Why Your Story Matters- originally published in Creative Educator Magazine- 6/3/2021

In my book TRANSFORM: Techy Notes to Make Learning Sticky, recently released by Road to Awesome, I wrote about the impact of offering my voice and sharing my story. Some of you might be wondering what does offering your voice have to do with a book on educational technology. I can understand that, but TRANSFORM is not just a book about technology tools. It is a book about using technology to transform learning for both you and your students.

In our schools, student achievement should be and is the focus. We want to prepare our students to be productive, responsible, and ready for the future that greets them. Yes, we can plan lessons that give students experiences that lead them to these ideals, but more than that, we can model the behaviors that we want our students to emulate in the future. This serves two purposes: we truly demonstrate a growth mindset for our students and moreover, this gives us the ability to grow and develop as educators.

What kind of behaviors do we need to model for our students, you might wonder. If we want our students to be risk takers, we need to be risk takers ourselves. If we want our students to create and synthesize information, we need to be creators of content and not just consumers. I remember when I took the leap from being a consumer of content to a creator of content. Yes, it was scary! Self limiting beliefs can cripple you when you try something you have never done before.

Opening The Door with Blogging

In February 2019, I started my blog, Techy Notes. My book goes into far more detail about this journey, but for the purpose of this article, when I started my blog, I was told that I had a unique story to tell. It was not one with unicorns and rainbows, but one filled with ups and downs. It was a story that demonstrated the impact that technology and connection could have on an educator.

Writing my blog has been one of the best things I have ever done. It is a reflective process that allows me to continue to grow and evolve. Like John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. “ This is a skill we all need to embrace, both students and educators. This skill has allowed me to share my story in small, manageable steps. In the two plus years I have been writing, my confidence has grown and this process has allowed me to share my authentic self. It made me realize that my voice mattered and by sharing my voice, not only did I grow but benefited others as these reflections resonated with them.

Not sure if you have anything to share? I guarantee that you do. In my book, I share a lot more about what I include in my blogs, but honestly, blogging is where I share my heart. As an educator, share what is in your heart and you’ll be amazed at the ripples that sharing will set into action.

Presenting at Conferences

In 2020, I decided to take sharing my voice to the next level. I began sending in proposals to present at conferences. Much like blogging, fear set in at first. What did I have to share that someone else wasn’t already sharing? I looked over conferences I had attended in the past to see what I thought was “missing.” At first, I probably made it too complicated. I had been blogging about what mattered to me for about a year- I knew what I had to contribute.

Why should you present at conferences? Much like blogging, all of us have something to share- our story, our successes and even lessons learned from our failures. If we don’t go ahead and put ourselves out there and go for it, we are once again allowing ourselves to be held hostage by fear. As educators, we need to regularly practice pushing past the fear. What is the worst that can happen? You can receive a “no” from a proposal, right? If so, you are right where you started. But what if you get accepted? Imagine the possibilities!

In the past year and a half, I have presented at 25 virtual conferences. Restrictions and social distancing in place during COVID19 gave educators the unique opportunity to present virtually. With four children ages fifteen and up, this allowed me to travel and participate in conferences that would have been cost-prohibitive otherwise. On my website’s speaking map (https://www.tannenbaumtech.com/speaking), I have a map of all the “places” where I have presented in 2021 and it delights me to see stars added to that map

But besides just taking risks, presenting at conferences offers many benefits. Most conferences offer presenters free or reduced conference rates. As a presenter, you get to not only share your passions, but also connect with other passionate educators. This idea of building your professional learning network, or PLN as it is called in educational circles, has been pivotal in my growth. I have met so many amazing educators during my presentations in the past year plus. Through my PLN, I have connected with amazing educational thought leaders that have broadened my perspectives. I have found new opportunities that would not have been possible without these connections. Even writing and getting my book published were opportunities revealed through these connections. You would be amazed as you connect the dots backwards the impact of connections on you as an educator.

In addition, presenting allows you to tell your story in an interactive manner. Blogging tends to be a one way process. Yes, sometimes, someone will post a comment or respond to a tweet, but presenting is an interactive process where you share and get to interact with participants. You can even use technology tools to create interaction in asynchronous sessions.

Getting Started with Sharing Your Story

You are probably thinking that this sounds great, but you have no idea where to start. Start with a brain dump. Open a document or go old school with a piece of paper. Write down what fills you up with excitement as an educator. Start with just a list and add to it as ideas come to mind. The hardest step in a new journey is the first one.

Next, consider how you want to share your story. I started with blogging. If you want to go that route, start with guest blogging if you aren’t ready to go all out and start your own blog. Rachelle Dene Poth (https://rdene915.com/guest-blogs/) and Matthew X Joseph (https://mxjspeaker.com/blog/ ) offer guest blogging opportunities. The Teach Better Blog also has opportunities for guest bloggers.

Remember this is your story, not mine, so if blogging isn’t your thing that’s okay. Even simple steps like going from simply lurking in your feed for new ideas and inspiration (just consuming) to adding comments and joining the conversation are a great start. Consider participating in a Twitter chat to flex your creator muscles as you respond and interact with others online. (Check out Chapter 5 in my book for more information on them) . But find a way to get started, you are amazing and you need to share that!

If you are ready to start with presenting. Look at your brain dump and flush out 1 or 2 sessions from your passions list. Open up a new document where your presentation drafts will live. Add the titles and a brief description of your session. Feel free to reach out to other educators who present to get their feedback or email me, I would love to help. Add your bio to the document. This will save you a lot of time down the road.

Start by searching for upcoming conferences in your state or district. Look through your Twitter feed for upcoming conferences. I keep track of all of the conferences that I apply to in a Google Sheet. Choose 1 or 2 and send in that Request for Proposal. Just start and be prepared for what comes next.

Your story matters and we all can learn from you. Your students learn from you every day- amplify your impact and model lifelong learning and content creation for your students. You deserve it- your students deserve it- other educators deserve it. Reach beyond your expectations and watch as you level up and watch the ripples that you create.

I can’t wait for you to transform and share your story! I’m ready and listening!