Lessons in Gratitude: Edcamp Long Island

It turns out, what an old friend and mentor told me is true: Life moves fast. And if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it. I guess time does actually fly, regardless of whether or not you’re having fun. The last five years have gone by in what feels like the blink of an eye. And I almost missed it.
For that reason, I made a conscious personal decision to take a personal growth journey: My goal has been to work on slowing down, to resist the urge we have as busy humans, to live life on the surface. This decision is as much a quality of life decision as it is anything else. Fortunately, I am surrounded by strong role models: a healthy and happy family, a now college-aged daughter who lives everyday with a life full of meaning, trustworthy colleagues who I work alongside daily, and several friends and mentors who are generous with their precious time. I am lucky, I am fortunate, and I am truly blessed.
My life, by all appearances is “just right”. I’ve also made a conscious decision to make a point of incorporating the written word into everyday life. Read more books. Write more, just for me. 
Just write.  
Besides reading and writing, I am a big podcast listener – mostly as professional nourishment and mental stimulation. But this summer, I came across one that resonates with me well beyond the time I listen to it, called The Science of Happiness. I can listen to most episodes in one sitting, on either the daily commute, to or from work. I found this podcast at just the right moment, a moment when I needed to find something like this. See, as traffic patterns shift in late spring, so does my daily commute. The detour I take is along a road where the Bay is on one side, and the Ocean, is on the other. (Not too bad a view either way.) And with the local speed limit enforced by local law enforcement, I have no choice but to drive slowly, enjoy the salt air, breathe deeply, and listen. I spent the majority of my spring and summer mornings reflecting, on finding happiness and even joy, in everyday experiences. As someone who has always struggled with work-life balance, I was ready for a change. Then I read this article about the value of 365 days of gratitude and how Gratitude is the Key to Work-Life Balance . 
Taking time to be grateful seems worth the time, as it may just be a key to finding joy and life success.
This past weekend, we celebrated the 6th Annual Edcamp Long Island. As a member of the planning team, I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most dedicated, passionate, and generous profession educators around. Each year, our team evolves and grows.And each year, we have new and returning attendees, all focused on learning, sharing, and helping one another to see another perspective on teaching, leading, and learning. Each year differs a little bit different from those before, based on who shows up and what topics land on the empty session board.
For several years, my edcamp experience was similar to my life experience: I discovered that, even as a member of the planning team, I participated only superficially. In retrospect, I had convinced myself that being “busy” was the same as being “meaningfully engaged”. Turns out, they’re not the same. 
This year, I decided to take a different approach. Yes, I’d arrive early, as I’ve always done, because there’s NOTHING like catching up with old friends from the planning team. Being part of the morning-of ritual always brings me back to that sense of nervous anticipation that 1) not a single one of the 1,000 registrants will show up, and 2) no one would be willing to facilitate an edcamp session. I’ll never forget our first Edcamp Long Island in which every team member committed to have two sessions in our “back-pockets” to throw on the board, if no one showed or facilitated. Turns out, we didn’t need them after all.

Another favorite morning ritual of Edcamp LI is the charge of an empty board, which actually gets bigger every year because of strong registration. Standing outside with some friends, greeting and checking in attendees before they enter the host school, we see friends, old and new, some new to edcamp and other “edcamp veterans”, some of whom we only get to see annually at this event.
The student musicians provided us with an Edcamp Soundtrack
The student leaders who volunteered were amazing hosts!
As the board fills, I remember how much I enjoy the sights and sounds of edcamp. One-on-one conversations that happen outside of sessions. Catching up with two old friends, each of whom is a second year middle school principal, both who are enjoying the heck out of working in a community that is thriving and who are appreciative of the amazing energy of adolescents. Listening to a new colleague at the coffee pot, saying that the best way to hook a teacher on a new idea is to show them how it will help their work. Having an impromptu discussion at the session board with someone from a neighboring county about how we can rebuild competition in recruiting and hiring the highest quality teaching candidates. Seeing student leaders with a proud, caring teacher, volunteering their time on a Saturday to help in every capacity, ranging from handing out snacks, to directing foot traffic, to performing in musical ensembles. Another student speaking to passersby about the value of being an live organ donor. (Her mother donated one of her kidneys to another loved one – the girl’s grandfather!) 

This is just a sampling of the golden moments waiting to be discovered at Edcamp Long Island. 
Following a quick coffee and grab-and-go breakfast, I decided that, rather than popping into the myriad sessions happening throughout the school, I was going to pick one that matters to me that I have more questions than I do answers. Like my morning commute and my new goal to resist superficial experiences, I decided to slow down and enjoy the experience.

My first session was Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. I attended, not expecting to contribute much, but hoping that I’d leave with thoughts that would resonate well after the session. My main takeaway from several small group and one-on-one discussions? We talk about our responsibility and we create lists to improve on priorities like being more culturally responsive. But if our largest action step is to purchase books with diverse characters and by diverse authors. It’s harder than that, more controversial than that, and it takes courage to take steps towards doing this important work. It requires thoughtful and fearless educators, willing to unpack complex topics we don’t fully understand, to ask more questions than provide answers, and to take risks with people we trust to support a school culture that embraces fostering culturally responsive practices. It requires us to delve beneath the surface, that we sometimes see in a typical school day.

The second session I chose to attend, facilitated by an elementary school leader who can be followed on Twitter @Hillarybrom was Restorative Practices: What do you do? This session full of educators from all levels, from school of varied demographics, and the participants, it turns out, are all at a different phase of their journey in RP. One thing was clear, however, in our circular discussion: this is about relationship-building, community-building, and capacity-building. It was promising to realize that much of the time and energy that we devote to building a healthy school culture, one in which we strive to reach students before we teach them, is central to the work that goes into restorative practices. It’s how we speak with students, the words we use in everyday dialogue, that supports more formal practices such as restorative circles, used for restorative practice and restorative justice. And one of the session attendees had suggested something I have heard for a long time: this will never be perfect and fully supported by all members of a school community. But, it’s also not going away. It’s the reason we got into education to begin with: to connect with students and help them find authentic meaning beyond their school experience. One of the participants shared the Ted Talk, The Happiness Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor. Re-watching this clip through a lens of restorative practices has me reflecting on how we often approach our vision for school success, academic first and social-emotional second, if at all. Achor theorizes placing an emphasis on social emotional well-being will lead to being more productive and successful, not the reverse. I am grateful to have been in this space with others on a professional journey similar to mine: to help others find meaning in our work.
Instructional Technology Extraordinaire, Bonnie McClelland
While I did not attend a third session at Edcamp LI, I did wake up the following day, thinking how I’d have liked to facilitate one on running a successful Parent Camp, as this seems to be taking shape thematically and organically in my school, with both parents and staff who want to learn more about middle school life.  But like the morning commute, whether it’s culturally responsive teaching, restorative practices, or learning in general, these things take (and deserve) our time.
In that moment, I remembered wanting to avoid being busy versus being meaningfully engaged. So, I caught up with an old friend, and together, we organized for the Smackdown, to close out our day.
The Ultimate Smackdown Emcee, Jim Cameron 
Edcamp Long Island continues to teach me so much, about myself and helps me to sometimes remember, and other times, discover what I value. Reflecting on work-life balance, living a more meaningful existence, serving our students more deeply, or accepting that life (and work), we are often presented with more questions than answers. However, at the center of it all is a focus…on gratitude. 
I am grateful to my Edcamp Long Island friends, colleagues, and new acquaintances as we join one another on our learning journeys. Question is, do we enjoy the Bay or the Ocean view together? 

Slow and scenic wins the race.

Edcamp Long Island Founders, Don and Danielle Gately