Planning Big Events: It Takes a Village

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week was our First Annual Summer Technology Mini-Conference and it DEFINITELY counted as “doing stuff that scares you.” Not scary like “The Shining”, or even “Get Out” (my colleagues are WAY nicer, more well-adjusted people), but scary as in “there are a lot of moving parts and we’re going to need TONS of participation and help from others to make this work.” Luckily, my district is full of incredible people open to new ideas and with an obvious passion for both learning and supporting one another.


I’d been tossing the idea of a summer mini-conference around in my head for a few years, but felt like I shouldn’t officially propose it until I had all of the details worked out. I decided to wait until our Curriculum Team began talking about summer professional development opportunities in early April which, for a big event like this, was probably too late. Everything worked out in the end, but we would have had a few more weeks to promote the event to staff, a few more weeks to hammer out some logistical details, if I had gotten the ball rolling a little earlier. My lesson here was not to be afraid to propose an idea even if not all of the details have been worked out– because the people who will ultimately help you pull it off will also help you work through some of the loose ends. This was especially important since I am new to the district and am still learning who-to-talk-to-about-what-when, etc.


Our teachers finished school on Friday, June 1st, and the Mini-Conference was Monday, June 4th. How to entice these teachers teetering on the brink of well-deserved summer vacation freedom to come back the very next Monday for a day of PD? Choose an inviting theme, of course! Our Mini-Conference was a LUAU, and participants were encouraged to dress accordingly. Luau treats were provided, Hawaiian music played during the social breaks, there were goofy door prize drawings, and everyone got a lei! The promotional materials made the theme clear and also indicated that this would not be your ordinary PD as there was, among other luau-related graphics, a flamingo on the flyer. The flamingo resulted in my only participant complaint, however, as he rightly pointed out that flamingos don’t live in Hawaii and therefore should not have been on my luau-themed promotional flyer. Point taken, although the flamingo WILL remain on the August flyer. Apologies in advance.


The main components of our Mini-Conference were three 45 minute Breakout Sessions. During each Breakout session, attendees could choose between four concurrent sessions offered by district teachers and staff. We had fifteen presenters offering twelve different sessions which included Google Drive Basics, Elementary Makerspaces, Connecting Globally with Technology, Utilizing Video with Students, Hyperdocs, Formative Assessments with Technology, and various technology tools such as Seesaw, WeVideo, Flocabulary, and more. I strongly believe that a major part of the draw for attendees was the opportunity to learn from their colleagues. This Mini-Con could NOT have been possible without the presenters. Almost every school had at least one staff member presenting, holding positions including elementary classroom teacher, instructional coach, information literacy and enrichment teacher, middle school core teacher, middle school exploratory teacher, and literacy and information coach. One session even featured fourth and fifth grade students as presenters! Our attendees represented every school in the district; early childhood, elementary and middle school staff; classroom and exploratory/specials teachers; coaches; and information literacy and enrichment teachers. AND principals and central office staff (I’ll get to them in a minute)!


One comment that I often hear after professional development opportunities is “This is great, but I wish we had time to actually work on what we just learned!” I decided to try out a “Sandbox Time” at the end of our three Breakout Sessions in order to allow people the opportunity to get started right away with some of their new learning. Sandbox Time was ninety minutes, back in the central meeting area where we had round tables, music and snacks still set up from the earlier part of the day. I’d say it was somewhat successful– I think it was successful for the attendees who stayed around to dive into new tools, work with teammates on planning for next year incorporating new tools and strategies, or ask questions of the presenters. Some people took the opportunity to leave early– which was totally fine, as we all have busy schedules and it’s possible that the Sandbox Time was not something that they needed. In the interest of constant improvement, I’m thinking of offering both Sandbox Time AND two additional concurrent sessions so people would have a choice between working on their own in the Sandbox or attending one additional session.


One of the things that thrilled me was the fact that several of our building principals, both elementary and middle school, attended the full Mini-Conference. One of the assistant principals that attended hasn’t even started in our district yet– now that is enthusiasm! We also had a few Central Office staff attend a few sessions, which was also really exciting considering that they are still working full-time. The attendance of administration is important for many reasons, not the least of which is to show their support for the organizers of the conference. Their presence meant the world to me. Their attendance was also a clear statement that they value the effective integration of technology and understand its importance to our teachers and students, and also see themselves as learners along with the rest of us! Finally, their attendance showed support for the staff who were presenting. We all know how validating it is to have our bosses see us in action, especially doing something a little above and beyond, and definitely out of the ordinary!


