A Fun & Valuable Way to Meet with Peers

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We teachers spend far too much time in our own classrooms, dealing with our own students, and planning our own lessons.  Thank goodness for the staff room where we can socialize a bit and come together with our peers.  But what if your peers are on-line and miles away?  Getting together would be a valued event and a special time to really connect.  How do we make that happen?  What would the time be about?

Well, I am currently in the process of planning a gathering of fellow teacher “edupreneurs” that are dispersed throughout my state.  We communicate on-line, and once a year at our national conference if we can all attend. But outside of that, we work independently.  Over the past 3 years, we’ve also chosen to come together once or twice a year in the spring and/or fall to connect, collaborate, and communicate.  It’s a great time for networking, laughter, and sharing of information.  We look forward to it every year.

In the past, my colleagues at 2 Literacy Teachers (http://2literacyteachers.blogspot.com/ ) have planned and organized the spring event.  They always made it a fun and valuable time.  I am hoping to fill their shoes just a little bit this year.  I know that many are coming from more than an hour away, so I want the time to be worthwhile for them all.  That places a lot on my shoulders.  I guess it’s a good thing that my job as an instructional coach requires me to plan and facilitate professional development days.  It makes the planning a bit easier.  But most of all, I thank God for contributors and helpers!

The first thing I needed to do was to determine a place to hold the event.  We’ve held the spring event at a couple of restaurants, and a fall event at one of our colleague’s home.  It was time for a new spot.  Let me just say that it was a huge challenge.  Trying to find a restaurant that could serve a large group of 12+ people , with a separate space so that we weren’t in the middle of the hubbub of the place, and that would let us chose from their menu instead of providing catering, was all in the needs.

I searched the web and sent emails to many places.  Most either wouldn’t reserve a space like that on a Saturday or they wanted to provide us with a menu of a catered meal.  I was warned that this was going to be the challenge, and they were right.  I eventually took to Yelp and looked at restaurants in the areas that might work best.  I refined the search by only looking at those that were suited for large groups.  After over several weeks of searching, I finally found a place!  It’s in a regional mall and I’ve heard good things.  The manager said they could let us individually choose from their menu.  The pictures look like it’s not a very big place, so if we have as many people as I hope we will, then maybe we will just fill up the place.  If it doesn’t work out well, then at least we can go shopping. LOL

Once I reserved the restaurant, I created an event invite on Facebook, and then followed it with posting on Instagram.  Next, I sent out emails to all the folks that we have email addresses for; inviting them to attend.  Within a very short time, I had people sending their RSVP’s.  While some still have not answered, we still have time before the event.  Besides, there’s always those that show up without responding and that is okay.  I plan for that.

At every meet-up we collect email addresses to share.  So, one of the things that I needed to create was a sign-in form that will gather names, business names, emails, or other contact information.  Since it’s our spring event, I used a floral theme.  After the event, I’ll send the contact information to everyone.  This will help us to stay in touch, share resources, collaborate, and possibly participate in Mastermind groups; not to mention following each other on social media.

Once the connection form was created, I turned my attention to door prizes.  Now, I don’t know if other meet-ups do that, but we do and everyone loves it.  Last year I won a large amount of clip art from Teaching in the Tongass.  (https://www.teachinginthetongass.com/ )    I love her work.  That inspired me to seek out other clip artist to see if they might be open to providing clip art for our door prizes.  (You might want to look for door prizes that fit the needs of your peers.)

You see, much of what this group does is to create teaching resources for other teachers around the world.  Clip art is a staple to our creations.

So, I sent a friendly question to several clip artists that I love and to some that are just getting started.  Not only did I want to provide useful prizes, but I wanted to support other edupreneurs, especially those that are fresh into the work.  This type of collaboration is a nice marketing tool for them.  When someone wins clip art, especially from an artist they may not have heard of, it causes them to go to the website and check out the products.  Hopefully, they will come back and make more purchases in the future.

To my delight and surprise, nearly everyone that I requested a gift from has said. “Sure!”  It’s exciting to be able to share this with those at the meet-up.  At this rate, everyone will walk away with some clip art!  If we have more people than I expect, that’s okay, because I have other prizes too.  In fact, today, someone offered to provide a new personal laminator as a door prize!  What a treat!

