When I began reading the earliest comments and posts about Nerd Camp, I smiled and thought it sounded fun and what a shame it was that I didn't live closer. As time passed and I heard more about it, my interest rose to the point that I mentioned it to a few colleagues, receiving well wishes, but no offers of companionship for the trip. It didn't seem to be working out, and did I really want to drive for six hours up to Michigan by myself to a conference where I'd never met a soul? Just when I had almost dismissed the idea, information for Nerd Camp Jr. came along. Now it was suddenly no longer just about me; my son Keen could attend too, and since he's heading to middle school, it was the last year he could come! At that point, I got a little more serious, and before long, Keen had invited his friend Harrison to join us. My husband, Chris, who is the principal at East Richland High School in my community, volunteered to go along (and drive), helping out with the boys and attending some sessions. We were set!
I attended sessions on building relationships, writing, reading without incentives, best books of 2014, reading celebrations, Google, and author visits (right along with some amazing authors). It was no surprise to me that all of the sessions were top-notch and gave me a great deal to consider and even challenge me. I had viewed and taken part in enough Twitter chats that I had no doubt of the quality of the (un)conference and the learning that would take place. I was a bit surprised and impressed with the bravery of those who stepped up and were ready to lead with little or no preparation. It was moving to listen to the conversations that took place and note how many opinions and experiences were shared. My first response to the sessions is writing this as doing a post of this nature is completely new to me!
I was also surprised how much I enjoyed meeting many of the people at Nerd Camp. I am someone who is usually content to go to a conference for the conference. Sure, I will meet a few people, but I am not typically running up to strangers introducing myself! It didn't feel that way at this camp. I was genuinely excited to meet everyone in the real world, and every time I saw a name or handle that I recognized, I was initiating the meeting, and was greeted warmly by everyone. Many members of my PLN had become friends!
During Donalyn Miller's keynote, I was captivated. I had read both of her books, but to hear her share the information along with an inside look at her family and experiences, was the highlight of my trip. I was listening to the points she made, tweeting a few that stood out to me, and having the time of my life. At exactly 4:10, as I looked down on the screen of my iPad, I took note of the time. I don't know about everyone else's schools and past conference experiences, but in mine, the atmosphere can become a bit tense when a speaker talks longer than the schedule dictates. People get restless, start packing their bags, and the tone in the room changes. I looked around the room, and I was amazed and refreshed. In that entire room, I did not spot one person doing that. That group of educators was so engaged in Donalyn's message, her cause, our cause, that nobody cared what time it was. I truly believe she could have talked another hour (if not for the Nerd Run), and we would have cheered her on! (Some of us might have really cheered her on if she had spoken through the Nerd Run!) Now, our speaker gets a great deal of credit for being able to pull that off, but another part is that the room was filled with people with such a passion for reading, they wanted to hear about it, learn about it, and grow. All I could think is that I am honored to be here among this group.
Nerd Camp Jr. was amazing, and I am so glad Keen and his friend Harrison got to be a part of it. I stayed to help guide their group, which allowed me to attend three awesome author presentations. This was an experience they will always remember!
There is no doubt I will be back at Nerd Camp next year. I don't know if I'll be alone, or maybe, hopefully, with a group, but I'll be there. I appreciate and admire those who put it together and am grateful to have been a part of it. We often talk at our school that it is much easier to go from bad to good than it is to go from good to great (taken from the book by Jim Collins). I think Nerd Camp MI was one of those experiences that challenged me to strive to do just that.