Every once in awhile I get to have one of those weeks that defies all expectations. The past week has been one of those.
I had high expectations for the conference I attended in Chicago. Several co-workers had attended the same conference some times before and they all had raves for the information they gained from the sessions and the resources. I went looking forward to some sessions that were very topical to the work I did on a daily basis. Mostly I went hoping to meet in person some of the professionals I had chosen to follow as a part of my PLN (Personal/Professional Learning Network). Based on their output through various social media sites, I learned to value the information they shared and have followed their online sharing of personal learning and the learning of others through links.
I have gained more from them in the last few months than I have in the last few years of professional development sessions. They have the answers I need when I need them.
They are uncannily perceptive sometimes - even though they do not know me.
My hopes were not dashed. I had the opportunity to spend far more time with my internet idols than I expected. At best I had hoped to recognize them in passing and introduce myself. Instead, I spent several hours with them in conversation and they introduced me to even more. In addition to the volumes of information I had learned on their Internet output, I learned even more with them and even gained some ideas about future work to do here in Austin.
While I expected valuable information in conversation with them, a random conversation at the hotel bar provided the biggest surprise. It started with the bartender asking me a bit of television trivia (because I looked like a smart guy) and ended in conversation with the person who originally posed the question. The conversation did not stay trivial for long and by the end of the evening he promised to send me the introductory parts of the manuscript for a book he was writing. The story he has to tell is one every educator should read when considering the smart kid who just does not do his work. There is always more to the story than we know and he provides a face for the rest of the story.
He actually sent the manuscript to me and we have maintained an email dialogue since then.
People who know me well know how difficult it is for me to talk to new people. As a professional, the need to connect exceeds my natural shyness - that is one reason I like the opportunities that exist in social media (Twitter, Facebook, Google+). They suffice to initially make contact with others until the point that they are no longer strangers. After reaching that point, the face-to-face is a comfortable next-step rather than a mandated social norm. Being of the age and generation that I am, I do still long for the personal connection despite my initial shyness. As valuable as my virtual friends are, there is something special about a face-to-face conversation that surpasses the screen-to-screen text chats.
The biggest challenge in the last week has been keeping up with and doing something with the new knowledge and connections. While I get it all processed I think sleep will just have to wait.