That was my one word answer on February 19th, 2014, when Irvin Scott, Deputy Director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, asked us what the ECET2 (Elevating & Celebrating Effective Teaching & Teachers) Convening in Snowbird, Utah, meant to us. I felt the love for everything the convening was that February day: supportive, reassuring, thoughtful, and powerful. (I also wanted him to call on me, but that’s a personal issue.)
That feeling of togetherness, of oneness, shaved of all educational titles, locations, years of teaching, organizational ties, and all other inane measures we use to identify whether the person we’re speaking to has something to offer us educationally--or not. All attendees were present, in the moment, actively listening, and sharing. It was the educator’s version of Utopia.
ECET2 Snowbird was such a personal and professional spark that I wanted to share it, turnkey it, and envelop others within it. One of the people I met at Snowbird, Chris Bronke, felt the same way. We decided to create a weekly Twitter #ecet2 chat to continue the momentum, build on the educational conversations, and virtually replicate what we experienced in person. I loved the collaborative time working with Chris to craft questions, solicit guests, plan our roles, and make sure we kept the spirit of our ECET2 experience alive in the chat. Every back and forth with Chris and chat participants on Twitter was spiritually invigorating and motivating. The chat strengthened me for the week ahead, and reminded me why I teach each day. Nothing is more powerful than being in touch with your “why”.
What was powerful was the bonds I formed with people I spent three days with in Utah. When a potential job opportunity presented itself in Illinois, and was right near where Chris lived, he told me: “If you get the position and do come out, you crash on our couch, stay at our place, for as long as you need to.” It wasn’t an ask, it was a statement. It was also an amazing gesture of brotherhood, of unsolicited love for a friend. To this day, this is one of the life experiences that I draw strength from when I need a positive moment to uplift me. Though I didn’t move to Illinois, I now know that if I did, I would have a place to stay. (I don’t know how my wife and two boys would all fit on the couch with me, but that’s a different story.)
Authentic experiences like these empowered me to plan and host my own regional ECET2 -- NJPAECET2 -- for all the local New Jersey and Pennsylvania educators who didn’t experience ECET2 Snowbird. I invited 20 classroom teachers and preservice teachers I’d met at local EdCamps, ASCD events, and on our weekly Twitter chat to help plan NJPAECET2. My goal was threefold: to give those who were doing great things in their classrooms opportunities to showcase the innovative work they were doing, to inspire others to find their passion to teach and lead, and to replicate a feeling Irvin Scott told us we’d have in Snowbird -- a feeling that it would be a good, good day.
Our NJPAECET2 trended between #1 to #4 on Twitter for both days. Many attendees wrote blog posts about their positive experiences. I received countless e-mails from participants sharing how they felt invigorated. Some even created action plans celebrate teaching and learning in their own districts. Our regional convening was barely over and attendees wanted to know: “when’s the next one and how can I help plan it?”
The successes of our convening, coupled with the hard work put in by the NJPAECET2 Planning Team, enabled all of us to be invited to ECET2 New Orleans in October. What a great celebratory moment it was for all of us: celebrating what we accomplished at our regional convening together while celebrating the educational field by learning alongside 300 other national educators.
It’s these celebratory moments I’ve shared with others through two national convenings, a regional convening, and a weekly Twitter chat that enable me to share the burden I carry when it’s too much for me. Recently, I’ve been going through some teacher-leadership challenges I can’t expand upon in this forum. But, I can in the Voxer chat I’m in with other members of the Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) on our Voxer thread. Each one of us shares highlights of our day, gives each other “shoutouts” for accomplishments made, and supports one another when we’re downtrodden. It’s this outpouring of kindness, of love, that reminds me of the good in all of us, especially those who live to serve others.
The common thread in all the experiences I’ve shared with educators from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Florida, Maine, Washington State, and beyond, is the passion for what we do, the love we share for each other, and the depths we will persevere through to make sure all children learn. It’s this trust in my teacher voice, my instincts, and my heart, which will make me stand up and say the same thing when Irvin Scott asks us our takeaway from the next ECET2 convening: “Love, love is all you need.”