You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up to more than I can be.
I love it when song lyrics can sum up what you are thinking. As I sit here reflecting on my experience over the last few days, I keep coming back to Josh Groban's lyrics listed above. Several years ago, I attended my first national conference in Vegas, the ASCD Conference. I was a new Twitter user. I was blogging some. I was a new principal. I did not know anyone at the conference. But I was excited to soak in new learning. Yes, I attended sessions. And yes, I talked to people sitting at my table. I tweeted out a few good nuggets to share back with my district, and I was inspired to write some blog posts like, 'The View from Above' and 'Gaudy Goals'. But that conference came and went, and I traveled back to school, back to admin island to keep doing my thing at my school on my own.
Fast forward to this month. I attended my second national conference, #NAESP16. What a difference a few years makes, along with a few very special connections through Voxer. This time, I spent the weeks leading up to the conference talking with others who were going to be at the conference. We were all excitedly winding down our school years and counting down the days until we would all come together in our nation's capitol. People were making plans to meet up. People who had been before were answering questions from us newbies. Even though this trip meant my first time away from my daughter, I could not help but be excited that I was going to meet face to face with these voices, these social media muses that had been carpooling with me for months.
I was the crazy one who booked a flight for Wednesday morning. Most of the group had already been there for a day or two. I was tired and I was sweaty (and probably slightly smelly), yet when I found my peeps...
Just kidding, they looked more like this...
They were waving me over and welcoming me into the group. And it was like we had always been together. Because really, for many months, we have been together. We have shared the ups, downs, and everyday in betweens of our principal lives with each other. These voices that I had grown to know and love were now faces and hugs and right next to me. Yes, this was going to be a very different national conference experience.
I attended some sessions with them and some without them. I watched some of them present and some of them watched me present. We swapped stories of our jobs and our families. Within two hours of landing in DC and then landing in the middle of this group...
I sat around a lunch table with many of them and quickly realized in between bites of my sandwich and bits of conversation: These people, these amazing leaders, make me a better principal and a better person. They raise me up to be more than I can be. Throughout the conference, every single interaction I had with each of them, I learned, I grew, I wondered, I was challenged. I also laughed. A lot. In fact, I laughed the hardest while being raised up...literally, I was raised up in the air, in a tiny little enclosed space with seven other members of my new crew. What an amazing memory, sitting high up in the air, overlooking the National Harbor in the Capitol Wheel, laughing until my cheeks hurt with seven other people who share my vision, who are making a difference in the lives of children every single day.
When I am down and, oh, my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
Then I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
Not every moment was like the emotional and physical high of the ferris wheel experience. But these amazing leaders, these people who make me a better person and a better principal, they were there for me. Leading up to the conference, I was bummed that I couldn't find my #KidsDeserveIt shirt that I had ordered a while back. (Yes, there is most likely a laundry black hole in my house. Don't judge.) Seems like a silly thing to be upset about, but I was looking forward to our group photo and proudly sporting my shirt with everyone else. And then I saw a picture in the NAESPchat that made me smile...
My roomie for the conference, the amazing Julie Vincentson, had ordered me a shirt and had one waiting for me! Are you kidding me?! So a missing shirt didn't make "my soul, so weary," but it was the thought that Julie put into that simple action. Remind any of you of the thoughts we put into our staff and students and the simple, yet powerful actions that we take everyday? Then it came time for my presentation. I was super nervous since I had a.) never done this presentation before and b.) attended some other sessions that were unbelievably amazing and inspiring, one might even say #FinestGreatestBest, right Nick Proud?! But I was ready. All of my people, those amazing leaders had raised me up. Adrenaline was pumping. Sound system was set. People were listening to me. And then...the internet connection stopped working. But "when troubles come," who "came and sat a while with me" and shared her hotspot? Edurockstar, Jennifer Kloczko. She didn't even blink, went straight to work, and with a click of the button, visions of my video clips were dancing across the screen.
Finally we made it to the closing session. Some of us had to catch flights and some of us were lucky enough to listen to Pedro Noguera speak to us, truly speak to our souls about how the "best schools are greater than the sum of their parts" and that "rigor is not just a lot of work, it's being made to think hard" and that "we need to think of our schools as gardens and as gardeners we wouldn't blame the tomatoes for not growing." I, along with everyone else, was captivated by his every word. And then I noticed a buzzing from my phone. (No, I definitely did not follow the direction of turning off my devices.) And I took a call that no one wants to answer. In a matter of minutes, I went from being inspired and raised up to being beat down and crying. My family, who was en route to meet me for our vacation in Virginia, was in an airport in New York on a layover, and as a result of a medical emergency that happened to my stepson, they were now heading by ambulance to the hospital. No longer was my head spinning with inspiration and motivation to bring back to my school. Now my head was just spinning and I felt like I might collapse right there in the middle of the convention center. I was helpless. I am a leader. I like taking action. I like having a vision and marching toward that vision. I am also a mother and a wife, and I was far away from my family when they needed me.
When I am down and, oh, my soul, so weary;When troubles come and my heart burdened be...
As I stood in shock and at a loss for what to do, something happened. Actually someone happened. Jessica Cabeen came to me. And then, instead of swapping kindergarten stories like we had been doing the night before over ice cream, I was sobbing, the loud, ugly cry kind of sobbing, into Jessica's arms. And she just stood there and hugged me and let me do that.
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
In that moment, I certainly wasn't strong, but Jessica was there to offer her shoulder and hold me up. She led me to a chair, got me a sticky note and pen to write information that I would need to find out from my husband, brought me a water, and simply sat with me. And before I knew it, the rest of the crew was surrounding me and supporting me and seeing me at a low point and doing their best to still raise me up. These people, these amazing leaders, these principals that make me a better principal and a better person...I am so grateful for all of you. It's no longer cliche for me to say that we laughed together and we cried together. Because I did that with you.
And then Jessica and Lynn Colon and Mia Simpson went and sat with me and got me to eat lunch instead of dwell on the fact that I was feeling helpless. We ordered all the bad things on the menu...chicken fingers, chips, dip...you know, feelings food (We were just missing the Ben and Jerry's Jessica!), and we talked and shared and they got me thinking and laughing again.
Fast forward to today, two days later and I am still not reunited with my family. I am typing this while waiting for them to arrive on a plane later tonight. While I am reflecting on the conference and all of my emotional highs and lows, I am also anxiously counting down the minutes until my husband and my children are back in my arms. And I am being sent messages and thoughts and prayers from all of those amazing people, those amazing leaders that I am better for knowing and connecting with. And that I only just met a few days ago!
Thank you. You all raise me up. Whether it's the high moments on mountains that I strive to reach with my students or the stormy seas that I will weather during the school year, you all have raised me up and will continue to do so. I am stronger and I will be more than I can be because of you.
And for that I am eternally grateful.
Now that I have put the song lyrics into this post and into your head...here's a great version of a kid singing it. Enjoy!