So, another FETC has come and gone. Those of you not familiar with FETC, it’s the Florida Educational Technology Conference, one of the largest edtech conferences in the nation, possibly 2nd to only ISTE. I’ve had the pleasure of attending FETC each of my 9 years in education. The way in which I participate in the conference, however, has changed from year to year.
In the first couple of years, I had no idea what I wanted to get out of the conference. I was overwhelmed by the number of sessions. Unsure of who or what I should see presented, I spent a lot of time on the exhibit hall floor snatching up as much free stuff as I could. I attended a few sessions here and there but was too overwhelmed for anything to stick. My brain was complete mush.
In my third year, I presented for the first time. It was my first chance to present on a stage this big. Up until that point, my presentations had been to small rooms of teachers in my District. I chose to do my session on some of my district teacher’s favorite web tools. On presentation day, I arrived at my room 30 minutes early to find the room already 3/4 full. When the session started, the room was overflowing with attendees. I was blown away and humbled at the same time. As amazing as this experience was, I was still missing something. I came away from the conference feeling empty, not sure if I got everything out of the conference I was supposed to.
Year 5 is when things started to change. I joined Twitter the previous year and started reading more and more education-related blogs. I followed fantastic educators like Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, Gary Stager, Will Richardson and way too many more to name (see who I currently follow on Twitter here.) I started reading amazing blogs written by many of the same people I was following on Twitter. The more I read, the more I realized that education was less about the tools and the hardware but more about connections and people. I began to get a much deeper understanding about what it meant to be in education. After getting connected, I discovered so many amazing people willing to share everything, help me with anything, and be completely transparent about everything they were doing in their classrooms and in their roles in education. I realized that it’s the people that make this profession so great.
Since getting connected, my FETC experiences have been much different than they were in my early visits to the conference. I spend virtually no time in the exhibit hall, which is kind of refreshing since it gets pretty uncomfortable having salespeople stare you down every time you walk by their booth. The sessions I attended changed as well. No longer was I concerned about “amazing web tools” or the “most incredible, stupendous iPad apps.” The sessions I attended had more to do with the philosophy of education. Pedagogy, rather than the next “cool” thing became my focus. Most importantly for me though, it became more about the people.
This year’s conference, for me, was the best yet. I had the opportunity to meet many more of the fantastic people in my PLN, most face to face for the very first time. My favorite moments of the conference had nothing to do with any of the sessions I attended, although the chance to see Will Richardson and Chris Lehmann present live for the first time was pretty awesome. My favorite moments came in the hallways. The best conversations took place in the press room and the presenter room. None of these conversations were about the best tool for this or the best tool for that. The conversations all focused on how we make education better for the kids. In the press room, I had the pleasure of chatting with Tom Whitby and Adam Bellow. I sat there in awe of their passion and drive to make education better for all stakeholders. I’m a better educator today because of these guys. The conversations that took place in the hallway with people like Jerry Blumengarten, Rushton Hurley, Tom Murray, Sue Bearden and Tom Whitby changed me forever. The tweetup, one of the most successful tweetups in the history of tweetups, was incredible. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hang out with so many people much smarter than I. I took advantage of this opportunity to speak to as many of them as I could. The connections I made and the conversations I had at the PLN tweetup will never be forgotten.
Thank you to everyone in my PLN for being there when I have questions or just need a pat on the back. Thank you for sharing with me. Thank you for being passionate about what you do. Thank you for challenging my thinking and pushing me to be a better educator. Thank you for everything you do for our children. Thank you for being connected.