NJPAECET2 stands for New Jersey and Pennsylvania Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. The goal was to create an environment where 150 selected educators had opportunities to connect with peers, present/attend multiple hour-long PD sessions, have breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and open bar, a room to sleep in, and an opportunity to do it again the next day in an unconference format. Everything was free: paid for by a Gates Foundation grant and sponsors. This way, attendees could focus solely on their craft. They wouldn’t have to call out sick, make sub plans, or pay anything out of pocket. Just come. We’d take care of the rest. After the two days, I had some time to reflect. Here are my five takeaways:
Educators Need High Expectations for Themselves: During my opening remarks on Saturday morning, I received some applause when I mentioned there would be free food all day. I followed up that statement highlighting that there was an open bar from 5-7 PM. Imagine my surprise when I walked past a couple educators later in the day who saw the beer and wine varieties and said, “He was serious!” Educators shouldn’t feel surprised when they are treated like the true professionals they are. Whether it’s hot food for breakfast (which was another surprise for some attendees), swag in the bag, or adult drinks with dinner, we are worth it. We spend more time with children over a nine month period than their families do. In turn, we sacrifice our time with our own families during that same period. So yeah, you earned that beer, bacon, and swag. Expect it. You’re that good.
Invigoration Isn’t Just for Spas: Invigoration is a word I heard used a lot at NJPAECT2. I can’t tell you how many educators came up to me and said, “I needed this, it was such a tough week.” It’s only September. We’ve been in school for a couple weeks. Nick Ferroni (@nicholasferroni) shared during his Ted-style Talk how easy it is to get beaten down by the system for so many reasons, but there are so many good teachers doing great things. Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy) and Dr. Jeff Zoul (@jeff_zoul) mentioned all the pockets of excellence in education, and how putting ourselves out there leaves us vulnerable to people who live outside those pockets, but in our educational system. However, when we continue to strive to get better for our students by taking risks and flaunting failure, we are also bettering ourselves. Of course, trying new things and showing our authenticity leaves us open to criticism, and hearing criticism when in a vulnerable place can be eviscerating. The positives in being authentic and having authentic relationships are exhilarating, better than any spa experience.
Surround Yourself with Greatness: What I love most about PD conferences is the opportunities to connect with other teachers and leaders. I learn more from them and hearing their personal stories than I do from the conference itself. I am a better educator and person from my conversations with Tom Snyder (@snydesn2), Edward Gordon (@principalgordon), Mark Mautone (@markmautone), Matt Rogers (@mrrogerswte), and Cindy Assini (@cindyassini), just to name a few. I’ve increased my PLN by 150 people. I know that if I am confused how to best tier my questions to scaffold instruction to students I can reach out to Jeanne Muzi (@muzilearninglab). If I am unsure about how best to teach a math concept to mastery, I can connect with Manan Shah (@shahlock). And, so can you. A key part of the NJPAECET2 experience, and a reason specific people were identified by their peers, was because of their willingness to share what they know and admit when they don’t. Keep sharing on both ends. We’ll all get better because of it.
You Should Be Following Kathy Suk (@ksukeduc): I’m not asking you to stalk her, but she should never have to ask for people to follow her on Twitter. We should do so because knowing her will make us better people. Kathy may have shown the rest of us her spirit and passion through her Ted-style Talk during NJPAECET2 dinner, but her daily fight on behalf of children is something I always knew. Knowing her backstory only elevated how I view her, because she is a selfless educational servant for families everywhere. No matter how hard her road, she always woke up ready to leave her baggage at the door and shoulder other people’s problems. I also know from a logistical and planning point-of-view, there is no one better. When I needed to get something done, she was my mover and shaker. Just remember, when pronouncing her name it’s Suk as in book, not Suk as in truck. I made that mistake once. Once. As I say, she’s spirited.
It’s When, Not If: Passionate, prideful educators who want to do what’s best for kids know it begins with doing what’s best for educators first. If we create authentic professional and personal development opportunities where educators can learn, grow, and share safely together, we will elevate the profession together. It will not be a matter of if we do it, it will be a matter of when we do it. The #NJPAECET2 planning team and I set out to create an environment that would celebrate all the good things we’re doing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania school districts daily, highlight them so other attendees could benefit, build an invincible connected education network that we can all learn from, and turnkey all learning for those who didn’t get to NJPAECET2. This time: it’s not a matter of if they get to come. It’s when they get invited.
Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4) once said to me, “Leadership is what happens when you leave the room.” I left the room a lot during our planning leading up to the convening. Most communication came from emails. Very rarely did we all need to connect. It was more a matter of soliciting who had specific skill sets, asking them to manage a task, and letting them run with it. It wasn’t until the end, when we needed to create an agenda, schedule breakout sessions, and make a timeline for the two days, when multiple people worked together on something at once. Even then, as Glenn Robbins, Kate Baker, Liz Calderwood, and Jeff Bradbury talked on Voxer while using Google Drive to schedule, they only asked me to check in on occasion. I just needed to hand off the ball and stay out of the way.
I was physically out of the way during the second day of our convening. After I made the opening remarks and turned the unconference over to Liz and Kate, my wife called. My son, who complained of stomach pains all night, was in the ER. I needed to come. I talked quickly with Kathy and Chris Giordano, outlined the sequence of events for the day, and Kathy and Chris said, “We got this. Go.”
I left. They did. My son, after three days in the hospital is home. He’s fine.
I missed three closing Ted-style talks by Sandi Paul (@spaul6414), Mark Mautone, and Jeff Bradbury (@teachercast), a guest appearance by a friend (@masauzicanin), lunch, and more raffles for swag. You know who didn’t miss me? Glenn, Liz, Jeff, Chris, Kathy, Steve Figurelli (@mrfigurelli), Andy Curtis (@curtiscoltrane), and Josh Zagorski (@jzagorski1). They knew what to do. I was out of the way.
Until we do it again.
Not if. When.