Last night, as the conference was wrapping up, I was at the hotel pool and I started to reflect upon the experience with two of my fellow Apple Distinguished Educators (ADEs), Stace Carter and Ben Mountz. This conversation helped to jumpstart my thought process in regards to my conference takeaways.
Here are five points that encompass what I learned, in no particular order (and I think you will be surprised):
- Learning happens along a continuum: Returning home from an Apple conference, you would suspect that I would now be armed with countless tips and tricks in iMovie, GarageBand, Keynote, and other Apple programs and apps. While this type of learning did take place (and I have an iTunes U course full of material), what matters most is surrounding myself with those “who are better than me” and allowing myself to become inspired.
On the final day of the Institute, Ben delivered a jaw dropping three-minute presentation. In talking to Ben about what he accomplished, he could not pinpoint precisely when and how he learned the skills that were necessary to create his work, but without hesitation he admitted that his presentation would have been far from comparable if he delivered it in 2011 (when he joined the Apple program). While being a part of the Apple community is not the only reason his work has improved, it is a vital cause amongst the many. In short, Ben has allowed himself to become inspired and what he produces continues to develop over time. I would like to think that I fall into the same category as Ben in regards to my continuous improvement as a result of being inspired.
- Connect now, contact later: At these conferences I always make a point to balance my time between (1) strengthening the bonds that I have with those I already know, and (2) going out of my way to forge new connections. This year, meeting new educators was rather easy due to a new class of ADEs joining the program, which happens every other year.
All of these connections are people whom I can call upon later on when help with a project is needed (and return the favor, if possible). Most educators tend to specialize in a very specific area or program, which truly helps in pinpointing who to contact in certain situations. Of the utmost importance, I must add that many of these educators are friends first, connections second. On a daily basis I interact with other ADEs and educators whom I have met at conferences. Yes, we are there for each other when work-related issues arise, but often times our interactions have nothing to do with our jobs or careers.
- Practicing social skills: Although we do not often view ourselves the way that others do, if I had to guess, I would say that the majority of my colleagues and friends view me as an ambivert (someone who falls in the middle of introvert and extrovert). Mileage definitely varies depending on the situation.
While I do not think that it is entirely necessarily for an effective leader to be an extrovert, I do believe that it is important to possess a certain level of comfort when around others, particularly when it comes to socializing. In this regard, this conference provided me with many opportunities to: introduce myself to people who I did not know; conduct small talk; hold conversations, one-on-one, in small groups, and in large groups; and collaborate with others over where to eat, what to do at night, etc. Trust me when I say that all of these forms of interaction have never come naturally for me, but at the same time I am proud of the progress that I have made in this area.
- The art of seeking to understand: While engaged with coworkers, colleagues, and friends, leaders (and everyone else) should consciously work at having and showing interest in the thoughts, ideas, and experiences of others. This is easier said than done. According to Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives” (p. 251).
All of the conversations that I had at the conference provided me with opportunities to practice Habit 5 (of 7), Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood. At any type of conference (or meeting) it can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly waiting to talk to show what you know in an attempt to “prove yourself.” When I think of some of the most inspiring leaders with whom I have worked, they always talk less and listen more. When engaged in conversation with them, it is as if my ideas and I are the sole focus of their attention and all that matters. I should also add that both of the elementary schools at which I am working are Leader in Me schools, a program that is based off of Covey’s work.
- A connection with Apple: About a month ago I officially became the Supervisor of Instructional Practice in the Salisbury Township School District in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The District is 1:1 MacBook, grades 2-12, and 1:1 iPad mini, grades K-1. While I undoubtedly need to spend a tremendous amount of time familiarizing myself with what is taking place in Salisbury, there is also no doubt in my mind that our relationship with Apple and my work as an ADE will benefit our teachers and students.
The above points can easily apply to all conferences and not just #ade2015. As we attend all types of conferences, we should keep in mind: learning does not happen overnight; those with whom we come into contact are friends, colleagues, and connections for later on; do not be afraid to deliberately practice your social skills; make a conscious effort to understand others; and working with companies (such as Apple) can ultimately benefit those in your District.
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