As I head home from National Harbor, the site of the 2016 NAESP Better Schools Conference, I am compelled to reflect on my experience and the impact attending the conferences has made and will continue to make on my leadership. This was my 3rd NAESP Conference to attend (Nashville and Long Beach are the two I’d attended previously.), and in the weeks and days leading up to the conference, I felt like an old pro when it came to planning conference activities, downloading the conference app, planning the sessions I would attend and packing without taking everything but the kitchen sink. (Turns out, I may still need some remediation in packing, perhaps an intervention for the amount of shoes I packed?) But back to the conference. So, I was prepared and ready to soak up the strategies and practices presented at the sessions I’d chosen, but little did I know, that the greatest professional development I would receive would come in the form of a little R & R.
Now, typically, R & R stands for rest and relaxation. And as a busy mom and leader, I’m sure my mind and body is in desperate need of both of those-especially after this trip. However, here’s my version of R & R and the impact it made on me:
I have found that to truly grow in leadership, being involved in a professional organization that supports that growth is vital. As State Representative/Federal Relations Coordinator for Oklahoma, I attended #NAESP16 not only for my own professional growth, but to represent the leaders and students of Oklahoma and the Elementary Principals’ Association, OAESP (Oklahoma Association of Elementary School Principals).
Being an active part of NAESP & OAESP has catapulted my growth, confidence and risk-taking as a lead-learner. I have gained best practices and strategies that I am able to employee at my school to improve school culture, instruction and incorporating technology, just to name a few. In networking and listening to others’ successes and failures, I learn that taking risks for kids is what it’s all about. I want to take more risks, to push the envelope, to think outside the box, because I know that our students NEED leaders and teachers who model that for them. I take my role as state representative seriously, and I know that I try to soak up as much as I can at conferences so that I can share, inform and encourage my Oklahoma colleagues. For me, there is a great deal of responsibility in holding a position on a state or national board, BUT there so much opportunity to form relationships and learn from others. Which takes me to the second “R”, but 1st:
To sum it up: become involved in leadership organizations like NAESP and your state organization. In doing so, you’ll meet and connect with other leaders, have the ability to pour over publications like “Principal” magazine, and attend high-quality professional development like state conferences and NAESP’s Better Schools Conference.
I spent 5 days at the conference with 3 intelligent, hard-working, loveable, fun, innovative, encouraging and thoughtful women who just happen to be leaders from Oklahoma too. We had a ball! (And a few blisters from our sight-seeing adventures!) In addition to all of the great learning we each did through attending sessions, we collectively reflected and brainstormed about our own organization, OAESP, participated in Early Learning Town Hall (Julie Bloss gave valuable input here.), volunteered at NAESP Central to meet other attendees, and did some fabulous sight-seeing together! I know that I can call on any of these ladies in any situation at school and they will offer a listening ear, support and resources. We are friends and colleagues. We want to help each other grow individually, but we also want OAESP to continue to grow and to be an organization that adapts to the needs of Oklahoma elementary leaders. My relationships with these women are proving to be priceless.
Now, for the most unique part about my experience at this year’s NAESP Conference:
I am part of several voxer groups, and over the past year, I have been inspired and have “filled and re-filled” my #edutank numerous times because of the members of these groups who are from across the country. I could easily recognize their voices and see their profile picture in my mind as they spoke about their day, their school, an issue or idea. Now, after encircling them in stalker-like fashion to make sure it’s them, meeting and hugging (or high-5ing 😉) many of them face-to-face at NAESP, their profile pictures have been replaced in my mind with thoughts of the wonderful, passionate people they are. I am a bit sad that there wasn’t much time in my conference schedule to spend with the group, take #stealthies, or chat with them as individuals. But, the time I did get to spend with them was better than I’d ever imagined. I was actually able to attend (fellow voxer group members) Brad Gustafson & Todd Nesloney’s sesh with a bunch of this group, and I was so excited to be gathered around a table with them (all or most of us wearing our #KidsDeserveIt bracelets). One attendee (not in our group) asked if we were all from the same school or if we knew each other. My immediate response was, “YES! We are together. We’ve known each other through voxer for almost a year now.”
Another voxer group member, Mark French, stated that as the conference came to an end and we all started to say goodbye, it felt like we were leaving summer camp. He was so right. But we have an advantage via technology that many of us who attended camps in our youth didn’t have: voxer. I, for one, am thankful to have the ability to continue the conversations, the learning, the inspiration, the passion and the FUN not only with those I was blessed to meet at NAESP, but with all the members of my PLN. My relationships with these leaders are proving to be priceless. I can’t wait to see or meet more of these awesome leaders.
So, if you’re reading this post, you are probably connect in some way already. But, my challenge for you is to amp up your R & R. If you’re not active in your state or national leader organization, get involved. Whether that’s simply becoming a member for the first time, attending a conference or serving in the organization, you will benefit and grow as a lead-Learner. If your not connecting with others and sharing experiences, successes and failures with others, begin today. And next time you’re headed to a conference, I hope you get a chance to have a little R & R.