Ok... so this may not be too profound and not so wise because most of you reading this probably realized this idea a while ago but this was crystalized for me over the last couple of days while at the National Association of Elementary School Principals (#NAESP14) Conference in Nashville. NAESP '14 was my first presentation at a national conference - needless to say, I was beyond excited and totally nervous. I was fortunate to be invited to speak on the Power of Branding and the importance of telling your school story (check out the resources from that presentation here). Don't get me wrong - I have presented on this topic before but never on a national level. Furthermore, the presentations I had done in the past were never really that "fun" for me (let alone the attendees) and I never felt like I hit the "sweet" spot were the overall experience was not only powerful but that people left the room inspired to try something new. That all changed over the last couple of days.
So, we all know the feeling of being at a conference with members of your PLN - I recently read a great post by my dear friend Amber Teamann on this very topic after going to ISTE a couple of weeks ago - but this experience was really different for me at NAESP. Yes, it was AMAZING to hang out, connect, share, learn from and just laugh with some of my favorite people on the planet - Todd Whitaker, Peter DeWitt, Melinda Miller, Joe Mazza, Erin Simpson, Jeff Zoul, Jenny Nauman, Vicki Day, Eric Bernstein, Dan Butler, Kathy Melton and Don Jacobs just to name a few - but I felt the power of my PLN on a whole other level during the morning of my presentation!
You see, my presentation was happening at 8am on a Saturday morning. I was pretty convinced that it was going to be relatively empty because who the heck wants to be at an 8am session on a Saturday, which also happened to be the last day of the conference? I was guessing that some of my friends would show up to support me but the truth is, I wasn't really looking forward to the session. That's right people - I wasn't really looking forward to my own session.
Well, that all changed after members of my PLN started entering the room. Suddenly I started to get kind of excited about the possibilities because, after all, I felt like I had prepared a pretty slammin' presentation. With that being said, I didn't let myself get too excited because there weren't too many people in the room at around 7:50am. Before I knew it though, the room started to fill up and I was getting pretty psyched and I knew it was going to be different. Whenever the levels of enthusiasm start overflowing, I like to have music on so I decided that I would play some for the audience before the presentation kicked off. And if you know me at all, I am not talking about music you hear in an elevator - I am talking about loud music that makes me smile and want to sing along (don't worry, I didn't sing). So, I played songs like Happy, Problem and even pulled out an oldie but goodie... Jump Around by House of Pain. That's right - Jump Around! And you know what? Someone actually started jumping around on their way into the room and people were throwing their hands up and singing along to the song. It was AWESOME! The whole feel and tone in the room had changed and people were engaged, laughing, talking and smiling - I was definitely feeding off the positive energy in the room and was pumped about the presentation.
Fortunately, the 2 hours that followed went pretty well. I was able to follow the outline I prepared; I created opportunities for people to share at their tables and exchange idea; I was able to spotlight a few tools/resources that people could use to tell their stories in their own schools; I was able to have my friend and co-author, Joe Sanfelippo, join us from his home in WI for about 15 minutes (we used a Google Hangout) and he shared his perspectives as a superintendent; and I was able to end it by sharing a link/QR code to a google doc that featured resources that could be useful when thinking about branding your school. Overall, it was a pretty decent presentation and I think the people had a good time and actually learned something. Was it perfect? No! Were there things I wanted to do differently? YES! But, all things considered, I think it went well and it was clearly different than any other presentation I had done before. Why you ask? Because of my PLN!
Remember the idea that the PLN = PD? Well, that is what happened for me that morning. The presence of various members of my PLN in the room gave me a level of confidence and excitement that had been lacking before. They brought a certain energy and enthusiasm (and silliness cause they always make me laugh) to the room that shifted my frame of mind and boosted my confidence. They helped me access a whole other skill set during the presentation that made it go much better than it would have gone had they not been in the room. They reminded me of the importance of interactions and conversations and how those impact learning so I did as much of that as possible during the presentation. They reminded me to speak with confidence because I was an "expert" on the presentation topic. They reminded me to inject just enough humor (not too self-effacing) to keep the tone positive and fun in the room. And that is just the tip of the iceberg but the bottom line is that the PLN impacted the experience and helped me be better.
Even though members of my PLN were technically in the room to be learning from me, I was learning from them. They were helping me developing my presentation skill set. They were helping me access and bolster my self-confidence. They were reminding me about effective presentation techniques - no one wants a "SIT and GET" experience! They were giving me the best Personal/Professional Development I had received in a while. You see, the PLN helped me realize that the definition of PD must be broadened. No longer can we think about PD in very concrete terms - it is not about a document or packet that you get at a conference and take back to your school and stick on a shelf. PD is about both personal and professional development. For example, that morning I learned that I need to access my self-confidence during a presentation because it will impact everyone in the room and the experience. Although this is a "personal" thing, it is an area I needed development in and it will not only impact me on a personal level but will also shape future professional experiences. My PLN, made up of some of the most amazing people who I respect and learn from each day, became my PD and started redefining the parameters of PD. I am no longer looking at PD as PROFESSIONAL development - I am seriously looking at the blurred lines between PERSONAL and PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT thanks to my amazing PLN!
So, if you haven't done it yet, get connected and build your PLN because you will suddenly have access to the BEST FREE and PERSONALIZED PD in the world!