My sporadic blogging in Course 5 has not been for a lack of having things to share. I’ve actually never had more to share than all of the things I’m involved in with work at the moment. What I haven’t had a lot of lately is time and mental bandwidth. But like most things, it’s just a matter of sitting down and getting started, so here it goes…

A couple of weeks back I got the opportunity to share my story of moving to online learning in response to school closures with a group of educators in Austin, Texas with the hope that they could gain useful tips and information should they need to do the same. Within days of my session, many of the attendees reached out to inform me that their schools had indeed announced plans for closure and that they too would soon be taking their teaching and learning online. 

Today’s post is about how the session came together and how it helped me feel reconnected and re-energized after weeks of isolation.

March 6, 2020

My husband and I had been in San Diego with my mother for a week (need I say more) and then relocated to Las Vegas to wear out our welcome at yet another relative’s house. As we sat at my grandmother’s in Vegas hoping to hear word of a return date back home, I saw a tweet from Carl Hooker, one of my very favorite edu-celebrities saying that SXSW and concurrent SXSWEdu had been canceled. In response, he was getting a small group of educators together for a pop-up education conference, aptly named AltSXSWEdu. Maybe it was because I’d been feeling isolated or maybe it was because I have family in Austin and always look for a reason to visit one of the coolest cities in the US, but I immediately messaged him and asked if I could attend or present. He replied right away and encouraged me to do a session, so I notified my aunt, bought a plane ticket and started organizing my session that day.

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March 8, 2020

I arrived in Austin around dinnertime and gave myself the evening to hang out with family before preparing my slides for the conference. I knew I had to condense the last 6 weeks of an experience into a 45-minute session that was both informative and useful to participants; not an easy task. By the time I was done with the slides, it was well after 4am and there was not a chance I was going to get through a fraction of what I’d prepared. I didn’t care. It was cathartic and helpful for me. Ultimately, I had 4 talking points: 

  • Infrastructure & Logistics
  • Teaching & Learning
  • Wellbeing
  • Documentation

The next challenge was how to make it interactive and entertaining. For that, I threw in a narrative component for the introduction and a decision-making protocol called ‘Spend a Buck’ from Adaptive Schools to kickstart the session.

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March 10, 2020

Despite how timely and relevant my session topic, I was overrun with emotions and hoping to shake the feelings of imposter syndrome that had crept in while I was thinking about the day ahead. I pressed on with my day and took full advantage of connecting with other educators face-to-face, something I’d missed the most during all of the online learning. Soon the conference was underway and I was swept up in the excitement and conversation that happens when you get a group of educators together. Before I knew it, it was my turn to present and I was standing in front of a group of people telling the story of my honeymoon cut short and the days that followed as our school prepared to launch online learning. 

As expected, I didn’t get through even half of the content I’d prepared but it didn’t matter. The questions and conversations that came from the session were more than I ever expected and it was worth it. One of the attendees in my session was an educator and published author from New York who took particular interest in some of the topics that emerged that day, particularly equity and systemic changes in education. She asked if I would be interested in an interview and subsequent write up for her blog and a possible educational article through one of her contacts at Columbia University. Needless to say, I was flattered and happily accepted an invitation to chat more in-depth the next day.

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March 11, 2020

I was feeling energized and inspired by all the great connections and sessions from the day before and wanted to savor every remaining minute of AltSXSWEdu. I attended sessions on bringing storytelling into Social Studies with a historian from Hong Kong, partook in an interactive discussion about the future of education with representatives of Eidos Global out of South America, and did a hands-on poetry workshop called Ed Poets Society with Carl Hooker, the event organizer and all-around rockstar. But the thing I was most excited about was the chance to catch up with Eve Becker, educator and author whom I’d met the previous day. We took a walk to the nearby museum and sat in the courtyard where I told the story of my online journey from the beginning while she recorded me and we dug deeper into some of the issues we both felt were surfacing in education as a result of global online learning and school closures. In the end, I spent 90 minutes with her and felt like I’d left with a new friend and lots of things to reflect upon. I headed back to the conference for the closing events and she left for the airport. I didn’t expect to hear much from her after parting ways because news of the Coronavirus was spreading like wildfire; a familiar scenario I’d seen play out weeks before across Asia.

March 19, 2020

To my surprise, I’ve heard from her many times since that day. And a week after our interview in the courtyard, she sent me a beautiful first draft of the article she’d submitted and asked me for feedback. I’ve attached a copy here in case anyone is interested, but be warned, it’s long! The write-up summarizes the presentation in its flow and I hadn’t realized until reading her piece just how well I’d done at organizing the information I shared. I hope it isn’t the last conference I present at or the last time I get interviewed for an article, but if it is, I’m grateful for the experience.