The Fall CUE Conference in the Napa Valley is my favorite conference of the year. It is practically in my backyard. My marigolds always show up. It always features awesome speakers and amazing sessions.
A few months before the 2017 conference, when I found out that Brad Montague was going to be delivering the keynote, I stopped everything and purchased my ticket right then and there. I am a huge fan of his work - from Kid President to his Twitter feed to the joyful energy that he brings into this world. For the next two months, I became a broken record. Pretty much everyone who I crossed paths with was accosted. “Are you going to Fall CUE?” “Do you realize that Brad Montague is going to be speaking?”
Flash cut to the morning of the conference. Brad’s keynote day. My four month old-daughter was in the middle of a month long experiment exploring the biological necessity of sleep. As part of her experimental design, she chose to keep my wife and I up all night too. Run ragged, I shuffled out of my front door a few minutes later that I would have liked. A short commute later, I arrive at American Canyon High School, grabbed my backpack and headed to registration.
And then I saw it.
A line out the door wrapping around the building. I blew it. I was late.
I starting texting colleagues. Did anyone have any extra seats in the auditorium that I could sit in?
I headed to the overflow room. It too was full. I found myself standing room in the back of the cafeteria. As it turns, I was not the only one super stoked to see Brad Montague. The dude draws a crowd.
I’m not going to lie. In this moment, I was a little bummed. After months of building it up, after months of encouraging others to come, here I was in the back of the overflow room watching the keynote digitized on a projector screen.
I found some friends also standing in the back, and together, we watched the speech. Brad’s stories and infectious joy took a hold of the cafeteria and began to lighten my mood. It is hard to be bummed when you listen to to a story about a bird who, instead of tweeting and chirping, is super passionate about making sick hip hop beats and rhymes, you know?
About two-thirds of the way through his keynote, Brad stopped and gave a shoutout to the overflow room. We cheered in response. And then he said he has a surprise for us. Everyone in the overflow room was going to receive a special Golden Ticket that would grant entry into the auditorium later in the day for a super secret, for-golden-ticket-holders-only, second keynote presentation.
In that moment, the morning turned around. We were each handed real golden tickets. For those of us in the overflow room, in that moment, Brad Montague became our Willy Wonka. it was our real life Charlie Bucket moment. There was such a palpable joy in the overflow room that I will never forget - people were shocked.
The rest of his keynote, the breakout sessions, that super-special-surprise-second-keynote, the conference as a whole - it was all just amazing.
Being an educator is challenging work, full of highs and lows, moments defined by overwhelming struggle and unexpected joy. I hit a low when I found out that I wouldn’t be in the theatre to watch the keynote that I had been looking forward to for months and months. And then you know what happened? A moment later, out of left field, everything unexpectedly changed.
In fact, the conference as a whole ended up being better than it would have been had I gotten there early and found a seat in the main auditorium. I wouldn’t have gotten to see two keynotes instead of one. I wouldn’t have collected this story of generosity and thoughtfulness. I wouldn’t carry around this golden ticket as a reminder of what kind of educator I want to be.
Yes. It is true. To this day, I carry around the Golden Ticket in my wallet. It reminds me to think about the experience of those I work with. To remember that our work in education is one of service to those we educate. Our work is not about us, it is about them. It reminds me to do what I can to go the extra mile to try to bring a little unexpected joy into the world.
At the CISC conference a few months later, I was hanging out with CUE’s Director of Member Engagement, Cate Tolnai and I told her this story. The late arrival. The surprise keynote. The Golden Ticket I keep in my wallet. Little did I know that CUE had worked with Brad to make the second keynote a reality. I don’t remember how or why we started to talk about this story, but it led to us taking a picture, and Cate tweeting about it.
Brad saw it and replied.
This whole story. It just gets me thinking about how it never hurts to share our experiences with one another. To focus on and share the things that make us feel stoked and excited to work in education. I gets me thinking about how, when things feel most challenging, there could be a moment of beauty and joy waiting right around the corner. Maybe its a small thing a kid does that just makes your smile, maybe it is a big thing, like a super-special-second keynote address with someone who inspires you.
We all have golden tickets that we can give. They don't have to be printed out and they don't have to cost any money. Maybe it is going to the cafeteria and eating lunch alongside your students. Maybe it is spending five minutes of your break out on the playground shooting hoops. Maybe it is just gathering your class on the carpet and reading a picture book for no other reason than genuinely enjoying a story with one another.
On those days where you wonder if you are actually making a difference, when the challenges begin to feel overwhelming, bring a little joy into your classroom with a Golden Ticket of your own.
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