ISTE 2013 – Everything Changed

So I left ISTE 2013 today.  Man what an exciting, invigorating, exhausting, and somewhat life changing experience I had these past 5 days at ISTE.  Before I jump into my week I think it might be best if I give a little background information about myself to help you better understand why this week made as big of an impact as it did.

This blog has primarily been used for me talking about my Flipped PBL Classroom, and you can scroll through past posts to read all about that.  But I’ve kept this blog very professional.  I’ve never really delved much into who I am personally.  I’ve never really seen the need to.  And I always express myself best in written form, so I figured it’d be best to tell you a little about me.

I’m very good at putting up a facade.  I’ve been told quite a few times I’m quite the actor.  But throughout my life I’ve struggled with making deep friendships, or even friendships where I felt truly cared about or understood.  Now that’s not to say I haven’t had some great friends!  I HAVE!  But I’ve had very few close friends.  I’ve always sort of felt like an outcast, misunderstood, and often felt like I went unnoticed.  I was not the “social butterfly” some may see me as today.  And there are still days where I struggle with insecurities. I don’t tend to share my personal life or my personal struggles because I have this voice that tells me “no one really cares”.   Many times I don’t feel like I’ve earned any right to speak in front of other educators about what I’m doing.  Many times I feel uncomfortable in front of educators who are doing what I consider to be extraordinary things, because I feel like I won’t quite be as good as them.  I know this is a fault of mine, and a fault I’m very aware of.  I know I should never compare myself to others and I know I’m doing great things!  It’s just a thought that gets in to my head still!

Then came Twitter.  I’ve been on Twitter since about May of 2012.  I got on it because my Assistant Superintendent at the time told me that I was doing incredible things and that I should be sharing those ideas with more people and he said Twitter was a great place to start.  It was very difficult for me at first because I’ve always taught behind a “closed door”.  I didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing because I’m a boundary pusher.  I’m someone who is always looking to do non-traditional things in my classroom to connect with my students and to grow them into the best person possible.  And sharing on Twitter terrified me.  But I decided to give it a shot anyway….and man I am glad I did.  Over the past year I’ve built some pretty great relationships with people via Twitter.  Relationships/Friendships that were completely virtual.  I had never met these people in person and yet I was sharing ideas, gaining even more ideas, and just connecting in ways I’d never done before.

As I began to get active on Twitter I began to hear about different local conferences and as I heard about them I decided to attend them. And that is when I began to meet many of my Texas Twitter Friends in person.  It was a very invigorating experience and one that kept me from quitting my job.

So throughout the last year I’ve met tons of amazing Texas educators.

Then I heard about ISTE, and that it was supposed to be this incredible learning experience where people come in from all over the world and lead sessions and that it would be the perfect opportunity for me to attend sessions and learn from people from all areas of education.

But what’s funny, is that is how ISTE is described to the public.  To come join in and attend tons of great sessions and seminars led by some of the “best in education”.  And ISTE does have a lot of really great sessions…..but here’s the humorous part….I didn’t attend even one session (besides the Ignite sessions and the Keynotes) and I feel like I learned more than I ever have in my life.

How could I learn so much without ever attending a session?  Connecting with others.  I spent the entire last five days connecting with people I’ve been interacting with on Twitter.  But now, thanks to a conference like ISTE, I was able to make those face to face, in person, connections which were mind blowing (and now due to those connections, our conversations on Twitter will be even more meaningful).  I met TONS of people who really made ISTE memorable.  Now I admit, when I first came to ISTE my number one goal was to get a picture with all these people I considered Twitter Rockstars.  I know some people I talk to don’t like that I call them “Rockstars”….but what that means to me is that that is someone on Twitter who I really respect and who I think has amazing tweets and ideas.  So yes, when I first got to ISTE, my plan was just to get pictures with all these people I had never had the opportunity of meeting before.  And I got a LOT of really great pictures….

But then something interesting happened….as I started to meet some of the people, I started to see them as a little different then the 140 characters I had been communicating with before.  I was beginning to see personalities more clearly and see the more personal side of some of my Tweeps.

So rather than just sit here and list every Twitter Rockstar I met and talk about who I was freaking out about meeting, I thought I would take a different approach.  There were a few people this week who really had an impact on me.  Who made me feel like I mattered.  Who made me feel important, and who made me feel like I had a voice worth listening to and a personality worth getting to know and who I felt like was really interested in connecting with me on a personal level.  Which as I started out writing, is something that hit me hard.  So I decided instead of writing about ISTE as a whole, I would just write a little bit about a few of the people who really impacted me the most this week……(**side note: As I stated before I met a TON of great people, but these people listed below are just a few of the ones that helped remind me that I matter).

