Sunday, July 25, 2010

Reflections from Podstock

I thought I’d use my first blog to write about the conference that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. Last weekend (I can’t believe it’s only been a week) I attended a conference in Wichita, Kansas called Podstock.
I guess though, before I can talk about Podstock, I have to explain how a girl from Arkansas ended up in Kansas. It all started about a month ago when I attended a teacher workshop taught by a new friend of mine, David. He introduced us to a new social network (okay it’s not really new, just new to me) called Plurk. I have to be honest. I tried it out for a couple of days and thought, “This isn’t for me.” My initial thought was, “This is like Twitter on crack.” I didn’t know what to do with all the conversation taking place on my computer screen between people I really didn’t know.
About two weeks ago I attended another workshop called “The Wired Learner,” presented by another new friend, Kevin Honeycutt. I was in the room all of about 10 minutes, and I knew this was not going to be your run of the mill workshop. This guy was different. Even without ever meeting my students, I knew he understood them and that technology was usually their medium of choice. I got on facebook and encouraged other fellow teachers to come hear this guy.
I’m pretty tech savvy; its not uncommon for other teachers to come to me and ask for help. Most tech workshops I attend are discussing technology and websites I’m already familiar with. But Kevin’s workshop was different. Almost everything that came out of his mouth that day was something new to me. A couple of times I had to stop him and ask what in the world he was talking about. This was a phenomenon that had rarely happened to me in the past when talking about educational technology.
He also talked about that weird website, Plurk. I decided to give it one more try. This time I jumped in with both feet. I just pretended I already knew everyone. When they said, “Hi.” I said, “Hi” back. Before long I was entering into great discussions with other teachers from all across the country. I was being infused with fresh new ideas for my classroom, and I liked it!
One common topic of conversation that week on Plurk was an up coming conference called Podstock. As I understand it, Podstock is the brain child of Kevin. It seemed like everyone on Plurk was either attending Podstock or totally bummed because they couldn’t attend. Their excitement was contagious. That contagious excitement reminded me that one of the best things I like about teaching is getting to learn new things, and by golly, I wanted to wrap my brain around some new ideas. Now you have to understand, I’m a single mom, and doing things on the spur of the moment is not always logistically or financially realistic.
If you read my blog very often, after my first attempt, you’ll learn that my faith is very important to me. In my heart I knew for my own personal growth and inspiration as a teacher that it was important for me to go to this conference. In the next couple of days after Kevin’s workshop, I watched God put all the pieces in place, so I could attend. God provided places for my two children and our two goofy dogs to stay, and in the world of finances I decided that this conference was more important than the Ipad I had been planning to buy.
Early, on July 15th, I began my journey to Podstock. As I drove I took pictures along the way. Six hours of the nine hour drive was on a road I drive quite frequently to my parents house. This time, however, it looked different to me as I looked for pictures to share with my new friends on Plurk.
As I drove into Wichita that evening I called one of my new Plurk buddies and made arrangements to meet her at the hotel. In the hotel lobby it was like a family reunion as Jan and I bumped into fellow Plurkers and Podstock attendees. I was meeting face to face people I had been visiting online with the last couple of weeks. The friendship and camaraderie was instantaneous.
The next two days that followed were a whirl wind of sessions, good discussion, and lots of laughs. There were so many new things I learned. New tools for my classroom. New ideas to experiment with and figure out how they might work in my room. Although those are invaluable and I could fill the next 50 blogs sharing each new tool I learned, Podstock, for me, was more than that. It was the sense of community I felt by being with likeminded educators who truly want to prepare our students for the future they will live in. Teachers who believe so deeply in what they’re doing they are willing to sacrifice their time and personal finances to make it happen. When I was trying to explain to my mom why this conference was different, I told her that these teachers have a mutual desire to inspire their students and fellow colleagues.
I’m a processor, a chewer. I have to think on things for awhile to fully assimilate them. On my way home from Podstock I finally had time to sit and process, but I was driving. I wouldn’t recommend driving and typing at the same time. They have those laws about texting and driving for a reason. But then I remembered I had a stupid, undeletable app on my Iphone called voice memos. An app I thought I’d never use. I was so afraid I’d lose my thoughts if I didn’t get them recorded that I did something I thought I’d never do. I started talking to myself--out loud. Even though I hate the sound of my recorded voice, I have listened to that recording several times in the last days really trying to process, to really think about the kind of teacher I want to be.
Technology is a tool to help me be successful, but I have to start with who I am as a teacher and my core values. As a teacher, there are so many things I want to share with my students beyond the content material. I want to inspire them. I want them to find their passion and peruse it. I want to instill in them a sense of integrity.

I want my students to dream big dreams and think big thoughts. And I have to find a way to dream big dreams and think big thoughts because if I don’t, my students won’t. I learned so much about technology at Podstock, but its more than technology. I could have all the best technology in the world, but if my core values, what I believe as a teacher, aren’t solid all the technology in the world won’t matter.
Thanks Kevin, for inspiring this teacher to dream big dreams. I can’t wait to see the results.