“But how will they win?” you might ask.  Well, I’m creating some lottery scratch tickets.  Each one will have a designation of what they will win.  Since I can’t fit all the contact and store information on one ticket, I or the clip artist, have created coupons or certificates to provide the needed information so that the winner may receive their clip art via email.  I’m also providing a full list of contributors.  Once the person scratches off the lottery covering, it will reveal what they have won.  Following that, I will provide them with the certificate or coupon.  It will then be up to them to contact the provider.  I will, however, let each contributor know the name of the person who has won their item/s so that they know who to look for and to verify that they have the right person.  Some contributors have even used a verification code that will be on the certificate and that the winner will provide to them when they first communicate.  I could have just collected business cards from each person and draw from a hat, or I could purchase carnival style raffle tickets and draw from those.  Another idea was to tape the winning certificate to the bottom of the chairs and where they sit is what they win.  These are just a few ideas.  But I wanted to be a bit more creative.

I found the directions for creating homemade scratch tickets on the web.  Here is link to a YouTube video demonstrating how to make the tickets.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0xDwDYC4Hw.   It shows the creator using packing tape.  I used contact paper and it worked just as well.

As I mentioned above, I’m very grateful for those who are helping me.  One is a friend who is making each person a key chain that represents the spring event and our future convention.  She is putting in her own time and money for this and I truly appreciate it.  Last year, 2 Literacy Teachers provided everyone with a souvenir that was a specially bracelet made for us.  The year before, it was a special cup for each person.  Again, I don’t know if other meet-ups do this, but it’s these types of things that make it special.  Other ideas for souvenirs are various types of jewelry, personalized candies, mini-buckets full of office supplies or other items to fit the group’s theme, seeds to plant, pens, cookies, bookmarks, and a myriad of other ideas.  Just look on Pinterest, and I’m sure you’ll find all the ideas you could want.

After all the key chains are made, I’ll place them in special bags that will be placed at the table setting of each person in attendance.  Inside the bag will not only be the lottery scratch ticket, but there will be some magnets that I made. (See my blog post about “Stoned Teachers” https://teacherskeeper.org/?s=magnets&submit=Search )  In addition, each bag will have a $5.00 certificate for free clip art provided by Jessie Miller at Pigknit.  https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Pigknit-Clip-Art

In the past, we’ve been able to decorate the space a bit, but only when we had a private room.  It’s my understanding that this year we won’t have a private room at the restaurant, but semi-private section of the restaurant’s main space.  So, I’m not investing a lot in décor’.  I did want to have a way for all attendees to recognize our group and our space, so I purchased a decorative chalk board and stand.  I will write a simple welcome on it and place it at the table. I can easily use this chalkboard in my daily work too, so it’s a win-win for me.

This year, I want to have more of a purpose than having brief introductions at the beginning, eating together, and simply sharing with the people nearest our own seats.   I’m thinking of having each person share a tip for improving our skills and business.  I’ll take notes, publish them, and send them out to everyone along with the emails.  I’d like to have a mini-PD (about 15 minutes) about a single topic, but I’m not sure what learning is most needed.  Perhaps I’ll save that for next year.  I’ll definitely ask everyone to see if that is even something that they’d like to have happen.

Throughout the whole event, we’ll definitely be taking lots of pictures.  That includes taking a group picture.  We’ll be posting on social media and saving for our own memories.  It is a special and fun time and we all want to share that fun with others.  If it weren’t for events like this, I wouldn’t have nearly as many social media outlets. LOL.  This time of getting together is valuable and definitely worth the time it takes to plan it all.  We’ll laugh, collaborate, share, take pictures, eat, and grow our friendships.  Those are things that all teachers need.  When we can come together in supportive ways, we make for better people, and better teachers.

I don’t know if you have colleagues or teaching friends that are spread around; too far to see daily.  But planning a meet-up at least once a year is something I suggest that you give a try.  It’s a lot of work, but with contributors and helpers the job will be much easier.  Just ask your people, “How about we get together sometime?”