Sunday, August 10, 2014

Why Connection Matters

First a confession: this blog post is currently in its 8th incarnation and is 3 weeks in the making. Not that it makes a difference but I share this because this blog has evolved as events have evolved along with it. What started as a reflection on the impact of one individual has been morphed by two varied conference experiences. In the end there is a commonality: connection matters.

ASCD Emerging Leader Class of 2014
The journey starts a little over two weeks ago. Back in April I was notified by ASCD that I had been selected as an Emerging Leader for 2014; with this recognition came the opportunity to attend the Leader to Leader (L2L) Conference in DC in July. The L2L Conference is unique in that it is invitation only. In order to put this into perspective ASCD has over 135,000 members worldwide and L2L has about 150 attendees - talk about feeling a little struck by enormity of influence. 

Part of Team NTSquared
As the weekend moved on we were tasked with self-reflection exercises and the development of a group project to benefit the members (or potential members) of ASCD. It would have been easy to fall into a pattern of churning out a project to meet our goal and riding out the weekend. Instead, our team became passionate about our project and its intentions (for clarity we created the Novice Educator Resource Portal). The members of our group, even when told we had no access to tech - not easy when you construct a website - believed so deeply in our goal that we adapted, collaborated, and connected to strengthen our end result. On Saturday I traveled home and since that time I have never left the L2L Conference. The people I connected with formed a Voxer chat group where we greet each other everyday with "Good Morning Everybody," share our local weather, highlight our daily agenda, and discuss educational issues. It is not the topicality that matters, it is the connection.

Shoutout to Brad Currie, Billy Krakower, Fred Ende, Eric Bernstein, Allison Hogan, Alina Davis, Meghan Everette, Matt Mingle, Amanda Britt, Aubrie Rojee, Chris Yuknis, Jill Thompson, Timonius Downing, Dahlia Constantine, Emily Davis, Michelle Sencibaugh, and countless others for proving the power of connection.

Glenn Robbins and I facilitating a session
A week later I traveled to EdCamp Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I admit it - I LOVE EdCamp! I have never left an EdCamp without feeling stronger as an educator and a leader. I was able to re-connect with some great friends from around the country who had traveled in to take part in the learning and had the chance to finally meet some PLN connections that I had not yet met face-to-face. My first 30 minutes at EdCamp included catching up with Aaron Becker (Iowa) and Jeff Zoul (Illinois) as well as engaging in a conversation with Tom Whitby (New York) regarding the isolation many connected educators feel in their own districts/schools. I am passionate about professional learning and decided to lead a session on it. I was fortunate to have Glenn Robbins join me to help facilitate the conversation. The result was a conversation that covered professional learning, connected leadership, and remembering the pressures on educators. I also was able to attend a session on connectedness and a conversation about personalized learning for educators. As I made the 3 hour drive home I was struck by the power of connection and its ability to bring so many powerful voices into my own development and how much my school, students, and community benefit from their expertise. Again, it was all about connection.

Shoutout to Jimmy Casas, Aaron Becker, Joe Sanfelippo, Joe Mazza, Tom Murray, Tom Whitford, Tom Whitby, Brad Currie, Jeff Zoul, Reed Gillespie, Melissa Finkel, Sharon Lepage Plante, Tony Sinansis, and of course, Glenn Robbins.

Connected Leaders bonding at NASSP in Dallas
The final piece is where this post started. The week I headed to L2L Eric Sheninger announced he was leaving New Milford High School to join the International Center for Leadership in Education. During that weekend I had a conversation with Brad Currie, someone I met through Eric and who I consider the epitome of connection. We were discussing Eric's move and we got hung up on one question: how many people is Eric responsible for getting connected? Many people know Eric from his book Digital Leadership; I am honored to say I got to know him before that time. I only say that because Eric is the reason I decided to join Twitter. He is the reason when I was told to leave Twitter behind I continued to connect. He is the reason why I have fought to not only make Twitter a component in our school but also to open up every other school in our district to engage and connect. When there were questions in our Central Office about OpenCourseware and BYOD in our school and district he agreed to meet with them via GHO and answer their questions with experience and class. Thanks to these efforts my students have the opportunity to take OCW courses and this year our district goes BYOD. Summing it up in a simple sentence: Eric Sheninger made my school better. I am not alone in my story. It is not an understatement to say that Eric Sheninger has had more positive impact on schools in the last 5 years than any other individual. His insistence on pushing forward when someone said no but he knew it was right for his students is a spirit we all hope to embody. He has connected more people than we can count and in his new role will be better able to be a boot of the ground to connect the unconnected. If there is one lesson I have learned from Eric and the countless others that I have met through the connected world it is not the technology or the opportunity - it is the connection that matters.