I think this will be my last post about Twitter Math Camp (TMC), getting in just before the TMC18 officially starts (though a lot of people are already there tweeting their TMC-eve adventures even as I write).
TMC is a truly remarkable conference, as I have described before, both in 2016 when I wasn’t there, and in 2017, when I was there. You can click on those links to read what I thought about it back then. The short version is I have never seen or experienced anything quite like it, with such a dense concentration of professional learning and networking, and also making deep connections with other passionate people.
In this last TMC17 post, I want to talk about the thing that I think makes TMC so special: the attitude. You see, other conferences might be able to have multiple different ways to share and learn from each other, and they might have opportunities for making real connections with others, but I think they might still fall short without this one special sauce that is the TMC attitude. One way to describe it would be to say the people at TMC come open and eager to be part of the thinking and the community.
The first aspect of this TMC attitude is that everyone in every face-to-face session is there ready to learn something. Not just expecting it but looking out for it — they are actively seeking for something to learn. More than this, not one person I saw at TMC last year was expecting to have something handed to them by a presenter, as if the presenter was some ordained expert, but everyone was fully expecting to process what they had learned through ongoing discussion with their colleagues, which would happen at breaks and late into the night. Even more remarkable than this, the presenters themselves all seemed to expect to learn something in the sessions that they themselves were presenting! (I know I certainly was expecting this.)
You may be thinking that at some other conference of course you are there looking for something to learn, and sure you are. But if I’m honest, sometimes I don’t know if I can go to yet another session that seems to be selling me a product, and sometimes I do go into a PD (Professional Development) expecting someone to just hand me the content without me needing to process it. Some PD experiences are almost designed to be about an expert handing down their product or policy and you don’t hope or expect to think. At TMC you almost always go in with an active attitude.
The second aspect of the TMC attitude is that everyone is there ready to be part of the community. As a presenter, everyone who comes to your session is a colleague you can discuss ideas with later outside the session. As a participant, you know that the presenter is another colleague who has something they are excited about to share and you want to be a support to them. You also feel that everyone around you is on the same journey, hoping to learn something from each other. Outside of sessions there is always someone to talk to and listen to and share both work things and life things with, and you know you can keep up a connection with these people through the medium of Twitter beyond the conference. Even if you don’t feel like engaging with people, you can let it all wash over you and feel part of something bigger.
Other conferences I have been to don’t have the same community feel. Some have been close, but not nearly at the same level. Certainly it’s rare for the presenter of a keynote to be around at the rest of the conference to be part of the community and discuss other people’s ideas, and rare for the audience to act like they are there to support them! It’s certainly true that no compulsory PD I’ve ever been to has had this attitude of community-building! At TMC community-building is always in the background.
I think that the attitude of the people at TMC is what makes TMC so remarkable.
But it doesn’t just have to exist at TMC — I think I can take this attitude to other PDs I go to in order to make them better. I too can go to sessions expecting to be actively learning something. and I too can go to sessions actively seeking to make real connections with people, especially in any sessions I present myself. If all of us do this more, then all PDs might be just that bit more like the awesomeness that is TMC.
I wish the TMC attitude for all of you.