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Pleasant Surprises At The EdSurge Baltimore Summit

Small thumb img 1473 1422653999 1422676620 1428741883 1428750204 Jenna Shaw

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Something incredible happened in Baltimore this weekend. Something I was bit skeptical about at first. Something that I really wasn't sure would work out too great. It was something I have been hoping and dreaming about for teachers in Baltimore for a long time. This Saturday, pieces of that dream came true.

EdSurge brought the Tech for Schools Summit to Baltimore. This event was unique in the fact that it was not a conference, there were no sessions, and it was vendor based. You might be thinking what I was thinking at first: Where will the real learning take place? Won't companies just bombard us with products and we will leave feeling a little empty?

I can assure you that this couldn't have been farther from what happened.

Anyone that has ever been to a conference and experienced the vendor hall knows that this is basically a ridiculous, capitalist space. Companies want to sell you something and they are peddling their product to every person that walks by. There are usually so many vendors that it is near-impossible to walk away with new discoveries, as the overload is too much for any one person to process. Vendor halls sell stuff, they don't change minds and they don't create change.

So EdSurge decided to change this a bit. They took away all the noise. A panel of smart people, deeply embedded in education, rated and selected a hand-full of companies that were worth having teachers explore. Around this, a space was created for teachers to dive deep into what these companies offered, the main purpose being feedback. Teachers told the real story to these companies about what they thought of their products.

Now, this is all well and good. The day was filled with innovative companies and products, teachers, feedback, and it didn't hurt that the event was at the Four Seasons. For me though, the best part was the freedom in this space. There was no set agenda. No formal sessions. Nothing I felt like I was missing. This encouraged conversations. This enabled teachers to sit, talk and share.

The energy of this day was unlike any event I have attended before, and I would be willing to bet it was because the teachers were allowed to talk. There were not hours blocked off where we were expected to listen, to be passive. This day was active by nature, and it bred a contagious energy of movement. Paradoxically, it also caused people to slow down and talk, think, and reflect.

In addition to feeding off this collective energy, I also reconnected with a few of my dearest friends. In a space with over 700 educators gathered together, you are bound to run into a few people you know. I was lucky enough to get some time with a very old friend that I had not seen in years. Evan Parker, a teacher in Baltimore County, is someone I have known since I was 17 years-old, yet we haven't seen each other in over five years. We were brought together at this event through our common love for edtech and our excitement for education. We were given a day without boundaries and I we were able to take advantage of this special permission to have free discussion.

For hours we discussed our visions, our dreams, and our families. We talked about struggles we had faced, watched videos of one another's students, and dug into thoughts around balancing risk-taking with the need for personal responsibility. We asked each other, "What if..." and then we answered the questions. We pushed one another and questioned. We laughed and smiled because we knew something larger, something with greater potential, was building and growing and forming.

What happened this weekend was that I (and many others) were invited into a space that was blurred for our benefit. There was strong purpose in the event, yes, but there was an openness that could only end in big possibilities and changing hearts. EdSurge brought teachers together and encouraged them to connect. This summit was an event that empowered teachers to take control of their expertise, their knowledge, and the power we have when we come together and think outside the box of normal possibilities.

As a I move forward away from this event, I will ask myself how can I share with reflective exposure? How can I be honest and open with myself through the connections and bonds I build with those around me? What am I doing to carry this energy forward into new spaces?

From this event, I make two promises. I promise to risk big and I promise to break the rules while doing it. I honestly have no idea what that will look like, what form it will take, or what that journey will look like as it unfolds. I'll let you know as I am figuring it out.

This piece was originally posted in Jenna's blog EdTech AdventureThis article is also an entry in EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative.

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