One of my good friends once said that “we need to let go of the things we can’t control and focus on those we can” she also said that “until we want to, we truly can’t change anything” (OK, so maybe I paraphrased a bit @veganmathbeagle). It wasn’t until NCTM in San Antonio that I had that moment, the moment where I wanted to change how I approach conferences.
I flew into San Antonio on Wednesday and picked up my program. I first double-checked when my speaking session was , the time and where, then I started looking through the program to find sessions. While I was looking I had my moment. The moment I am talking about is when you realize that you are stuck in a rut, that you are doing the same things over and over even though you are wanting to change. It’s no one’s fault that this happens, it seems to be a condition of being human- finding safety and security in doing the same things, finding a pattern to your life. The bad thing is when you do these in a profession such as ours (that is, unless you are a super-teacher whose students are exceeding in their learning).
My moment was realizing that when I come to these conferences, even though I want to find new things to implement in my classroom I also want to talk with and hang around my friends on the #MTBoS that I never see. As such, I revert to the high school student who takes all their friends’ classes- and while that is not necessarily bad it also doesn’t fully address MY needs, I am attending sessions that satisfy their needs (and as we know sometimes those overlap in areas).
Looking at my program, I was highlighting people I interact with through the #MTBoS (and by interacting, I also mean stalking because there are times I don’t feel like I can approach them). I do this at my local conference a lot- I go to my friend’s sessions. That hasn’t been bad so far because I still need those connections, my friends do push me to become a better teacher. The problem is that, for the most part, I am already aware of their passions and know about their session. This is not NEW material to push myself as a teacher. So when I caught myself highlighting my “peeps”; Dan Meyer, Robert Kaplinsky, Andrew Stadel, etc, I realized that perhaps I need to find a different direction for this conference. This feeling was further enforced as I stood on the second floor balcony and observed how many math people were present at the conference. I thought I had a large network of math people because of my involvement in #MTBoS, but here was concrete evidence that my potential mathematical network could be much, much larger.
So I took a different approach, I sat down and really read through the program and found sessions that really touched on areas for myself as a teacher. I didn’t hang out with all my twitter people as I usually do (and I will say I am sorry for that, I was being purposeful this conference but I always tried to say Hi when I saw you guys around). I went to sessions of people I didn’t know (or perhaps I did but I’m getting old and didn’t remember). I looked for sessions that would directly impact my needs as a teacher working at a juvenile center where 90% of my students have special needs. A funny thing happened, there were a couple of sessions where I did go to my “twitter friends”, and there were sessions that friends also attended. The big thing is that I met new friends, heard new voices, got fresh ideas.
I am hoping that I will be able to attend NCTM again next year in DC, if I do I will plan a balance of “being with my friends” and “finding something new”. I also hope that ShadowCon will consider @delta_dc’s comment on “the Next Generation”, allowing newcomers to present and add their voice to our great community.
If we truly want to change, we can’t continue to travel in the same circles we always do. I find it funny that we, as a community, lament the fact that teaching always seems to revert to those strategies and curriculum that we strongly feel is wrong- but that we are unable to see those same qualities within ourselves. Perhaps this blog will inspire the moment within you where you realize that you also need to step outside of your current zone- that every one of us needs to in order to challenge our ideas, our absolute belief that we are teaching the only way possible to teach our students. Because in reality, there is so much more we can learn from those on the sidelines of our #MTBoS community that can enrich our own learning and that of our students.