go work with their team to figure out what it would look like in their classrooms. It's a very freeing experience to be trusted with your own learning, and the participants ran with it. If you couldn't be at the conference with us the wiki pages will remain up for you to learn from if you'd like!
I was lucky enough to work with three different groups, all of which had very different needs. Our first group didn't even get to the wiki - our philosophical discussion helped people think about the purpose of e-portfolios, how they fit into the big picture of shifting, ways we could do e-portfolios differently than we did in the past to make them more meaningful, and baby steps we could all take to get started if we didn't want to dive right in. The second group came to me after visiting Wendy's station about connecting your classroom so they had a lot of very specific questions about melding the connecting piece with the idea of a portfolio. The third group I saw was already using some tools so we just had to talk through how they might morph what they were doing into a portfolio by adding a reflective piece. I learned so much with each group, and our discussions helped me think more deeply about why I do what I do with my students.
So those things were great, but they were not the best part of this conference. By far, the best part of PLP Live was being able to meet the absolutely incredible people that I have been learning from and with over the last two years. People often ask if it's really possible to develop relationships with people that you only ever speak to online. I reply to that with an absolute, resounding, 100% yes. From the moment we walked into the room together it was like we had known each other forever, and the comfort level made it very easy for all of us to work together as a team to get things done and to have really challenging discussions about our next steps.
It was a great opportunity to be able to take part in this conference, and I'm hoping that I can continue to take all that we did and all that I have learned being a PLPeep back to my classroom to make meaningful changes for my students.