Ever since last year’s event, I’ve been thinking about how I would approach this issue when it came up again. And with the nominee process now open, that time is now. Here are a few of my thoughts on last year’s event and my hopes for the future of the Bammys. Please think further with me in the comments section after you’re done reading.
Last year I attended the 2nd Annual “Bammy Awards” in Washington, DC as a finalist for Elementary Principal of the Year. I was humbled to be there in the presence of people I call friends and mentors. During the nominations process, I didn’t tweet or post anywhere asking people to vote for me, because that just seemed weird, desperate and not a core value of the ed-community on Twitter. When I did get notifications of nominations in my email, I was humbled that my peers thought I was making an impact in our field. That felt really good as I respect them a great deal. There was, however an uneasy feeling knowing that without my presence on Twitter and other social media, I would never in a million years have had a chance to be considered by my peers around the country. You see, when you connect, you take yourself off admin/educator island. You take control of your own learning and slowly develop a network of people who support you and push your thinking when you need it the most. Being connected allowed me to share my ideas, my successes, my flops and reflect on how to be better in a transparent manner. Without being connected, only the people I work with in my own organization would know of my ideas, my strengths and my struggles, and depending on the culture of your organization, you may/may not feel supported, encouraged and inspired in that space – a major reason for all educators to develop their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). The use of social media has made the Bammys something that educators (connected an unconnected) have an opportunity to take part in.
With all this in mind, I rented a hotel room a tux, hopped on the 90 minute train down to DC and attended the event. It gave me a rare opportunity to connect face to face with some of these educators, parents, students leaders around the country who I call on daily and serve as an extension of my learning organization supporting our students. These relationships are real and help my learning online be sustainable.
As the event began on September 21, 2013, I began to wonder how it would be different from the year before. The BAM! Radio Network literally rolled out the red carpet for those in attendance complete with on site “media” that looked like Hollywood paparazzi and limo rides from the hotel to the event. Organizer and former co-host of an Emmy Award winning program, Errol St. Clair tried to create an Emmy-like gala to celebrate the hardest vocation in the world – being an educator.
From what I remember on that rainy Saturday night, the event started by asking everyone in attendance to pull out their phones and tweet some about the event and include the hashtag #bammyawards. This was the first of a few moments where I felt uncomfortable during the two hour event. The reason was that for the few that were able to attendance due to capacity, this seemed like a marketing ploy and most of us in attendance had become accustomed to leveraging our social media in a very natural, collaborative, transparent and inquisitive way – not for any forced advertisement tactics. At a quick glance the number of followers held by those in attendance was over 500,000 signaling a quick method of trending the #bammyawards hashtag.
A few other awkward moments I tweeted about during the event included the use of sarcasm toward children, their parents and the educators in Finland. I know the intent was making those in the audience have a great time and laugh often, but those are three topics that educators, parents & students working their tails off daily to be the best they can be simply do not find funny. Finally, those receiving awards were positioned to sit in the first five rows of venue, so once you saw the pattern of who “won” the award, and saw where they were sitting, the suspense was over. I was sitting in an awards assembly that I, along with my colleagues and friend @ChrisWejr had had so many conversations about. I felt part of the “awards assembly” problem in our schools.
I sat there thinking. What the heck am I doing here. What’s happening is completely against my morals as an educator, a father, a husband and an advocate for kids. I was sitting next to @JoyceValenza, a former Pennslvania teacher-librarian and now professor I care for very much and who has inspired many over the years with her tireless work as a leader in developing 21st century libraries. I chose to stay because I knew that even though she was an educator just down the road from me, I rarely got a chance to talk with her, swap stories and just enjoy her company. There were so many “great people” there in attendance that allowed me to look past the things I didn’t necessarily agree with. Afterwards, many went out to have a late dinner and enjoy each other’s company before heading back to our respective states the following morning. Some after party highlights included learning of Tony Sinanis’ impressive dancing skills and Tom Murray’s love of a certain candy. It was the people (not the awards) gathered together that made the event worthwhile.
For weeks after, there was a thoughtfully honest blog by Pernille Ripp and quite a bit of Twitter conversation regarding the contents of the event from attendees and Errol. In all honesty, the back and forth really made me sad. I preach daily to educators, parents, leaders around the country what a pristine, safe, selfless and supportive environment the PLN is, and I felt like the thoughts being shared were dividing the community rather than pulling us together and moving the conversation forward. I decided not to make any decisions on how I would approach the next year’s event until some time passed. I wasn’t sure how I would feel after further reflection. For the time being, I decided to give my initial thoughts on event improvement to Eric Sheninger who is on the planning committee.
I shared with Eric, whom I consider a friend, mentor and colleague, the need to make the event more of an opportunity for folks to be recognized not as winners, but as pioneers, innovators, mavericks, thought-leaders on the greatest challenges in our field. One idea was to provide short video pieces and/or presentations sharing the impact of their work on things like student learning, family engagement, student voice, servant leadership and other areas. Folks in the audience and watching from home could learn a great deal from so many educators being nominated – not only from those we read about in books, but from whom we have yet to learn of their great talents, ideas and body of work. It was a shift, but we are educators, not TV and movie stars at the Emmy Awards. We have to remove “awards” and evolve the Bammys into both a celebration and a day of learning from each other while focusing on highlighting the work of as many people as possible.
With the introduction of a few new twist (i.e. 3iTalks) for the 2014 Bammys, I am excited about contributing to the nomination process this year. I’ve known Errol St. Clair for several years now, and I trust him to identify where last year went wrong based on the feedback by many, and work with his planning team to make this a fantastic experience for the entire education community. This work is truly about relationships with other educators, with our students and with our families and the community. It is about sharing with people how much they mean to you personally and professionally and taking a minute to recognize them. Taking a look at the data, we’re not smiling enough as educators. And that filters down to the kids.
According to a recent Metlife Survey, teacher morale is currently at it’s second lowest point in the history of our profession. Teacher satisfaction has declined 23 percentage points since 2008, from 62% to 39% very satisfied, including five percentage points since last year, to the lowest level in 25 years. Job satisfaction among principals has decreased nine percentage points in less than five years, to 59% very satisfied from 68% very satisfied in 2008. The survey is worth a read, especially Chapter Three where I pulled the visual below.
Last year I nominated over 30 educators, parents and students who I believe are doing an exceptional job working for kids each day. Some of the people I nominated are on Twitter and some were not. I nominated staff in my school district and others I had had the chance to work with virtually. I hope by my words that I made them smile, feel good about themselves even if for a few seconds. We have to remember that these folks may/may not hear from their local peers and leaders on the work that they are doing for kids. This is where YOU come in. There are 34 days left to nominate someone for this year’s Bammys. I will be taking a few minutes a day during my lunch to nominate someone for each of those remaining days. I hope you will let someone know how much their work means to you, too.
This work is hard. There is no summit where we get to the top of some mountain and rejoice or cross a finish line where we get to rest and relax. If you are doing it right and this truly is your vocation, you never let yourself stop thinking, creating, sharing, asking, wondering and working hard for kids. Nominate the caliber of person you would want working with your own children. It’s not about an award but about picking each other up and continuing to build a healthy, connected network in our field of education so that every educator has the capacity to leverage it to help all kids no matter where they live.
Let’s make September 27, 2014 truly a celebration of our field and spend the day recognizing as many great ideas, people, resources, projects and game changers as we possibly can. Together we are better.