I recently returned from my second CUE conference, and my experience could not have been more different than the first had it taken place on Tatooine.
CUE is a wonderful organization and resource for educators. Every March, they hold a three day conference in Palm Springs, California. At this conference, there are literally thousands of educators (this year, 5,300) who come together to share their knowledge and learn from each other.
Last year (2013) was the first year I had the opportunity to attend the conference, and although I found it a bit overwhelming, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I attended sessions, visited vendor exhibits, was inspired by the keynote speakers (Sir Ken Robinson and Catlin Tucker, what’s not to like?), and shared great meals and terrific conversations with my then-fellow LVUSD employee/roommate, Jennifer Peyrot, who helped me plan my schedule and gave me some tips about making the conference a success. (The best one: Go to one session just because you think it will be fun, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what you are doing at work. I chose the Google Search Slam, and it was awesome. I even won a prize.) I came back excited, energized, and full of new ideas. I thought I was getting the most out of my conference experience. I was wrong.
It turns out that I was missing a key element of my conference experience. The best part of a CUE conference, or any conference for that matter, I have come to learn, is the connection you can make with the other attendees.
That is not to say that the other parts of a conference are not valuable. The sessions, the vendors, the keynote speakers, they were all just as wonderful this year as last year. What was different for me was that this time I had relationships with many of the other participants.
You see, over the past year, I have become a connected educator. I have developed a PLN (personal learning network) of teachers and others I can turn to when I need help, inspiration, or just someone off of whom to bounce my latest idea, someone who will tell me honestly if I’m crazy… and whether or not that should stop me from pursuing said idea.
These connections made my conference experience so much better this year than last, when I knew nobody outside of the few people from my district and only met a handful of others. This year, I began the first day of the conference by having breakfast and sharing ideas with David Theriault, Chris Long, Megan Ellis (whom I met for the first time; such an inspiring person), Linda Yollis, Andrew Schwab, and Mike Vollmert. After breakfast with such amazing people, CUE 2014 was off to an excellent start for me, especially thanks to David’s suggestion that we meet at Espresso Cielo instead of your typical Starbucks. I’m not as much of a coffee snob as the name of this blog might suggest, but I do enjoy a good cup of espresso, and the chocolate croissants at Espresso Cielo were some of the best I have had this side of the pond.
At the conference, I met many people face to face for the first time, although I already knew them from Twitter. They included (in no particular order) Jon Samuelson, Craig Yen, Sam Patterson and Wokka, Victoria Olson, Rushton Hurley, Ed Campos, Karl Lindgren-Streicher, Ryan Archer (who created a set of shared folders for collaborative conference note taking — thank you), and Jon Corippo, among others. I also reconnected with so many people I don’t have room to mention them all here. The hallway conversations were as jam-packed with learning as the conference sessions, and sometimes even more so.
How did I meet these people and become connected? I attribute it to three factors. First, Twitter. I started tweeting at CUE 2013 and engaged with people. I asked questions and shared what I could. I took part in Twitter chats (#caedchat in particular) and went to CoffeeCUEs, Rockstar camps, and edcamp. It wasn’t difficult, but it didn’t happen without a small effort on my part. It was a bit like beginning to ride a bike. At first, you are slow, wobbly, and feel generally awkward, but as your skills improve, you can really fly with just a little bit of pedaling to stay upright.
The second factor is Alice Keeler. Not only has she been a great friend and extremely supportive, she also convinced me to sign up for the Innovative Educator program run by CUE in conjunction with Fresno Pacific University. Through this program, I learned a great deal about innovative teaching and using technology in education (pedagogy first, please), but I also made lasting personal and professional connections with a fabulous group of educators with whom I have enjoyed wonderful, productive, collaborative relationships.
The final factor can be summed up in two words: Why not? This is a major part of my personal philosophy. If I can’t think of a really good reason not to do something, I do it. I would rather regret something I did than something I failed to do. As an educator, I feel that I have to try new things. It isn’t always easy, but worthwhile things rarely are.
If we want our students to learn new skills, we need to experience what it is like and model it for them when we can. In practical terms for me, this has meant that this year I presented at some local conferences and at CUE 2014. I also put on an unconference of my own, PLAYDATE L. A. It wouldn’t have been possible to set up and run this event without the help of my incomparable team of co-organizers, and being at these and other events has led to more and deeper connections with a wide group of dedicated educators.
I am excited to see how things change between now and CUE 2015. In the next few months, I am looking forward to edcampVC, to being on the faculty of CUE Rockstar Manhattan Beach and to running PLAYDATE L. A. 2014 (registration will be open sometime in late April or early May). Who knows what new connections they will bring? I can’t wait to find out.