Two weeks ago, I made my first conference presentation. I presented Writing from the Ground Up with Google Drive at the EdTechTeam Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Summit Riverside. When the session began, I was excited. The room was packed with almost fifty eager-to-learn participants. I pushed them to begin with an activity instead of just sitting idly and taking notes. I sensed their reluctance, but they jumped right in and began exploring a shared Google Drive folder containing writing process templates and samples.
Then, it all blew up.
Suddenly, the template folder was missing and copies of documents began popping up by the dozen. I attempted to just fix the problem by using revision history by identifying the folder thief and restoring the folder. This worked, but as soon as I moved the templates folder back to the shared folder another participant took the resources folder! And copies just kept appearing! It was a mess. I kept my cool. I smiled. I enlisted the support of a colleague who was in the session along with a few of the more experienced participants. But, it was too big of a mess to fix within a few minutes. And, every time I looked up someone was walking out the door!
I took a deep breath. I abandoned my hands-on session that followed an inquiry model. I sat on a desk. I thanked the twenty remaining educators for their patience and began telling them how I use Google Drive to support the writing process. I showed examples and student work. A few actually seemed relieved to learn by simply listening and watching instead of creating their own documents. They were friendly and praised the tools and process I shared. I promised to locate the stolen folders and send an email containing new folder and instructions guiding them to make individual copies.
I smiled as they left. But, behind the smile, I was frantically thought about how I knew better. I have been using Google Drive since before it was even called Drive. I knew shared folders were messy. I knew I should have used file>make a copy, but instead I decided to try something new in an attempt to have my participants collaborate and share their work. What was I thinking? Also, I hadn’t considered that many GAFE participants are complete beginners--even though I had labeled my session #beginner and #intermediate. I failed. My presentation was a flop. (I was secretly grateful these beginning GAFE users were also not very active on Twitter!)
If this presentation had occurred a year and a half ago, it would have devastated me. I may have even begun crying or become visibly frustrated. I may not have been able to salvage the session. Even if I had pulled through, I would have been incredibly embarrassed. My mind and mouth would have been filled with frustrated criticisms and complaints. I would have felt like I was not good enough to present. I would have given up. At that time, I had what Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, explains is a fixed mindset; I fell into the practice of “Believing that...qualities are carved in stone” (2008). At the time of the presentation, I was halfway through Dweck’s book, but I had already been unintentionally transitioning from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset for more than a year. The growth mindset, according to Dweck, follows “the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts” (2008). I have already had a year and a half of change due to a growth mindset. The growth began with small things like changing my eating habits, domestic routines, and exercise practices and intentionally returning to abandoned hobbies. As I began to have small successes in these areas, my confidence grew. I allowed myself to listen to the part of me that knew I was capable of growth. This led to even larger changes, including decreasing my commitment to extracurricular activities at school, ending a long-term relationship, purging hundreds of items from my home, closing my eBay business, and enrolling in a masters program. Reading Dweck's book has helped me to realize that I have a growth mindset.
But, the way I handled this presentation flop showed more than just my willingness to learn. I allowed myself to fail without being hurt. As Dweck explains, “Even in the growth mindset, failure can be a painful experience. But it doesn’t define you. It’s a problem to be faced, dealt with, and learned from” (2008). The pages of Mindset was not my first exposure to the idea that failures create opportunities for learning. One of my close friends, Hunter Gluam (who has never even heard of Mindset) encourages growth mindset thinking. When I discuss a challenging situation or relationship with him, he says, “But, what are you learning from this experience? What is this person teaching you? If it hurts, identify the cause of the pain and be grateful for the pain. How is it changing you?” Without realizing it, Hunter has been encouraging me to seek challenges and take risks. Additionally, I recently read Kevin Brookhouser’s book The 20Time Project: How Educators and Parents Can Launch Google’s Formula for Future-Ready Innovation. Brookhouser encourages teachers to “set your students up to fail” because “Every student is counting on us to teach them failure so they can learn to persist, to get dirty, to take risks, to fail without giving up, to dust themselves off, and to keep making and producing no matter what. Additionally, the idea of providing opportunities for failure in classrooms is currently trending among the edtech community on Twitter. Because I have allowed myself to listen to the voices supporting a growth mindset, I was able to walk out of the session giggling as I sent a selfie to my friends to amuse them with news of my “epic fail.”
At lunch, instead of pouting or complaining, I began debriefing the experience with my friends. My colleague, Cheryl Lynch (@clynchjccs), who was also presenting for the first time and I decided that we will need to practice presenting at small conferences before presenting at a larger local conference. We began immediately researching future conferences. My colleague and current professor, Jeff Heil (@jheil65), laughed at the story about my presentation and said, “Didn’t I tell you? Never share a folder. That’s like presenting rule number one. Always use file>make a copy. Next time.” Instead of being mad, I just laughed and harassed him for not telling me sooner. Later, an experienced presenter who I had just met that weekend, Jesse Lubinksy (@jlubinsky), advised, “You just need reps. It takes awhile. I was even nervous today as I began my large session today. Keep presenting.” I did not completely realize that day, but the people I chose to spend my time with also posses the growth mindset; they were able to see my story as a learning experience--not a definition of my ability.
As I drove home from the conference, I excitedly decided that I would apply to present at the next available GAFESummit. I knew that preparation and time commitment would add to my busy schedule, but I wanted to push myself to improve. As Dweck states, “People in a growth mindset don’t just seek challenge, they thrive on it” (2008). I agree. My application to the GAFESummit Orange County was accepted. I will present Writing from the Ground Up with Google Drive again. And, this time, I will use file>make a copy.
Brookhouser, Kevin (2015-01-25). The 20Time Project: How educators and parents can launch Google’s formula for future-ready innovation. Kindle Edition.
Dweck, Carol (2006-02-28). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.