One thing about me is that I don’t like to be a bother, so it’s a little hard to ask for help. I don’t want to impose on anyone, so I generally try to do things with as little outside assistance as possible. This makes no sense when it comes to planning large events, however, so this is when it really does take a village! I was comfortable asking teachers for help presenting, as I knew this would be an opportunity for them to grow as well. It was harder to ask for help setting up for the actual day, however– BUT I am very lucky to work with amazing people who offered their assistance at the perfect time! Thanks to Carolyn for setting aside her morning to help attach giant palm trees to tables and then dress said tables in grass skirts, among other unlikely duties. Thank to Mike for braving the morning rush at Dunkin’ Donuts to deliver our participants their caffeine, and to TJ– the best and most helpful custodian in the business. I am also grateful to Mike and Rosemarie for their wonderful support and for ultimately making this idea a reality!


For several nights before the big day,  I’d wake up in a cold sweat worrying that everything would go wrong and that the Mini-Con would be a total failure! When the day finally arrived, however, I just had to let it go and know that I did everything I could do make it a success, and that the rest would be up to the participants and presenters. And since everyone was just happy to learn from each other, and have a chance to get together in a relaxed environment while learning a little more about technology, chances were good that it would be at least a moderate success. At the end of the Mini-Con, a few people even told me that they were going to sign up again for August! And it’s exciting that we get a chance to do it all over again.


Finding Inspiration From Faculty

I love being inspired by new ideas, and believe 100% in sharing creativity and also sharing the great things happening at our school. I recently had the opportunity to learn about an absolutely amazing, yet little-known, project happening in our Design Technology lab and I just had to find a way to tell others about it. Our high school has gotten several 3D printers this year, but I had no idea exactly how these work, what they look like, or how you go from having an idea to actually creating a finished product. I emailed our Design Technology teachers and asked if they could let me know the next time they would be using the 3D printers so that I could come up and learn more about them. They emailed back right away to let me know that a printing project was currently running, so I headed up to the 4th floor Design Technology area (a place that I’ve only been to three times in the whole time I’ve been at this school– and one of those was for an afterschool TGIF party!) to check it out.

First, the DT teacher showed me prototype miniatures that students create before they create full-size projects. These prototypes allow students to identify potential issues that must be addressed before they print the full-size models. The teacher then showed me the software program in which students create the 3D model digital files, which are then sent to the printer, which uses a large spool of plastic cording, which is fed into the printer, heated at high temperature so that it melts, is then drizzled (I’m not sure if this is really the best adjective for what actually happens here) onto a cooler metal plate, where the molten plastic cools and solidifies, yielding the final 3D printing project. To say that it was cool to watch is an understatement.

The teacher then explained to me the project that was currently being printed, and that’s where the inspiration kicked into full gear. Students had been designing small plastic items to take down to Estancia (a coastal town that was devastated by the 2013 typhoon) on an upcoming service trip, and this particular student had designed a simple bubble blower (the wand with a circle on the end), which was in the process of being mass produced by the 3D printers. To top off this wonderful marriage of education and service, stamped onto the wand was “ISM ♥ ECS”. Our school has been collecting money and working with other organizations to rebuild Estancia Central School, which had been destroyed by the typhoon, and when students go to visit the school in a few weeks they will take a variety of toys and other items that have been created and produced using the school’s 3D printers. If this is not an example of meaningful, real-world education, I don’t know what is.

Hearing about this incredible idea, and knowing that I’d just found out about it by chance because of my geeky interest in 3D printing, I decided to embark on a new project. The goal of this project is to share as many of the great things happening in our school with as many people as possible! I emailed a group of teachers that I feel are known for their creativity, and hopefully their willingness to share, in order to collect a handful of videos that I can then use to try and encourage even more people to share. Teachers can either create their own videos or can have me come down to take the video for them. The videos can and should be simple. I’m also planning to participate in an upcoming afterschool PD time and will try to film as many teachers, staff and administrators from across all school divisions sharing short stories about something great that happened during the year. Not sure what the final product will be (ideas?), but I’m excited about the potential. Video testimonials about all the good things that happened at our school this year? I’d watch that!

If this all comes together, I will share an update in a future post.