If you had been there after the TEDxOntarioEd event you would have seen it. After the 13 satellite locations across North America had shut off their web cameras and laptops. After the speakers, live and remote, had settled their nerves, given their talks and moved on. After in person attendees had left the TEDx site to converse, socialize, and grab some munchies at a local restaurant. If you had been there after the TEDxOntarioEd event you would have seen us, the organizing committee, perched atop, beside, and behind the oddly compelling three dimensional TEDx letters that were part of the set. You may have sat while Kim, Rodd, Sharon, Jamie, Robert (our sponsor), and I posed smiling for photos in matching t-shirts, coordinated like the Backstreet Boys, to commemorate the occasion. Unfortunately one member of the team, Colin, was unable to be there due to distance. If you had seen that moment, you would have seen a look in our eyes that would have betrayed relief, joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction. I’d like to tell you a brief story about how we got there, posing with those letters.
Doug Sadler, Jamie Weir, and I sat with others in the corner of an empty generic conference room around a circular table. We were all part of each other’s online learning network via twitter, podcasts, blogs, and wikis. As we sat there connecting face to face we explored topics from the amusing to the academic with a comfort like members of a high school football team returning for their 25th reunion. During this conference, ECOO 2009, Jamie and I chatted about how we might work on a project together. One thing was clear, Jamie has vision and is willing to lead, try new approaches while figuring it out on the fly. I was impressed! The idea that developed was that we should set up something that would allow innovative people to share and make it as accessible as possible for all educators.
Following the conference Jamie and I followed up our conversations with voice, twitter, and email conversations. It became clear that we like the ‘Ignite’ style of presenting that only allowed speakers 5 minutes to share. I told Jamie about my experience presenting via Skype to a group in Winnipeg using the Ignite style. It was also clear that we wanted to have this event in the evening so that teachers, administrators and board personnel who may not be able to attend sessions during the school day could attend. Finally we wanted the sharing to be about more than tech, we wanted the tech to be the subtitle, not the headline. After a planning meeting in Waterloo, where I pigged out on chicken wings and my notebook pages still bear the scars of hot sauce and blue cheese, we decided to pursue a TEDx license and formed our wish list for a team.
The first person we approached to be part of the team, was the culmination of several attempts by Kathy Hibbert to play ‘professional match maker’. Rodd Lucier, a student success teacher in London, and I had chatted a few times, but never worked together. When we pitched the idea to Rodd, or as his online colleagues call him “The Clever Sheep”, we met with an immediate, “I’m in”. There was only one little hitch, our chosen date was the same as Rodd’s son’s birthday. Jamie and I didn’t hesitate, the date had to change. The TEDx bus now had 3 passengers. Rodd brought brilliance that included the idea for satellite locations and an outside emcee!
The next person on the TEDx bus was Kim McGill, a literacy guru from Avon Maitland. Jamie’s respect for Kim was sincere and she quickly approached her to join the bus ride to TEDx. This is what could be termed as a ‘good call’. Kim brought organizational sense that often guided our lofty discussion with a simple prompt, “Ok, I may have missed something but explain how this will work.” Kim’s presence resounded throughout the whole evening from catering to video and made the wheels on the bus go round and round.
The bus took a seriously creative turn when Sharon Drummond entered the TEDx road trip. Sharon, an enrichment expert from Lambton Kent, had in a previous life studied and worked in the theatre industry. I approached Sharon with an offer to be our set designer. We had seen other TEDx events that had banners and red dots on a stage and wanted something much more original. The emerging work was nothing short of remarkable. The set design was extremely original with a Tetris like shelf and the oddly compelling three dimensional letters that spelled T – E – D – x. If the content for the TEDxOntarioEd evening had not been so gripping, I’m sure that the set design would have been the star of the show.
The road trip to TEDx was finally complete when Colin Jagoe jumped on the bus from the Peterborough region. Colin is a science guy, an out of doors advocate and uses technology to enable learning throughout these topics within his district. After volunteering to host a satellite viewing party, we pulled a bait and switch scheme with this offer, “Thanks for hosting a satellite venue, why not coordinate all the satellite venues?” This theme of bait and switch continued on our journey as Colin also hosted the Adobe Connect rooms for each of our remote presenters and satellite ‘live look-in’. The TEDx bus was full of remarkable leaders who selflessly gave time and energy for only the goodwill of contributing to the learning of educators around the world.
