Big fish, little fish, and separate ponds of educators

I have never had the option of having a single, tight-knit group of friends.

When I was growing up, my dad was in the army. We moved every 3 years, and so did all my classmates. That sounds kind of traumatic, but it was the only life I knew and I enjoyed the adventure of it all. I figured out how to be very independent and self-reliant, especially since I was an only child, and by necessity I developed the skills to make friends with different kinds of people from all types of backgrounds.

I learned that new people will always be entering your life, and it’s wise to welcome them rather than cling to your existing group of friends. The kids I saw who insisted on forming small cliques slowly ended up alone and friendless as our parents got stationed in other places. The lesson was obvious: If you only want to be friends with the new people when your old friends aren’t around, you’re probably going to end up lonely.

It’s only now that I am in my mid-thirties that I finally feel like I have found “my people.” I have my girls (and a handful of guys) that I can completely be myself with, and that I feel understand me on almost every level. There’s only one problem: they’re spread all over the globe. Okay, two problems: most of them don’t even know each other yet. It’s a true testament to the power of social media that we’ve even connected at all, and I’m constantly searching for ways to bring us together.

Education conferences are the obvious place to meet up, and my friends are one of the main reasons why I go. But conferences can be a strange experience because there are so many people from so many circles suddenly altogether. I hear a lot of people say that mingling at conferences makes them feel like a little fish in a big pond. They don’t realize that many of the “big fish” feel just as out of place: they’re used to being in an even larger pond and don’t identify as anyone of particular importance. Being recognized is a very surreal experience because 99.9% of educators have no measure of fame in their everyday lives.

separate ponds of educators

Navigating all the different ponds of educators is tricky, both online and in person. I was very overwhelmed at most of the TeachersPayTeachers events this past weekend because I have spent years collaborating in Facebook groups with a lot of the attendees. I felt like I should recognize all 800 educators in the room but I didn’t, so I tried to smile at everyone and some people were looking at me like who is is this crazy lady, am I suppose to know her? And by smiling I created the same fear in them–that they should recognize me and they didn’t–so then THEY felt anxious and we were both staring trying to figure out whether to introduce ourselves. But then when I didn’t smile at strangers, I worried they might feel snubbed…and sometimes they would introduce themselves and it would turn out they’re one of my favorite people in the whole universe but I didn’t make the connection between the 3/4 inch Facebook profile photo they use and the person standing before me and I felt terrible.

So yeah, I’m a little awkward at conferences and it gets pretty draining.

The whole experience made me reflect a lot on the various “ponds” in education. There are people with tens of thousands of followers on Twitter who can’t walk three feet at an ed tech conference like ISTE without getting stopped for pictures and conversations. Those same people would have been completely invisible at the SDE and TPT conferences the following week in Las Vegas. And similarly, there were “big fish” getting mobbed by fans at TPT who probably wouldn’t have known a soul at ISTE.

So my question is, why do we have separate ponds? Everyone needs to find “their people” that they can connect with deeply and without pretense. But if we’re all working toward the same goal—to make school a better place for kids and teachers—why isn’t there more overlap in the groups?

The size of our ponds is constantly shifting. So are the people within them, with new arrivals every single day.  And I think we are ALL big fish in our own separate ponds, whatever size those may be. Our pond may be just a group of 3 teachers within our own school, or through our online presence, it might stretch across the globe. But it’s still our pond, and it’s always little compared to how many educators we could potentially connect and collaborate with. So I think we need to continually ask ourselves:

Are we welcoming new fish and helping them find their school?

Have we supported the more established fish as they explore bigger waters?

Are we recognizing the fluidity of our environment and adapting to the changes within it?

Have we acknowledged our own need for growth without neglecting the pond where we started?

Are we interested in meeting fish from other ponds or too scared to leave the safety of what we know?

I am all too aware that I haven’t tackled these issues perfectly myself. There were people at both ISTE and TPT that I did not recognize, forgot to introduce myself to, or didn’t spend as much time with as I would have liked. And it was jarring for me to continually swim into other ponds. In some of them, I was a big fish (I believe the word “legend’ was tossed out on more than one occasion and I’m still wide-eyed at the thought of that.) In other ponds I ventured into, I was just a minnow and not one person in the group had ever connected with me online or even heard my name. Those two experiences often happened in the same room within minutes of each other.

Those experiences are empowering and humbling at the same time. They’re a reminder that I am impacting teachers’ lives and making a real difference on a large scale, but I’m far from the only one in that position. I have much to learn from others, and I need to be doing a lot more collaboration so that we can transform education on a larger scale. I need to also be helping others grow and move into their full potential.

Each one of us will always encounter both smaller AND larger fish than ourselves. Always. At the TPT conference, Deanna Jump advised those who are feeling like a little fish to “just keep swimming.” At the ISTE conference, Elvira Deyamport reflected on the importance of “finding your school of fish.”

