I don't typically like writing about politics, especially since the politics of today's world are so toxic, but I think this week is an exception. U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson announced his retirement this week, and I want to tell you about an educational experience I had with him that changed my life. We get so tied down to what's going in our class, that sometimes we forget how much an experience matters. Hopefully, this post will show you why.
My family has known Senator Isakson since the early '80s. My mom was in Junior League with the Senator's wife, and we have been following his political career since he was a Georgia State Representative. In 2003, I had the honor of being selected as one of his summer interns in Washington, D.C. At the time, I saw this more as something fun, but as I reflect now, the effect it has had on my life is incredibly profound.
When I went to Washington in the summer of 2003, Senator Isakson was a representative that was running for U.S. Senate. It meant that most of my job as an intern came down to giving folks capitol tours. It used to be that people could move across the capitol freely, but since the attacks of September 11th, it requires having a staffer (either a tour guide or intern) with you. Since Senator Isakson was running for Senate at the time, it meant he could never turn these down, and it meant they fell to me.
The experience of leading these tours set me up incredibly well for my future. At the time, I only had one semester left to get my degree in Social Studies education. By touring the capitol each day, I was getting to experience one of the things I would teach about for the next ten years. I was able to take groups into the galleries of both houses of Congress, and literally sit there and watch them work. I developed stories that I used with my students for years. It was learning by experience, but it wasn't the only great thing about it.
While I knew of Senator Isakson and I had met him a few times, I had never really talked with him. This internship gave me a chance to, and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that he is just a great person. Think about that for a second. In today's toxic political environment, I know from experience that I can trust in the humanity of one of Georgia's only two Senators. Can you say that about your votes? If we all could say that, would we be in the political climate that we have today? I may not always agree with the Senator's stand on the issues, but just knowing him personally made it the most comfortable vote I ever cast.
I can also say this experience changed my life in a very profound way. I met my wife while I was an intern for the Senator. She was interning at the same time for a farm lobbyist group, and we actually met on a bus. We spent the entire summer together, seeing the sites, and now we have four kids. It all came off an educational experience.
If you are in a classroom, you may not be able to offer trips to D.C. or meeting a future spouse. You can, however, facilitate an experience that changes a kids life. You could have the next broadway star sitting in your classroom, and your field trip to the theater is what sparked that curiosity. It could be bringing in a career day speaker whose ideas were so profound that one of your students changed that career path. It could be setting up kids with local internships that turn into future jobs. You never really know, so trying new things is what can make an incredible difference.
I think as teachers, we get tied up too much into content, and we don't stop and take a look at the things that really matter. We in this field to prepare kids for the future, and we never know what they will really use. Why not give them the experience that lets them make a better decision?
Find Your Tribe
I have meant to write this post for several weeks, but life got in the way. I went through what this post is all about July 14-19, but then I went on vacation, had a few speaking engagements, and I had to play catch up, so it's not coming till now. It might end up perfect, though. As you start the new school year, make this one about finding your tribe. I know I added to mine July 14-19, and I want to tell you about it.
Last October, I joined the team at Tynker, and it has been an exciting ride when it comes to finding my tribe. I have been in the EdTech community for several years now, and I have a vast swath of friends and colleagues that I can depend on. They have been built through years on the conference circuit and participating in things like Twitter. I lacked a tribe, though around what I actually did at Tynker. That all changed in the middle of July.
I have learned over the years that my favorite PD's are the ones that let me pull out with a group of like-minded people. Spending that quality time allows you to not only work and grow together, but it also allows you to socialize. It's a time to get close, and I had the privilege of leading something like this in the middle of July thanks to the Infosys Foundation.
One of the Infosys Foundations goals is to enhance computer science education across the country, and one of the ways they do that is through a summer institute called PathFinders that becomes summer camp from teachers. I helped lead a full week of PD for those that signed up for the Tynker track, and I am so happy that I did.
We repeatedly talked during the week about coming to PathFinders to find your tribe, and I think our group for sure did. Sometimes in schools, that can be incredibly hard. Just because you teach the same thing or the same grade level, does not necessarily mean those folks are your tribe. I know from personal experience I struggled with that because I was the teacher doing video and creation projects. There just weren't many Social Studies teachers that thought the same way I did. I needed to go outside my school to find the group that I could learn and associate with, and finding that tribe is especially essential when you are talking about coding.
Coding is at a place where so many know it's essential, but there aren't necessarily set standards for it everywhere, and a large swath of teachers don't know how to integrate it. That's why this week was so important. We were able to give almost 40 teachers background and experience with both coding and Tynker, but the best part might have been giving them the group that they can continue to collaborate with and feel community. That's what is going to carry them.
If your reading this and you feel like you don't have that tribe, start going outside your usual circle. Things like PLC's and grade level committees have their place, but they aren't always the best place to get you where you need to be. An excellent place to start would be to begin participating in Twitter chats. They are discussions on a specific hashtag (# and a keyword) that put like-minded individuals in the same place. You never know who you will find, and they may become a fast tribe member.
You also can get yourself out there. I started speaking at conferences, and you quickly find like-minded people who are doing the same thing. All it takes is applying. You can also apply to academies like PathFinders, Google Innovator, and Raspberry PiCademy. I have done all three, and they were some of the best PD I have ever had.
Don't hesitate to find the tribe. Education is one of the most rewarding professions you can be in, but it can also be an incredible drag. You need that group who thinks like you and who can pick you up. It's just a matter of finding them.