The TEDx bus, which is only a metaphor since we never did all meet in person, held team meetings as needed in the evenings via Skype. The rural internet of Kent and Lambton counties would connect Sharon and Ben respectively, but never for long. The bits would travel through Grand Bend to link in Kim and reach out to Komoka for Rodd. Colin’s bits would be welcomed from Brighton and we would all be hosted by Jamie in Waterloo. Skype, Google Documents, Google Moderator, and WordPress were our digital tools.
How did we get to the TEDxOntarioEd set perched atop, beside, and behind the oddly compelling three dimensional TEDx letters? It was a collective effort. There was a moment when I realized that it was going to happen. We had formed the team and I realized we had made the shift, from developing a good idea to focusing on the implementation of the ideas we had. What motivated me initially was the idea. The idea of hosting a TEDx in Ontario motivated me. The idea of bringing together remarkable people from around the world to share motivated me. The idea of sharing these ideas with groups of people gathered around North America in viewing parties motivated me. These ideas weren’t enough. The motivation to implement these ideas came from the TEDxOntarioEd organizing committee. The motivation to implement a TEDx in Ontario came when the obstacles were met with problem solving. The motivation to implement remarkable sharing came when we all pooled our connections and had the audacity to ask strangers to volunteer their time. The motivation to implement satellite locations came when we developed a framework that would help include these remote participants and their interaction. In short, the motivation to bring TEDxOntarioEd to life came from our collective commitment to ‘nudge’ each other forward and support the process of implementing our lofty ideas. If you had seen that moment, our posing with the TEDx letters, you would have seen a look in our eyes that would have betrayed relief, joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction not in our individual actions but in our collective accomplishment.
Note: This post was brought about by Jeff Reaburn’s inquiry about using Bitstrips to tell the TEDx story & Kim McGill’s question about what motivates us.
There was Tim, a grade 11 student, standing in the spotlight at TEDxOntarioEd with his baseball cap on shielding his eyes from the glare. He spoke about what motivates students who are not succeeding in school. Just a few slides into the 5 minute presentation, which was following academics, teachers, a Hollywood writer, a journalist, and an ultra marathon runner, Tim stumbled. He couldn’t find the words to complete his thought. Empathy swelled within the room. As each second ticked by, the room seemed to mentally reach out to Tim trying to propel him forward past this hurdle. Tim was shaken. He muttered to himself. As I sat on a table in the back of the room I wondered which of 3 options would happen next. Would he walk off stage? Would his teachers, in the audience, bail him out? Would he overcome this adversity and keep going?
Adversity arose at another moment during the evening of presentations. Danika Barker, an innovative secondary English teacher, was about to give her talk. At the moment she stepped forward onto the red dot in the middle of the risers, the powerpoint computer crashed. As the computer began to reboot, the emcee tried to fill time as Danika stood beside the wooden 3D TEDx letters and waited for the powerpoint slides to re-appear on the giant screens. In this moment, as a co-organizer of the event I looked toward the tech team who was working feverishly, part of me wanted to rush over there and help troubleshoot.
Thank goodness I didn’t go over to the tech team and try to impose myself. This would have been extremely arrogant and would have prolonged the glitch. The team would have went from empowered to second guessed. A glitch would have turned into conflict. Faith and confidence would have been shaken. The truth is this team was far smarter than I in this area. My actions would have just sabotaged a great team. We have all experience the erratic behaviour of a crashing computer and this amazing tech team was brilliant as they gracefully corrected the issue.
Thank goodness Tim’s teachers didn’t bail him out. He composed himself and continued. If his teachers had jumped onto the stage, it would have ruined his message. Once again the teacher would have been ‘in charge’ and the student would have been seen as subordinate. That didn’t happen. Tim, as he overcame the adversity, reached to new emotional levels and delivered an empowered plea for educators to understand students who have been labelled ‘at risk’.
This had left me with a few questions for myself:
1) How often, when I am leading, do I jump in and sabotage my team instead of empowering?
2) How often, when I am teaching, do I try to fix my student’s adversity instead of giving them the opportunity to overcome the challenge and become empowered with confidence?