I think both of those pieces of advice are terrific. I would add that as we keep swimming and seeking out our school, we need to rise to the challenge of welcoming new fish into our ponds and learn from those we haven’t yet met, both “bigger” and “littler” than us. We need to continue venturing into other ponds and making connections so that every fish can feel welcome wherever they go. And, if you’ll let me stretch the pond analogy here a little bit, one day I hope we can merge all these small bodies of water to create a great and powerful ocean of educators who are passionate about making school a place where kids fall in love with learning.

The following two tabs change content below.
Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Kim adsit July 16, 2014 at 10:49 pm

I love this post. I think many of us feel the exact same way.


2 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Thanks, Kim! It’s good to know others can relate. It was wonderful to meet you last week. :)


3 Rachel Vincent July 16, 2014 at 11:13 pm

What a wonderful posts! I have avoided attending big conferencing for fear of not being able to connect with anyone. I’m an introvert myself, so I know that networking isn’t my thing. But I would imagine that in a room full of educators, I would have PLENTY to talk about! This certain gives me the courage to try!


4 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm

Rachel, you could TOTALLY do it! It’s much easier to walk up to someone and talk about an issue or what they are learning then it is to talk about yourself and each other’s personal lives.


5 Brittney July 16, 2014 at 11:17 pm

I loved reading your thoughts on the experience of meeting people at the TpT Meet Up and sessions. You described so many of my feelings exactly! I actually saw you and was going to go up to you and then didn’t know if I should. I get so shy, and I’m a fellow NYer like you! Great read – Thanks!


6 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Oh, I wish you would have! It is hard to put ourselves out there like that, isn’t it? I had many similar moments and then I’d get distracted by someone else who was nearby and look up and the other person was gone. Hopefully we can connect more in a local meet up. :)


7 Heather aka HoJo July 17, 2014 at 12:12 am

This is the perfect post! Last year at the Vegas blogger meet-up, I was fortunate to make some great friends that I have stayed in touch with this year both online and then again in person. This year, I realized that I mostly hung out with them. Yes, I ventured outside my “pond” and introduced myself to others, but I’m not sure they were truly quality interactions. For that I completely blame myself. I was so overwhelmed (in a good way!) by the sheer number of people that I “knew” from online, that I wasn’t even sure where to start.

Going forward, I need to work with people of various sized “ponds” to ensure I am helping some people start, keep others moving steadily along, AND helping yet others reach even higher places. It’s not an easy balance, and I know I’m going to struggle with it. However, by recognizing it’s something I need to focus on, I will do better at it!

Thank you for helping me find the words for something I have been reflecting on all week!


8 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 7:07 pm

Thanks for sharing your reflections, Heather! It was so nice to finally meet you!

Honestly, I don’t think I had many quality conversations, period, at the TPT conference. I did at ISTE because it was longer and I sought out the same 10-15 people many times in different contexts. At TpT, I felt like I was trying to spend quality time with several hundred people and that’s just not possible.

Next year, the conference will be 2 days and that will help a lot. Also, we will have already met more people in person, so hopefully we can take the conversations to a deeper level. I almost need like a speed networking event, like 10 minutes to talk to the first person, switch, 10 minutes for the next person, switch…LOL! Those one-on-ones are very valuable for me.


9 Addie Williams July 17, 2014 at 2:15 am

Wow… you so perfectly captured my experience at the TpT Conference! We’re all fish in the same TpT pond and it was hard to stay afloat sometimes in the waves of people that seemed to flow in and around me at the events. I did tend to “school together” with people I knew better than others… but when I did dip my toes into other “ponds” I was always welcomed. In fact, overwhelmingly everyone I met, whether they were a “big fish” or a “small fish” was friendly and welcoming.

And… yes… you are a “big fish” to me and I was thrilled to meet you and chat over a breakfast.

Thanks for this post!



10 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Addie, I’m so glad we had some slower, quiet moments that last morning to talk a little more!

You bring up a great point–every time I, too, swam over to other ponds, I was welcomed. Even if we had had no contact online and they had no idea who I was, everyone was so, so nice. I really appreciated that and honestly didn’t expect it. I did not sense cliques at TpT at all, only people “schooling together” as you said, because they knew each other a little better…but newcomers were always, always welcome. That was such a good feeling and left me with an even better impression of TpT. :)


11 Molly - Classroom Confections July 17, 2014 at 10:51 am

It was great to meet you Angela. Love the fish analogy. I felt like a little fish but not in a pond. I felt like a fish that someone had tossed in an ocean. Actually, at one point I felt like a fish in an ocean with a broken fin who was about to sink. LOL. I learned a lot about me at the conference. On the night of the meet/greet, I left my name tag in my room, and by the time I went to my room, got it and walked back, the meet/greet session was packed. It was 800 people I didn’t know. I got this lump in my tummy and headed back to my room to not return. Luckily I had a change in heart and turned back around, but I felt like I wanted to take the fastest flight back to Atlanta. I’m not going to lie. The next few days were actually a bit like that too. I am normally an outgoing person when among co-workers, friends, etc. I have taught college level classes, been to conferences (always work related and with friends), worked with lots of people I don’t know, etc. This was a bit different though, as not only was I among people I had never met, but I was on the other side of the country in an unfamiliar setting. For me, it was a bit overwhelming. The positive is that hopefully by the next conference by ‘broken fin’ feeling will have mended and I will feel like I can stay above water. I won’t feel like I need to run back to my room or jet back to Atlanta. It was a great experience, one I would not change, one I am so glad I was involved in. I learned so much, met so many great people, and hopefully by the next one I will go in feeling more like a rainbow fish. :-) Enjoyed your post! ~Molly


