What is family?
If you go by the dictionary definition, it’s people who are related to you by common blood and descendants. If you follow the lyrics of Sister Sledge, it’s based on friendship, commonalities, closeness. And, if you were at ECET2, you realize it’s the 350 people you laughed, cried, and shared stories with during a three day convening based on a common passion for being an educator.
ECET2 is an acronym for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching, a convening hosted and funded by the Gates Foundation (@gatesed). Each of the educators invited to attend were nominated by a professional organization to best represent them. These organizations put up their A-Team, their MacGyvers, their Shakespeares, believing within each nominated person’s DNA was a common trait: a desire to support the whole child and their families. These attendees were not superheroes. They were more than that: people whose only invincibility was their unwavering belief that all students had the power to learn, as long as we empowered them to do so.
I was one of those 350 edustars. I was nominated by ASCD. Surprised that they chose me, smart enough not to question it, just thankfully blessed, I humbly accepted. (Didn’t want them to reconsider). I would find out later that this “Why me?” question was another commonality my new edufamily shared, because in our minds just doing our jobs got us here.
Our role at home was to help raise and nurture the next group of societal leaders, using our classroom and subject matter as the forum to teach problem solving, questioning, active listening, collaboration, teamwork, and advocacy. As ECET2 attendees, we would model, rinse, and repeat these skills through three intensely thought provoking days, 8,000 feet above sea level, in Snowbird, Utah.
The elevation in the ECET2 acronym meant raising our edugame through guided discussions, interactive presentations, Ted-style talks, and social downtime. We met in small, colleague circles, discussing chosen focus topics. We shared resources, asked questions, and actively listened, all under the agreement that the first rule of colleague circles was you don’t talk about colleague circles. It was the law of Las Vegas: what goes on in the circle stays in the circle.
This respectful collegiality, this understanding that our takeaway from each colleague circle, presentation, and discussion was to learn from and with each other, signified the power of a phrase I learned from George Couros (@gcouros): the smartest person in the room is the room. Or, as my friend and ASCD co-presenter, Eric Russo (@erusso78) said during our presentation on EduCore, “Barry and I were geeking out before with our breakfast table. Talking growth mindset, special education, school culture, and problem of practice, sharing documents we created, all while eating bacon.”
We all geeked out with each other by alternately learning, teaching, and leading so each member of our ECET2 family got better. So they could celebrate their new knowledge within their district, school, and student families. And, so we could all feel a little more effective in the process.
Katie Novak (@katienovakudl) called ECET2 “a movement.” I love her thinking, but it runs deeper than that for me. Originally, I saw the nomination by ASCD and the invitation to ECET2 by the Gates Foundation as a sign that ‘I’d made it’. When I attended the convening, I realized the ‘it’ was just the beginning of the journey. The real test to see whether I was worthy of my invite and had learned from my experience was what I would do next. How would I show my appreciation for my experience with my ECET2 family? How would I pay it forward to my edufamily at home?
The underlying approach to learning at ECET2 was to challenge and provoke our thinking through honest dialogue. No one at the convening did this better than Rick Hess (@rickhess99), of American Enterprise Institute, and Maddie Fennell (@maddief) who co-presented on ‘Cage Busting Leadership’. I asked him if he was interested in collaborating on a weekly Twitter chat. I believe our extended education family needs to hear his voice, have an opportunity to interact with him, and grow from these discussions. Rick’s response: “Love the chat idea...will figure out a way to make this happen.”
Challenging and provoking thinking comes from teacher activism. I touched base with Jessica Wright (@jessicampitts), Suzy Brooks (@simplysuzy), Chris Bronke (@mrbronke), Jen Orr (@jenorr), Vivett Hemans (@lotyssblossym), Emily Land (@eland1682), Tamera Dixon (mstdixon), and Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent). They are my pre-ECET2 family. We’d organized and led a Twitter chat the night before the convening began (http://storify.com/barrykid1/pre-ecet2-twitter-chat-on-2-16-14). We’re going to continue that discussion with a bi-monthly Twitter chat for all past and present ECET2 attendees, as well as any educators interested in Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. We’ll expand and turnkey focus topics discussed in Utah, and globally extend our colleague circles. Maybe members of the Gates Foundation, like: Dr. Irvin Scott (@iscott4), Dr. Vicki Phillips (@drvickip), Nate Brown (@hnborown1), Amy Hodges Slamp (@amyslamp), and Isis Randolph-McCree (@isismccree) would guest moderate. (hint, hint).
Teacher activism needs to be local, too. I connected with the three other New Jersey attendees at the convening: Peggy Stewart (@myglobalside), Michael J, Dunlea (@michaeljdunlea), and Katherine Bassett. With the help of our new friends from Pittsburgh (@ecet2pgh) who’ve previously hosted a regional ECET2, we’re going to figure out a way to do one too, to elevate and celebrate our effective teachers and teaching family in New Jersey. We’d love to collaborate with others on this, so if others in our area would like to pay it forward with us, let us know.
I know Sister Sledge and the dictionary both have it right: family is bound by like DNA, commonalities, and a similar mindset. That is why we say our close friends are ‘like family,’ and certain friends are ‘my brother,’ or, ‘my sister.’ From my three days in Utah, my edufriends became edufamily. And with their help and support, who knows what we will achieve? Regardless of outcome, our journey will continue together as we elevate and celebrate each other, and make one another more effective in the process.
Author’s note: to honor all who influenced me and helped make me better, I noted people’s Twitter handles. They’re great teachers, and even better people. Give them a follow. They’ll make you better, like they did me. And, you won’t have to go to Utah to do it.