Amber Teamann (@8Amber8) and Erin Klein (@KleinErin)

I had met Amber before at EdCampDallas back in October.  But I hadn’t seen her since then.   And with Erin I had met her via Twitter and Google Hangouts, but never in person because she lives in Michigan.  And I’d only talked sporadically with either of them on Twitter, but I put these two together, because both of these women have an incredible ability to make every person they come in contact with feel like they are the most important people in the room.  The first time I met/saw both of them at ISTE they came running up to give hugs and tell people how excited they were to see them, and the best part was that it felt completely genuine.  I don’t think either of these women realize the impact they had on me (mainly because I never told them, haha), or many others, but both of these women were a constant reminder that you matter.  And I felt important and valued every time I was in their presence.
Jimmy Casas (@casas_jimmy)
Jimmy is a principal out of Iowa.  I had interacted with him on Twitter mainly in the #IAedchat.  He was a guy I was excited to get to meet.  Little did I know how excited he was to meet me too.  I remember talking to someone else I had just met while I was in the Bloggers Cafe.  In the middle of my conversation with this guy, Jimmy comes over and says “excuse me, Tech Ninja Todd?  I have to interrupt and take you over here for a second, there are way too many people who want to meet you!”  Jimmy was loud, boisterous, funny, entertaining and yet completely genuine.  Every second I spent hanging around Jimmy this week (which sadly wasn’t too much!) I ended up leaving with a big smile.  He has this great ability to make anyone laugh.  Jimmy also introduced to some other great educators that he and I had both connected with.  Jimmy is definitely someone I am looking forward to continue getting to know via Twitter.
Paula Naugle (@PaNaugle)

Ok I have to say, Paula may be one of my favorite people I’ve ever met.  This amazing woman greets you with a big hug every time she sees you. She’s honest, blunt, tender, kind, and oh so passionate about education.  Many times when you meet someone who has been in education for a while you tend to see their passion die down.  Paula has passion and energy that can far outlast ME!  I loved spending every second I could with Paula and often I felt like I was a Paula Groupie haha.  My favorite memory of Paula?  Oh there’s two.  The first is where she filmed my ignite with her phone, put it on YouTube, and tagged me in it.  When I saw her later that evening she said “What’s up?  I posted a video of your ignite and tweeted you and you can’t even respond??”….I didn’t know what she was talking about, I had never received a tweet.  Well come to find out Paula had tagged @TechToddNinja, NOT @TechNinjaTodd…..oh man the laughs that came out of that one….My second favorite memory is Paula asking to borrow a napkin from our table to blow her nose, then she asked if we needed it back.  Gross right? haha well I decided to Tweet out that Paula did that and that I should have taken it back and sold it on Ebay!  And what’s great is Paula laughed hysterically about that tweet!  She has an amazing sense of humor and is another person I can’t wait to learn even more from!

International Friends

John Goh (@johngoh) is a Principal in Sydney, Australia.  I’ve interacted with him often on Twitter.  He saw me posting all these pictures with people from Twitter and decided to tweet me “Where are my Australians!?  All I see are Americans!”.  So he challenged me to find some Australians.  Well just so happens I found not only some Australian teachers, but Australian teachers that are from HIS school!  So that was a really neat experience to get to connect with them!
Jessica Allen (@jessievaz12)
Jessica is from Santiago, Chile.  We had briefly interacted on Twitter before, but connected a little randomly at the HackEd conference on Saturday (before ISTE actually began).  And for the rest of the week we kept running into each other.  Jessica is energetic, passionate, and super creative.  She was such a blast to be around that every time I saw her or she saw me we had to stop each other and just talk.  I loved getting to know her and hear a little of her story.  I can’t wait to interact with some classes from Chile now!
AJ Juliani (@AJjuliani) and Amanda Dykes (@AmandaCDykes)

