In the fall, I had the pleasure of listening to Kelly Gallagher, educator, writer, speaker, and author speak at a national conference across the country. Although he was incredibly inspiring then, his words seemed farther away, taking a little more time to land on my educator spirit. At the time, I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps, it was the bigger venue. Perhaps it was because I had arrived late to his session. Perhaps it was because prior to that, I was in a different room packing up my personal belongings and speaking with lingering educators after finishing the facilitation of my own session.
Since I consider myself to be an “on time” kind of person, my mild discomfort probably started there. It took me longer to get settled into a learning space that was overflowing with a sea of educators. I remember the image vividly, every seat filled with people sitting along the perimeter of the room and in the middle of the carpeted floor. What a compliment to both Kelly and Penny Kittle who was also presenting with him. I remember thinking how proud they must have felt to look around that room and know the legacy of their literacy work has had a profound impact on the world of education. It’s the kind of work that’s so meaningful that educators walk away feeling they can implement these new practices tomorrow and see better outcomes for their students. It’s the kind of work I look up to. The kind of work that makes me better. It’s the kind of work that made my day better.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to listen to Kelly speak again at a local conference. It was four months later and this time, the day began differently. I had arrived at the venue early enough to select the table I would feel comfortable sitting at and was even able to save seats for colleagues and a longtime educator friend. After I got some breakfast and a much needed second cup of coffee, I turned my head back to the entrance to see if my friends were in view. Instead, I noticed Kelly sitting at one of the round tables in the back of the room. He was settling in and waiting for the conference to begin like everyone else. His image, once feeling so far away, suddenly, didn’t seem so far away anymore. He was much closer.
I didn’t think twice, I sprung up from my seat, walked over to his table, and greeted him with a smile and a subtle fan girl spirit. “Hi Kelly, welcome to Long Island. I saw you speak at NCTE in the fall. I am a big fan of your work.” Suddenly, I realized that his fall presentation may have had more of an impact on me than I realized at the time. It was certainly enough for me to have wanted to initiate this interaction. Kelly and I went on to have a conversation about travel, education, our shared technology issues at the last conference, and the day ahead of us. At that moment, we were just two educators, ready to embark on a day of learning. Towards the end of our conversation, I wished Kelly luck on his presentation and said I was looking forward to hearing him speak again. He replied, “Good luck with your presentation today too, Lauren.”
In that moment, I quickly remembered that once again I was given the opportunity to present and felt incredibly grateful to be able to share practices I am passionate about with other educators. Afterall, professional learning is not just something educators do. It’s a choice. It’s an obligation to help themselves and others grow into the learners and thinkers they are capable of being.
A little later on, I stood in an empty room, setting up for my presentation. As I scanned the empty room, I envisioned this sentiment: If I can make even one person’s day better, I have done my job. While I was talking with a few people I knew, I briefly looked up and noticed that the room wasn’t so empty anymore. Instead, it was filling up quickly. In fact, it began overflowing with a sea of educators, eventually filling every seat in the room. Then, I looked up again and saw that educators had begun pulling chairs from other areas to join the learning space, while others were sitting on the floor.
There were a few moments where I unexpectedly paused during my presentation to internally reflect on the educator I am continually becoming and asked myself, Am I too beginning to create a legacy that leaves a profound impact on the educators who cross my path? When the presentation concluded, a familiar woman approached me. She shared, “Lauren, I saw you present at NCTE and was so excited to be here to see you again. This is the kind of work I look up to, the type of work that makes me better.” I smiled and replied, “Well, it is an honor that you chose to spend your time with me again. I am grateful.” She looked back at me and said, “Lauren, I came back because you had an impact on me, not to mention, last time, I was sitting so far away, this time you were much closer.”