Then comes that inevitable moment when you're standing there, smiling, and you realize that your subjects are done with you. Done. Already they have started moving on with their lives. They begin making calls and texting. Slowly, you move away from them, back into your staff development space, and you look at the detritus of your profession -- post-it notes, markers of every color and fruity scent, chart paper, laptops connected to LCD projectors, and jump drives you're starting to get confused. Your "Thank You" or "Venture Forth" slide blinks brightly at you, and only you, like an insincere actor's smile. Suddenly, in the silent, empty room, it seems sadly comical, so you turn it off and listen to the sound of the projector cooling down. You begin to critique yourself: Was I too directive? Did I encourage enough participation? Why don't I know everyone's name yet? It's not that big of a group.
When I deliver staff development, I always try to remember what worked for me as a participant: Don't talk at me the whole time. Ask me my opinion. I have things to say, and so do all these other interesting people in the room, who are struggling with all the same things as me. Ask their opinions. Get us talking to each other. My sense is that I've done this for the group these past two days.
Nowadays, when I go to conferences or trainings as a participant, I always make it a point to go up to the presenter at the end and thank them, during that weird time when we make that switch to our real lives and exit the bubble of "what-could-be," because I know what an odd and lonely feeling they have at that moment.
I'm not saying it isn't sometimes a relief to be done; it often is. Sometimes very much so. However, there's this odd shift that occurs, when the stuff you've been discussing for the past however long goes from being the center of the group's universe to being relegated to the stockpile of "things-outside-the-day-to-day" I don't like being in that realm. It's something like living in limbo for me.
Today, as everything winds to a close, and I gather up my materials, a young lady from a school near Houston makes it a point to poke her head in the door, before checking out of the hotel and heading home.
"Listen, Dan, I just wanted to make sure to find you to thank you for a great conference," she smiles, waves and is gone.
"Thank you," I say after her, and wonder if I've made a difference in the life of that young teacher and, consequently, in the lives of her students.
Of course, I have to believe I have. I let her thanks echo in my head as I shake off that strange loneliness and gather up my things, before finding my fellow staff developers and asking that age-old question that educators have been asking since the Dawn of Time: "Who's buying?"