I got to meet AJ through Jimmy Casas and Amanda through Scot Floyd.  Both these guys kept me laughing and kept pushing me out of my comfort zone (which I appreciated!!).  AJ was really dangerous with a camera, and a guy who was constantly cutting jokes and making me feel more comfortable and Amanda actually got me to do a VERY small amount of dancing at the EdTech Karaoke party.  Now if you know me at all you know the two things I never do are dance and sing, so it was quite the big deal.  These guys definitely helped me break down some of my own walls and just learn to loosen up a little and laugh more.
Andrew Vanden Heuvel (@avheuv) Ashlie Smith (@smithsciencegms) and Ryan Vanden Heuvel (@TechSavvyClass)
I met these three through Erin Klein.  They were some of the most welcoming and flat out funny people.  They made me feel part of their “group” from the first moment I met them.  I never felt judged, excluded, or anything.  Andrew took time to ask me to talk to him about my education story of where I’ve been and all, which really meant a lot to me.  And Ashlie and I connected about finding ways to better each of our Flip PBL Classes and Ryan was just flat out funny!  I enjoyed my time with these and can’t wait to go visit them in Michigan.
Jayne Clare (@TeachersApps) and Jayme Linton (@JaymeLinton)
These are two of my “20 to Watch” buddies.  Jayne is an amazingly creative and energetic woman.  And Jayme is someone that I connected with quickly at 20 to Watch back in March.  We haven’t had time to chat much since March, but Jayme and I hit it off right away again.  Jayme is so much fun to be around and someone who defintely has quite a few creative ideas.  She’s so down to earth and geniune.  I can’t wait to collaborate some with her college classes this fall.
Remind101 (@Remind101) and Sophia (@Sophia)
I was able to spend a good amount of time with some of the Remind101 team (above) and some of the Sophia team.  Those two companies have some really amazing people working for them.  They’re geniune and just want to better education.  It’s so great to see some really amazing people behind some of my favorite companies.  My favorite experience with them though was at the EdTech Karaoke party.  It was near the end and I had had a seat and Brett (co-founder of Remind101) came over sat with me and we got to talk.  BUT the cool part was that we really talked on a personal level.  We shared family stories, talked about struggles we both had had in our lives.  It was such a real conversation and a type of conversation that weirdly enough I didn’t have with anyone else at ISTE.  I will seriously cherish some of those moments because it was such a cool experience.
Jake Duncan (@duncanbilingual) Martha Lackey (@lackeyM)
 and Wendy Sanders (@Kenya75)
Jake, Martha, and Wendy are three of my Tweeps in Texas.  Now I have a lot of AWESOME Tweeps like Rafranz Davis, Andrea Keller, Carrie Ross, Jon Samuelson, and many many more.  But for whatever reason these three above and I spent almost the entire week together.  None of us had spent a good amount of time together before this week.  I seriously consider these three, three of my best friends now.  We laughed so hard together, and had so much fun.  I think I got to see a “real” glimpse of each of them and there was never a moment where any of them made anyone feel unimportant.  There was so much excitement with them and they were so inspiring to be around.  I truly will cherish the memories I have of these guys and can’t wait to see them more around Texas in the coming months!!
Brad Waid (@TechBradWaid) and Drew Minock (@TechMinock)
I can honestly say I have never hit it off faster with two people then I did with these two guys.  I had just found out about them on Twitter about a week or two ago.  I saw they tweeted out that they were going to be in the Blogger’s Cafe on Sunday at 10am showing some Augmented Reality stuff.  I showed up, met them, checked out their stuff, and we seriously hit it off and spent the rest of the week hanging out.  These guys made me laugh like no other and are two guys I can see being friends with for a long time to come.  Like I said before I have never hit it off with anyone right off the bat like I did with these guys.  Brad has the most infectious personality and Drew as this quiet yet not quite personality haha.  They were loud, they were ALWAYS full of energy, and always the center of attention (Brad is quite the salesman even though he’s never actually selling anything).  These guys made me feel like I was part of something, and I had only “met” them a week or two ago.  We created new hashtags (#batteriesneverdie and #sip5hourenergy) and we’re already working on a trip for my wife and I to come spend some time with them in Michigan and their families.  These guys seriously had some of the strongest impact on me and really helped me break away from some of my insecurities (and they probably don’t even realize it!).  I owe a lot of my fun memories to these two!
 I got to meet so many other amazing people.  People like Kevin Honeycutt, Susan Bearden, Sue Gorman, Stacy Hawthorne, Sean Junkins, Adam Bellow, George Couros, and more than I could ever remember or type out here.  I truly felt like I was surrounded by the game changers in education at all times!  Plus it was super cool to be mentioned during Adam Bellow’s Keynote speech!  Talk about feeling honored.  
ISTE is not a conference I will soon forget.  I am excited about next year and come Hell or High Water I will be in Atlanta!
I am a better educator all ready for the connections I was able to make and the exciting plans we are all already setting in place to collaborate even more.  I was also able to break down some of my walls and build even stronger relationships than 140 characters would ever allow.
None of us are amazing on our own.  Each of us become amazing teachers when we learn with each other and from each other.
Please feel free to leave a comment about what I’ve written or better yet, please share YOUR favorite part of ISTE!  I would love to hear about it!!

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