Reflections on MACUL 2012 – Respecting Fear

This year at the annual MACUL Conference there were a number of firsts. We had over 3,900 educators from around the state and the Midwest attend, making it one of the biggest conferences in many years, over 1.2 terabytes of data was transferred from attendees devices to the internet and back, and I was actually able to attend a session in which I able to chat with the featured speaker afterwards over lunch.

I’ve always been a fan of the idea of “exploratory learning”. Had I not possessed this undying devotion to working in public schools, I might have sought out a teaching position at a private Montessori school, where I could have helped students nurture their own independence and curiosity in a much less “standardized test craze” environment. As it is, here I sit, in a public school building, excited and humbled that I can work with amazing teachers and students that allow for explorative learning. In his featured presentation on Powerful PD, Rushton Hurley spoke of getting teachers to “open up” to whatever it is that may be new, not so much because it’s better than the old, but rather because you never know when you might find something engaging and exciting.

I’ve been working on that for the last year in my district, and after building a LOT of relationships with teachers, I’m finally ready to start sharing their amazing work, because what’s often overlooked at large conferences is that it takes a lot for many educators to share. For better or worse, many of us in the teaching field are quite comfortable leading a group of 28 twelve-year olds, and sharing their work in the hallway, but when it comes to sharing their work with colleagues, standing in front of a room at a conference in which other adults will be scrutinizing their work, the situation is very much different. I’ve seen veteran teachers clam up, sweat, get butterflies, and while I experience the same anxiety of public speaking, I’ve always looked at presenting in front of my peers as something that makes my own instruction better, and is an essential part of the two-way street that sharing and collaborating requires.

I’ve spent a lot of time building relationships with the teachers that I work with to make sure that they feel confident in sharing their work, and more importantly, they understand how much I value the work and activities they’re doing with their students. Honoring fear, something that was essential to Rushton’s talk, is something that I put a lot of value in, and brushing off fears in a complacent manner can get you into hot water, especially if a teacher isn’t ready to present on their own, and you leave them high and dry when it comes time for them to stand up in front of an audience because you forgot about your own schedule (it’s happened before, and I’m not proud of it).

So I got excited about the possibilities of “shifting” the sharing to on online forum, someplace where I could share teachers’ work without having the anxiety that some teachers feel when standing in front of their peers. I created the Mattawan Learning Connection (still very much in its infancy) where all teachers in my district can share student work, discover resources, and have an audience without having to stand up and perform in front of them. That’s not to say the work I’m sharing couldn’t be showcased by the teachers themselves, but it’s an easy way to get exciting happenings from the classroom up quickly and broadly.

This blog has been up for a little more than a month, and as I’ve assembled all the pieces, it was this year’s trip to MACUL, and the words of Mr. Hurley to encourage me to “go all in” and dedicate a lot of my time from now until the end of the school year on getting into classrooms, sharing what I’m seeing, and getting teachers to share themselves on the blog.

“There is something cool that happens on your campus everyday” – Rushton Hurley, MACUL 2012

My intention then after this MACUL experience is to be the “ambassador of cool” for my school district. I want to share and encourage sharing all the amazing little things that the teachers in my district do with the world, not just for their sake, but for the sake of parents, students, and others in the community that would love to look a little closer into powerful practice in our district.

That’s my goal for helping others fight their fears about growing and sharing. If you’d like, follow along!



  1. That’s a great idea! I’ll have to figure out a way to do that with the teachers in my small district.

    1. Good luck, and let me know if you find a successful recipe for success! I’m hoping putting an email subscription on it, rather than just spamming people, will help it grow organically because people “want” what I’m sharing.

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