I had an amazing experience at ECOO13 or Bring IT Together. It was time spent connecting with people I respect and admire. There was incredible, deep, stimulating discussion about education combined with some laughter and silliness.

The moments that touched me, moved me, or changed my thinking in a fundamental way were all the result of deep human connections. I wasn’t wowed by new devices or impressed with new practices but the human connections were what mattered.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. In student learning, as closing keynote speaker Kevin Honeycutt explained, its relationships that matter much more than curriculum. Why would teacher learning be different? Put teachers with people they care about, let them freely share, and magical things will happen.

My favourite moment of the conference was however, at least superficially, rather mundane. I presented with Jennifer Chan on Friday morning and so hustled to the Convention Centre a little early and a little preoccupied. I approached the back door,  looked up, and noticed a young woman standing outside holding a Tim Horton’s cup and looking a little nervous.

We made eye contact, smiled, and I asked her if she was ok or needed help. She pointed to her Tim Horton’s cup and the sign on the door forbidding anyone from bringing coffee into the building. I reassured her, told her it was ok, there were lots of chairs just inside where she could sit unobserved and finish her coffee, and we entered together.

As we walked, we started to chat. She explained that she really needed the coffee because she’d left really early and driven a long way to arrive at the conference in time for the morning keynote. I asked where she was from and she replied “Beaverton“, which I’d never heard of, but is apparently opposite Barrie but on the east side of Lake Simcoe.  I inquired how long the drive was and she said she’d left before 4 AM to arrive in Niagara Falls on time.

I was taken aback. What on earth would motivate a teacher to get up at 4 AM and drive alone for 4 hours to go to a conference? She explained that this was her first year teaching, and as she talked I could see how committed and seriously she took this (remember your first year?).  And then she said “Besides, I was invited to go and I thought it would be rude not to”. That made me smile and open up.

Her honesty and simple ‘niceness’ struck deep, and I suddenly became aware of the awesome commitment and dedication shown by the thousands of educators at the conference. The long hours spent planning and organizing the event done on a volunteer basis. The preparation and passion poured into the sessions and keynotes by the presenters. And the dedication shown by the attendees spending copious amounts of their own time and money just to attend.

And why did all this happen?  Because of the incredible power of an idea. The belief through education we can make a difference, we can change the world. The shared collective conviction that the future isn’t remade though political parties or in corporate board rooms, but by working with individual students and helping them move forward and realize their dreams. One day at a time.

I didn’t share any of this with “First Year Teacher From Beaverton” of course. I walked with her to a comfy chair, told her I hoped she’d have a great conference and moved on. But I thought about her throughout the day and hoped that she was having an amazing, inspiring experience.

Since then I’ve been reflecting and basking in the knowledge that I am so incredibly fortunate to do something I love and that I think really matters. Teachers are an amazing and inspiring bunch and I’m humbled and honoured to count myself among them. I sometimes question whether I’m worthy, especially when I come face to face with the excellence and selflessness displayed at events like “BringITTogether”.  I always know this at my core, but it’s easy to get distracted by the trivia and minor ups and downs of being an educator.

But thanks to a short and trivial conversation with “First Year Teacher From Beaverton” I became aware of all of that suddenly, in the present moment. What a wonderful gift. So I offer up thanks and a deep gassho to her, and to everyone else who had anything to do with ECOO13, no matter how trivial. Thank you :)