12 Angela Watson July 17, 2014 at 7:14 pm

Hey, Molly! I was glad to have met with you, too, even though we didn’t get to talk much beyond surface conversations. Guess that’s what FB is for! :)

I can relate to feeling totally overwhelmed. The Vegas location added to that for me. Even though I barely left the building for 3 days, I never figured out my way around. I was constantly disoriented about where I was, and completely overstimulated with all the non-conference people, lights, noise, safety issues (avoiding the drunk people stumbling back to their hotel rooms at 6 am when I was going to the conference, for example) and so on. I have never been to a Vegas conference before and that was…intense, to say the least.

I know it’s not practical or probably even very fun, but the ideal for me would be to meet at a retreat out in the mountains someplace where there are no distractions and no one around but people I’m there to see, and we can step outside at any moment for fresh air and some quiet.

I LOVE your “rainbow fish” analogy! Yes! That is perfect!


13 Katie July 17, 2014 at 10:21 pm

This is SO SO SO true! You are a big fish in all of our hearts!


14 Angela Watson July 19, 2014 at 8:03 pm

That’s very sweet, Katie, I appreciate it! I suppose it all depends on the size of the pond, though! I have been in MANY, many ponds these last few weeks in which I was the little guy. It is so interesting and also helpful to experience both sides of the spectrum.


15 Adrianne Meldrum July 17, 2014 at 11:27 pm

I felt the same way and had a few moments when I felt like no one would recognize me only to find out they did! I also sat next to some gals I had never met before at the keynote and became fast friends with them. I love that!! Totally unique experience and I think I know what I would do differently and what I would keep the same. Thanks Angela!


16 Angela Watson July 19, 2014 at 8:05 pm

I have so many ideas for next year, too. There are so many things I would do differently. There were several hours on Thursday when I was completely alone and knew no one, and then there were other hours where I was surrounded by hundreds of people I knew to some degree and couldn’t even get to them all. I need to plan my time better!


17 Dani B July 19, 2014 at 5:27 pm

Thanks for such an open, honest post, Angela. Really got me thinking.


18 Angela Watson July 19, 2014 at 8:02 pm

Thank you, Dani, I appreciate that! I’d love to read your thoughts about this on your blog, once you get your ideas together. :)


19 Miss Night July 19, 2014 at 5:38 pm

What serendipitous timing. I wrote my own, very similar, post, just a week or so ago. I even used a fish metaphor! I think that the challenges of some of these big conferences is going to start being HOW to attract fish from other ponds. A conference full of people who all think the same way doesn’t produce the same kind of learning and growth as one where there are people with a variety of perspectives…. On the flip side, I think that debate and differences of opinion are VERY uncomfortable for many educators, and so we swim furiously back to our own ponds when we bump into other schools. Here is the link to my post; I would love for you to read it:


20 Angela Watson July 19, 2014 at 8:01 pm

Are you my long-lost twin? Do we share a brain? How have we not had any interaction before? Talk about separate ponds…I’m going to take a wild guess…you found me via Matt Gomez on Twitter, right? He seems like the kinda kindergarten teacher who would be friends with a kindergarten teacher like you. :)

I have so many things to say in response to your post, I’m going to just say them there. Thank you so much for bringing my attention to your post.


21 Miss Night July 20, 2014 at 1:19 am

Yes, our friend in common is indeed Matt Gomez. He is my kindertwin, and we often joke that WE share a brain! Thank you so much for your comment on my post. I’m working really hard to bridge the gaps between my world and that of the teachers I described. It’s not easy, this relationship-building business, but I am so glad when I find others who also see why it is important. I feel like we have to be brave and say the things that are scary to say, so that we can find one another. Please keep visiting my site – I’ve got more up my sleeve!


22 Lisa August 7, 2014 at 12:46 pm

Your post reminded me of how a new teacher feels when first entering their school site. It’s exciting but also a scary pond to be in at the same time. Do our “schools” do a good enough job of welcoming the new little fish into the big pond of the monolith that is the public school structure? I’d have to say no. So… your message is important to all of us on so many levels. We have to do better.
Thanks for your constant inspiration!


23 Julie July 13, 2015 at 2:39 pm

So glad I found your blog!!


24 Angela Watson July 17, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Welcome! Thanks for taking the time to comment.


{ 3 trackbacks }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: