Conferences are great! I love going to them, getting some new ideas, learning about teaching and perfecting my craft. I have been privileged enough to be able to present and help share my own excitement, strategies and enthusiasm as well. It can be an invigorating and refreshing opportunity for teachers, no doubt. But in my first few years of teaching, that enthusiasm was tempered with a jealousy and maybe even a little bit of resentment that I didn’t work at a place where innovation and exploration was happening. It could become a little depressing seeing great things and having a hard time realizing innovation and change like the teacher/schools/districts that were on display. So while I came away with some gems, there was no real hope of change except in my classroom. (I never realized that great change really only happens one classroom at a time, but that discussion is for a later post!)
As I have matured and become more experienced, my views have changed considerably, and can be best summed up by a conversation I had recently with some colleagues. This Conversation took place while sitting around and talking shop with a visitor to the BIC. It went something like this:
Teacher A: Yeah, I love going to conferences and networking and learning new things, and I am grateful, but I always feel that my school/district is so behind what is going on out there. So much awesome happening.
Teacher B: I know what you mean, there are all kinds of awesome going on, and I just image what could happen if all those teachers presenting could get together and start their own school/charter/district. That would be some powerful teaching happening, we could do anything.
TOM: That would be awesome, but I think that some perspective is needed as well. I think of the teachers we have going to and presenting at conferences. We are the top of the top, the cream of the crop in many of our school districts. We wouldn’t be presenting otherwise. We are the dreamers and the reachers, living on the bleeding edge at times. We are the icing on the cake, we are color and beauty and we get noticed first. But there are other layers to this cake. At conferences, we get icing overload.
Teacher A: Icing overload, I like that!
The icing metaphor has stuck in my mind, rattled around and every so often pops in at unexpected times. How can I get that icing layer to be just a bit thicker in my school/district? Mostly, I thought, it is by bringing back those strategies and innovative ideas I see at these conferences and spreading them over my district. It is through the sharing and spread of these ideas that we can slowly build that capacity at home.
The best cakes have a nice even layer of that icing spread around the whole cake. One huge dollop of icing just doesn’t work, and in that same way, we need to spread the icing we pick up at these conferences. Sure we can have islands of greatness within our schools and districts, but the best ideas and best strategies quickly spread, and that is how we build capacity, that is how we affect change.
I keep that thought firmly in my mind when attending or presenting at conference now. I no longer harbor secret or open jealousy, but have hope that by bringing some of that icing back to my district, I can start building and spreading a nice, thick, and even layer of excellence. Because who doesn’t like cake?