There’s something so electric, enlightening, and empowering about being in the presence of education leaders. Maybe it was how—even if only for a weekend—I felt extra special and pampered as an educator. Maybe it was the fancy clothes and elegant, topnotch venue. Perhaps it was even the east-coast-west-coast jet lag—only to be overcome with coffee—any flavor will do. And the omnipresent gift of California weather, embracing me with a gentle sea breeze and enveloping me with low humidity. Being so close to DisneyLand, ASCD’s #Empower17 Conference was sure to be a magical experience—An explosive fireworks display in full color.

Electricity Ignites with People

The feeling is special–When you see a famous education leader in person for the first time, especially after follow-stalk-learning from them on twitter for years. The terms fangirl or fanboy simply aren’t enough to describe some people. But almost all the time, I believe the zeal and hoopla come from a good place—They genuinely come from the heart. Finally fleshed out face-to-face, bottled-up gratitude explodes as a result of one educator’s heartfelt appreciation and respect for another educator’s investment in the world of improving teaching and learning—initially and ultimately—for the Whole Child. Depending on familiarity and prior communications, a greeting begins with a full or half hug, firm handshake, or high-five. The vibe can be so strong, you can feel it—It’s electric.  

Enlightenment Ensues with Purpose

Sappy salutations are done. The giddy-sender and well-followed education leader gracious enough to receive nervous excitement are still face-to-face. And now the moment we’ve all been waiting for: We’re all educators, but do we have even more in common? Do we share a common purpose, passion, or prior experience? Can we engage beyond “hello?” Attending my first @ASCD Annual Conference, now entitled #Empower17, I was in awe–enlightened even. It really IS all about relationships.

As I panned space after space, I saw circles of friends and newcomers, diverse learners of all ages and backgrounds, engaging about the latest in education. Countless times, I observed some handing out business cards, while the receivers’ hands were simultaneously preparing digital devices to inquire of twitter handles. In one corner, a curriculum director; ASCD Board Member; author; and middle school principal make plans to meet up later for a bite to eat. In another corner, a superintendent; education consultant; technology specialist; and high school teacher debate the future of traditional education methods. In the hallway, a high school principal; ASCD affiliate; elementary teacher; and director of innovations share connections for future collaboration. Outside, ASCD Emerging Leaders exchange moment-by-moment feedback with vendors; publishers; Department of Education associates; and all those of whom we aspire to become.  Learning power and potential were unparalleled. It was that kind of experience. It really was the conference for ALL educators. 

Empowerment Extends with Passion

Where do we go from here? How does @ASCDEmpower? Now this goes beyond reviewing each leader’s session presentations; #Empower17 tweets; published resources; and professional portfolio websites. Empowerment may exceed reading their books—All the more special when they’ve signed them for you in person, possibly with a picture to capture a fond memory.

This is educator-to-educator. This is passion seeking excellence—to become better—in our craft to improve education for the Whole Child.

For me, enlightenment grows into empowerment when the conversation and accountability continue well beyond the conference. Most people are really nice when you meet face-to-face. Many say things that sound safe and happy in twitter chats. We all mean well. But when you meet authentic educators who share your passion, AND who genuinely seek to mentor you or learn and grow with you–That’s priceless. The relationship and connection come first–Learning and content organically flow from there. Empowering is not when you have to–It’s when you want to. Empowerment is when you own your learning. 

Several educators were enlightening, and extending my empowering opportunities may continue to be a twitter direct message; facebook reply; text; vox; phone call; or even an email away. And for that–I am so grateful to @ASCDEmpower. But one educator who went out of her way to befriend and empower me was @ConnieHamilton. Thank you, Connie, for keeping the conversation going, and with me. Thank you for giving me the most valuable gift–Your time. What an honor to meet you.