Every time I go to a conference, I say that the best part was connecting with the people I admire, learn from, and care about. I think that was ten times as true for the first TeachersPayTeachers conference held last Friday in Las Vegas.
These are the ladies (and a few gents) that I connect with more than any other in my daily life. Sometimes it’s done through the TeachersPayTeachers seller forums, but most of it happens in our collaborative groups on Facebook. There are huge groups with hundreds of sellers, and smaller groups targeted toward particular grade levels and niches. Most of us belong to multiple groups.
Much of what we share in these groups isn’t work-related at all. We talk about weddings and births, divorces and the death of loved ones. We offer encouragement and prayers during rough times and on more than one occasion, we have banded together to take up donations for other sellers.
We’ve arranged small meet-ups in our own little corners of the world and try to seek each other out when we travel, but for the most part, we have never met in person. These friends know more about me than most of the people in my own community, and we’ve never seen each other face to face…until last weekend.
Critics of TeachersPayTeachers often argue that educators should be sharing with each other freely and helping each other out. They have no idea how much of that very work goes on behind the scenes. Almost every product my friends and I have put on TpT has been brainstormed, edited and proofread, and even classroom tested by other sellers. We then share each other’s creations on Pinterest and Facebook and within our own schools…anywhere we think the product can help improve teaching and learning. That same spirit of collaboration was so evident at the TpT conference. Each session of the conference was presented by a TpT seller who was sharing his or her secrets of success with the people who are technically competitors.
There was a warmth and energy in our gatherings that I’ve never seen at another conference, and I think that’s due to two factors. Firstly, most attendees had already forged strong connections online, so just about everyone knew at least one other seller. A lovely teacher from Spain traveled by herself for the sole purpose of this conference: she shared that in the seller forums and everyone rallied around her to make sure she felt included and was never alone during the weekend.
Secondly, each one of us truly wanted to be at the conference and had paid our own way to make that happen. There were no reluctant attendees forced to attend by principals or just trying to rack up continuing education credits. Each person was passionate about and invested in the purpose of the conference, and that made the conversations even more valuable.
One of the highlights of the conference was meeting Paul Edelman, the former New York City teacher who founded TeachersPayTeachers after looking for a way to sell his own resources as a supplement to his teaching salary. I have noticed a fierce loyalty to Paul from the longtime TpT sellers and quite honestly never understood. I figured he was a typical CEO and pretty far removed from the individual sellers on the site.
At the opening keynote, I finally understood why an #edelmaniacs hashtag exists on Instagram. Paul (pictured below) teared up as he shared how proud he was of our success and the way we have used TpT to offer tremendous and largely untapped value directly to our colleagues. He teared up again at final event of the day when he was presented with a beautiful canvas that we sellers paid to have designed for him by one of our own.
We were also able to meet many of TpT’s 32 staff members, some of whom work in the NYC headquarters, but many of whom work remotely and had never met each other, either! Every one of them was as equally kind-hearted and friendly as Paul. Amy, the Community Manager for TpT, has always seemed to know each one of us individually but I assumed that was just another of her super talents with customer service and seller relations. Nope. It was clear as she hugged and connected with us between sessions that she really does know and care about each seller. It was pretty mind-blowing.
I wish that more people outside of the TpT world understood what a tremendously empowering company TeachersPayTeachers is for educators. I’m going to share a post later in the week with some thoughts on bridging the divide between various education circles on social media, because this has been on my heart a lot lately, especially since ISTE.
I would also love to see people at other education conferences as plugged in as we were at TpT. Making those connections online BEFORE the conference is essential to making connections AT the conference! The Twitter stream, Facebook, and Instagram have been full of great stories and info, and there will be dozens upon dozens of people (far more than at a typical education conference) blogging session recaps and takeaways afterwards.
If you’ve never checked out TeachersPayTeachers for yourself, I really encourage you to use the site to find, sell, and share materials that work in your classroom. Any money you spend purchasing materials is going directly to the TpT family: a teacher who created the resource and a company that supports and empowers teachers to run their own entrepreneurial businesses.
And if you’re already a seller? This is for you: