Lydia DobynsIt’s been said that we come to beginnings only at the end. And as the Beatles song says — that’s something of a family tradition for me. In my family, we rarely say “goodbye”. We always say “hello.”This is also the way I think about the recent New Tech Annual Conference (NTAC). The powerful connections and deep learning that took place during that week in July didn’t end when the conference concluded. The end was really the beginning of so much more.More than 1,200 teachers, principals, superintendents, alumni and students from the 120 New Tech Network schools attended this year’s NTAC. All of them had the same mission – to increase the impact we have on the lives of our students and to support them to be ready for college, career and beyond. The conference provided a great time for reflection, to think about where our Network has come and where we are headed. Our week in Grand Rapids was intellectually stimulating, emotionally moving and absolutely FUN!Educators shared effective teaching and leadership strategies, celebrated successes and strengthened the New Tech community. Innovative and creative ideas permeated the conference. Spending time with fellow educators, away from the daily school routine, is a wonderful way to get a new lease on your professional life.Dennis Littky, along with two students, opened the conference. I would also like to give a special ‘thank you’ to my co-stars for the opening Echo skit. I always appreciate good sports willing to face personal humiliation in the name of entertainment!We held the NTAC Awards Luncheon on Wednesday, July 18th. Certified teachers, trainers and school demonstration sites were honored. This year, Mansoureh Tehrani, Director of METSA in Carrollton, Texas, received the Susan Schilling Award for her outstanding efforts to ensure that every student is college and career ready.The Chad P. Wick Award for Social Justice was given to the Los Angeles School of Global Studies for success in closing the achievement gap for underserved students. The Best in Network Award was presented to Da Vinci Charter Academy for a compelling project entitled “America at War.” The awards session wrapped with the screening of the NTN Video Challenge Award, presented to Savannah Barber and Amanda Amick from Scottsburg New Tech High School. Their video, “A New Tech Revolution,” was the perfect way to end the NTAC Awards luncheon.Of course, the major focus of the conference was the dozens of sessions on effective Project Based Learning (PBL), Deeper Learning for students and leadership development. Check out the Echo collection NTAC 2012 for resources. Watch interviews from NTAC Live featuring attendees, alumni and students.The conference concluded with inspiring and thought-provoking ignite style talks by teachers, a director and staff. I am energized just thinking about what it was like to see the 10 back-to-back five-minute talks. There is a playlist of all the ignite talks at our conference resource page on the NTN website.And the ‘networking’ has not stopped! Many participants have volunteered to blog for the Network and directors have expressed interest in increasing community visibility for their schools. Social media activity spiked during NTAC and continues with burgeoning mentorships and collaboration taking place on Twitter and Facebook.The conference was also a catalyst for Network-wide activities. A NewTechx project is in the works with six schools. Built on the concept that everyone has a passion and why not share it, this new project will offer students a venue to share what inspires them.One of the ignite talks from a teacher in Indiana ended with a call to action for a network-wide project that immediately launched. To date, more than 20 schools have indicated interest in participating in this project focused on students discovering the difference between fact and opinion in our media. In addition, the project will galvanize students to take an interest in the upcoming Presidential election by enabling them to see how politics can be a vehicle for social change. For more information, take a look at #myparty12 in Echo.More than ever, this year’s annual conference provided a platform to experience the richness, breadth and depth now emerging as the “real” power of the Network. This Network enables us to reach out and experience partnership, mentorship and yes, even friendship in service of students. We are fortunate to have each other.

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