We are reaching 32,000 feet on a beautiful fall morning. All of the elements of a perfect take-off are falling into place. The usual words come to mind in describing this event: picture-perfect…blue sky…smiling, well-coiffed flight attendants…passengers sedately arrayed in ear buds and magazines.
In the midst of this tranquility, one of my hands is becoming one with the arm rest in a furious death grip. The other hand is squeezing Natalie’s hand. She is my travel companion and #EdBeat Collaborator. I look out and see the horizon angling upward. Terror seizes me. I must look like the paranoid character William Shatner portrayed in that “Twilight Zone” Episode entitled “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” The Xanax I took before take-off has not started to work.
Natalie smiles at me as I tell her, “I’m really doing this.”
“Why don’t look at your letters now?” my travel companion says.
Natalie gently urges me to look out the window and read letters from an eclectic collection of individuals. I have only met one of these individuals in person. Grudgingly, I follow the advice of my friend and began reading.
Then, I realize this: I’m Ringo Starr.
In the immediate aftermath of The Beatles Break-Up, Ringo Starr relied heavily upon the other three former members of the band to assist him with songwriting and production duties. Ringo had a unique way of building a collaborative team with a diverse array of superstar musician talent for his solo records. A Ringo Starr Solo Session in those days was truly a Who’s Who of Rock Cognoscenti. Musicians like Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman all shared their musical gifts on some of Ringo’s solo records. Having the talent and support of John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison also enhanced Mr. Starr’s solo efforts.
This support of the former Beatle Drummer’s solo career culminated in the 1973 album simply titled, “Ringo.” The album is Ringo’s masterpiece and served as the closest thing to a Beatles Reunion for the Fab Four. All four Beatles appear on the album albeit not together. The album exudes an atmosphere of camaraderie. John, Paul and George contributed various songs to Ringo’s effort as a way to look after their musical brother. They put aside the bitterness of their collaborative Beatle Break-Up to forge a new musical template of support for their loyal percussionist. One song on the album features John, George and Ringo playing together. “Ringo” defines itself as a kind of musical brotherhood that culminated in it being a hit record.
For the last sixteen years, I have avoided getting on an airplane. I have always been an uneasy flight passenger. As my responsibilities as an educator and school leader increased, I found ways to avoid air travel. Staying close to the ground was my companion. The missed opportunities of going to conferences or visiting family and friends became a convenient default. This has caused me much personal anguish. I have been grateful for the quiet support and tolerance of my family but I also feel like I have held others back with this fear.
Enter EdCamp Tampa Bay. I am not sure how my agreement to visit this event occurred. It may have been an early morning Tweeting binge. Maybe, I was half awake and I allowed my subconscious brain to take the wheel of my decision-making process. It may be the deep respect and admiration I have for a Professional Learning Network or PLN Collaborator, Jen Williams. (@JenWilliamsEdu). Jen was one of the co-organizers for #EdCampTampaBay. Her invitation was one of the most sincere I have received to an event and I accepted. I wanted to attend to support my friend and her passion project.
As a way to face my fear, I decided to use the trip to Tampa Bay to my personal advantage. I wanted to kill this fear of flying for all of eternity. I agreed to attend and then proceeded to be transparent and communicative about my fear of flying whenever the occasion presented itself.
I have been fortunate to connect with many inspiring educators and individuals through Twitter. It has been a blessing to collaborate with the likes of so many individuals in an environment of collaboration, support and creative risk-taking. The collaboration has led me to venture into Twitter Chats like #Leadupnow. It has also given me creative outlets in the weekly Twitter Chat I co-host with Natalie Krayenvenger (@NKrayenvenger) known as #EdBeat.
In the midst of invitations to EdCamp Tampa Bay, Natalie volunteered to fly down with me. I was completely overwhelmed by this gesture of friendship and support. Natalie meant every word of this. She held me accountable to book plane tickets and encouraged me during my pre-flight panic. Seeing her at the airport after months of our virtual collaboration demonstrated to me the true nature of friendship. The image still resonates.
Prior to that event, Jen Williams had secretly arranged for various mutual friends in our Twitter PLN to write personal letters of encouragement to me as I faced the dread of flying. The purpose was to serve as inspirational fuel for me for both legs of the flight. Again, I was overwhelmed by altruism by my friend.
Sitting on that airplane after a sixteen-year fearful absence from the stratosphere, I felt like Jimmy Stewart at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In fact, I may have said that to Natalie during my tears of realization and appreciation for my friends. Still, I kept coming back to Ringo. I imagined what he felt like sitting in the studio with “All-Starr” Friends cutting tracks and making hits like “Photograph” and “It Don’t Come Easy.” I have a PLN of superstar friends willing to demonstrate sympathetic support. Facing this fear, I am excited at the prospect of future adventures. I am anxious to scratch the surface of the stratosphere again with family and friends.
The experience at EdCamp Tampa Bay was one of the most rewarding educational experiences I had in my career. Being surrounded with so many #EduHeroes proved to be an inspirational event. Jen and her team led such an upbeat event. The kinship and support fueled me to be brave for the solo flight home. (Natalie was heading to another conference afterwards.)
A PLN serves many purposes. There are many eloquent definitions and examples out there. I cannot measure against those wonderfully wrought explanations for the purpose of a Professional Learning Network. A PLN is a solid resource for educators to share ideas and resources. I have benefited from these communications as an educator and lead learner. PLN is truly game-changing professional development.
That definition has evolved for me. I have a superstar line-up of friendships supporting me like Ringo Starr was on his 1973 solo album. Where else can I find a group of individuals like Natalie and Jen who helped me overcome a fear of flying and arranged others to assist in the team effort? I wish I could create a new acronym for PLN aligned with said letters. Unfortunately, I am bereft of a witty alignment of those letters. All I have now is that a PLN means friendship.