I was excited to attend the SMART Exemplary Educator Summit, but I thought I knew what to expect. I spend a lot of time going to conferences, and I have been to a summit or week long training almost every year for the last fifteen summers. Every summit is a little different, but somethings are common among all good summits.
Every summit I have attended, this part has been the same. It is also the reason I seek at least one week long learning experience each summer. You learn from your peers; you learn from your hosts; and you contribute to the learning process by giving up some of what you know. Spending a week with like-minded educators always ends with friends, and luckily with Facebook and twitter these friendships continue on long after the conference. Your personal learning community (PLN) expands and your pool of resources expands along with it. All in all, this part alone is pretty awesome.
At the SMART Summit, one thing that made it stand out, however, is that the new friends and new resource pool was not coming from just the United States or even just North America. Attendees were from all over the world. I met people from Finland, Sweden, Norway, German, Austria, England, Scotland, Australia, Uruguay, Chile, Canada, France, and Spain. I was so fascinated that I could not stop asking questions about their countries and their cultures. I am a grown-up and a teacher. Imagine when I expose my students to their students. Imagine how curious they will be! Imagine the doors of communication and knowledge they will open. Imagine students researching other countries, not because we assigned them to, but because they want to know more about them, because they have new friends that live there. That's how I felt when I left the summit, and I know my fifth graders will feel the same!
Another thing that made the Summit different from other summits was the way we were treated. That is not to say I have ever been treated poorly at any other conference I attended. As a matter of fact, I would not continue attending summer week long conferences if I was treated poorly. However, I always felt privileged to be able to attend those conferences. The SMART conference was different. Day after day, in so many ways, they told us how privileged THEY felt that we had attended their conference. At times, I felt almost uncomfortable and undeserving of the kind of attention they paid to us. At other times, I just felt proud and...well, privileged to be there.
They had an amazing white hat ceremony to thank us for attending the conference. This is my chance...THANK YOU SMART...for caring about teachers, for listening to teachers, and for making us feel valued.