I can't ever tell if I'm really good at titling my posts or really bad, but this one pretty near defied my best efforts. I wrote a couple of "techier" posts on my other blog about my #notatiste experience this year, but as conversations within the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group (it's a real thing, I promise) evolved, we made the group decision to collaboratively blog about what we learned through the days leading up to "The Event". I must, however, be perfectly clear: none of us will reveal all of our secrets. In many ways, the #notatiste16 Karaoke Party Voxer Group is like Vegas -- what happens there stays there (although unlike Vegas, we only gambled with our dignity.) On the other hand, there were some conversations and realizations that we collectively reached that definitely bear mentioning, because being mindful of some of them, I believe, can lead to positive change in the way teachers interact and learn from one another.
In general, the word "karaoke" sparks immediate, powerful reactions as soon as it is mentioned. Some people love it, others (most people I know) would rather chew on broken glass. It was at the EdCamp Organizers' Summit that I first became aware that these people I was connecting with professionally, these people I came to refer to as "my tribe" -- passionate educators willing to do just about anything in the name of improving their craft and making education better for our children -- had among them quite a few karaoke aficionados. As karaoke is really my only hobby, I have spent an inordinate amount of time over the last 20 or so years singing in odd places. (Think twice before you ever hand me a mic.) All of a sudden, in the lobby of the conference center, professional networking morphed into spontaneous group songs belted at the tops of our lungs. I was home.
Then, I heard that Ed Tech Karaoke was an actual THING at ISTE. My tribe. Except I couldn't go to Denver. It was truly accidental that the idea of a virtual karaoke party connected with #notatiste caught my eye. Or maybe the universe was trying to unite me with more of my tribe, because we, as a group, almost instantly self-identified as a tribe that would outlive the one night event with relationships enduring. (Yes, the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group is still open for spontaneous bursts of song.)
The theme that emerged from the very start was that the #notatiste Karaoke Party Voxer group was a safe space. Within that space the interactions became more spirited, the "trash talking" commenced, and we all simply felt free to be ourselves without risk of judgement. (our in-group hashtag was #norulesnoboundaries). This is something we have known about in regard to our classrooms: Safety encourages spontaneity and risk-taking. Now we were experiencing it for ourselves, and so the creativity was unleashed. Despite the fact that this event had the lowest of the low stakes (let's face it, it's karaoke, no one expects you to really be able to sing) there was increasing chatter among group members about planning (although some of the "stealth planning" didn't become clear until the event was in progress), practice, set lists... (I'm not kidding). We all were so invested in this event, and the relationships grew from there. We became a tribe.
The day of the event, several members half-jokingly talked about feeling guilty for spending more time in the Karaoke Party group than with other #notatiste events and activities. But as the conversation flowed, we realized that the deep connections we were making, the exploration of apps and troubleshooting that was occurring in order to get the party started were all valuable exercises that we could take back to our own classrooms. While it is true that we were talking through the technology to collaboratively solve problems driven by our immediate need (Karaoke Party), we came into the #notatiste space as a whole with the purpose of learning and improving our craft. I guarantee that, party or not, what we all learned in that group will be applied in our classrooms.
We talk about relationships being key when dealing with our students, but then are critical of ourselves for "taking a break" from work to deepen and grow our professional relationships. #thingsthatmakeyougohmmm
Toutoule Ntoya described his #notatiste experience as a "whirlwind" -- with all of the possibilities offered, I can only agree: Ignite sessions, Periscopes of most everything that went on in Denver, Bingo, Twitter chats...it was easy to get caught up and forget to breathe. Additionally, a recurring theme that surfaced both from the #notatiste crew and many who were in Denver was that by far the greatest benefit of participating in ISTE in person or #notatiste was the connections and the people. Mic drop. Quality PD doesn't have to be intense and cerebral at all times.
After the EdCamp Organizers' Summit in April, there was a lot of discussion in the EduMatch Voxer group about how overwhelming the intensity of some conferences can be, and the need to step back periodically and reflect, process, connect with others, simply take some quiet time, rather than simply hopping from session to session for 7-8 hours straight. Simply put, social activities like the #notatiste Karaoke Party have just as much value as the time spent in sessions. We need these times and activities to recharge and to deepen the relationships that we form during our professional activities.
So...to ISTE or Not to ISTE? For me, the verdict is still out, but I've always known that work is at its finest when it is most like play, and now that I have found my karaoke-singing tribe, all is right with the world.
So my challenge to you is: Go out and find your tribe, and make time to PLAY. #noguilt
Please visit the following blogs to read more about the #notatiste2016 Karaoke Party
Makisha Rogers: #notatiste Karaoke and Why it Rocks
Cynthia Day: notatiste Karaoke