Road Tripping, Connections, and Community

On top of Rattlesnake Ledge in the Cascades
On top of Rattlesnake Ledge in the Cascades

I just finished a two-week road trip, where I saw special people in my life — my daughter — first time I’ve visited her in her new city; a pastor/mentor who married my husband and me and his sweet wife; a nephew and his wonderful bride and young son; and twelve members of my online professional learning network, including two spouses.

It was amazing to me how community happened so quickly when I was with these friends and family. I thought it was interesting, though, of all the people above — 20 are listed — only three of them had I previously met face-to-face.

As a result of that observation, I’ve had many thoughts about connections and community.


1980 "Cruise"

Yesterday, when we drove by the turnoff for Kalispell, Montana, I thought of a young woman from that town. I had connected with her and other new friends on a ferry ride through the inside passage of Alaska over 30 years ago. We had an amazing time with this little group of twenty-somethings from Rhode Island, Montana, and California, connecting as young people have always done. We shared meals, slept under the stars on the deck of the ship, took pictures, played games, and shared rich conversation for hours. They even had a birthday party for me with a candle on a slice of banana bread. After three glorious days on our poor man cruise ship, we said goodbye and parted ways. I believe we did exchange addresses, but we were young and transient, and the connections were lost.

Then I thought of fast-forwarding that experience thirty years. If my children took that same ferry boat ride, they would spend three days doing the same things we did. However, they would also make online connections, following each other on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or the social-medium-du-jour before the ferry traveled very far down the passage. Then, when they said goodbye, if they so chose, they would be able to maintain and even grow those relationships at the click of a button.

These last two weeks have confirmed what I believe about online connections. Contrary to the opinion of some, the Internet does not ruin real relationships, for me it is bringing me closer to people.

Gallit & Hugh

I had butterflies in my stomach just before we arrived. I began giving my daughter and husband a little background about Gallit’s and my friendship. I reminded them about how I had come to know her. I think my family was nervous because they didn’t have the benefit of knowing Gallit for two years in online collaboration, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Open Spokes, Genius Hour, and so much more.

As soon as we walked into their beautiful home, Gallit and Johnny made us feel like friends. The butterflies went away, and the friendship and laughter took over. They were amazing hosts!

Gallit, Denise, and Hugh

The next day I got to go with Gallit to her Grade 6/7 room at Georges Vanier Elementary School. The staff was amazing. I met Gallit’s teaching partner, Hugh McDonald, in the office. Hugh is one of the very first people I started connecting with on Twitter. Their 48 students, though dangerously close to a summer break, were engaged, polite, creative, and fun to be around. They were amazing!

It was a great day to visit, as two students completed their genius hour project before school by “making peoples’ day.” Simran, Blea, and a dozen classmates held up signs that made many people smile, laugh, and honk their horns. It was definitely a great start to my day. Watch more here:

I also learned about Nigeria from a student who was doing his genius hour presentation, watched a math lesson, and enjoyed (and added to) the pandemonium of students finishing the task of taking ten digital photographs for fine arts.

The best part of the morning was seeing the students and teachers interact. Hugh and Gallit are co-learners with their students. Children and teachers can make mistakes together in this safe place. Students were trusted to make good learning choices, and they did. It was a delightful place to be.

Did you know Hugh and Gallit teach their grade 6/7 students every subject except music and French? That is, they teach ALL content areas, P.E., technology, AND fine arts. Maybe more. Amazing! They get two prep periods in a week — 100 minutes total. Those were just a couple of the differences I noticed. (I may have to write another blog post about that!)

Another delight was watching the principal, Antonio Vendramin, interact with students and staff. The first thing in the morning, he was out directing traffic and supervising the crosswalk. Then he took photos for Hugh and RT’ed about the “Honk If You Love Someone” event.

Later he was photographing all the Grade 7’s for their graduation ceremony slide show. Then I saw him in the hallway reading with a small circle of young learners. After school he was again on duty in the crosswalk as students were picked up. Next, he helped a teacher tape her portion for a music video the staff was making. I was not even there all day, but I saw so many hands-on interactions with parents, staff, and children. He is great.


When I drove down the road after lunch (borrowing Gallit’s car) to Robyn’s school, I went right to the office, but I couldn’t help but notice Robyn, pretty in pink, standing near the doorway of her classroom. She came out and gave me a big hug. No need for introductions. We were already friends–just hadn’t seen each other in person yet.

I had a great afternoon learning from Robyn and her amazing grade 3 and 4s. They went outside to read some good books, played Yahtzee, Skyped with author Howard Binkow, responded to comments from Mr. Binkow on their blogs, enjoyed a surprise–the video they made was featured on #92 Wonderopolis–and more. They are amazing kids!


A dozen educators met up after school at Big Ridge in Surrey. I met all of  these folks for the first time this week. What fun to meet people I have been tweeting with, following their classrooms, reading their blogs, vlogging with, and more! Karen, Valerie, Antonio, Hugh, Tia, Jas, Robyn, Anne-Marie, Jodi, Linda, and Gallit all work in School District 36 in Surrey, British Columbia. With over 5,000 teachers and 120 schools, you may not be surprised to learn that some of them were actually meeting face-to-face for the first time too.



We drove up to one of my favorite poet’s house in the rain. Below the dam, behind the Chevron, past the green building, blue house on the corner, and there was Sheri, tiptoeing through the rain and wet grass to greet us.

She took us on a tour of her community, her school, her inspiring classroom, and the giant dam practically in her front yard.

Scott and Sheri fed and lodged us. They fed us some more. More food, but, perhaps even better, they fed us with beautiful conversation and artistic eyefuls around their lovely home. It was great to finally see my friend in person.

As we drove back to Iowa, Keith and I couldn’t help but reflect on the rich times we had with so many people. Not only did we get to spend time with our daughter, a significant mentor, and a nephew and his family, but we connected in community with wonderful people who we never would have known without Internet connections.

I am better because of my connections.

16 thoughts on “Road Tripping, Connections, and Community

  1. I loved reading your post so I could revisit your journey and learn from the other fantastic educators of the #geniushour cohort! We connected, learned, created, shared, and now have met f2f. And through this blog we meet and share again. Connected learners make the world go ’round, and transform education one connection at a time.

    It was such a confirmation to finally meet; I remember the excitement and sheer joy as I was “tiptoeing through the rain and wet grass” to actually converse in person with you (after big hugs, of course). It was so nice to have time to just to share a meal with you and Keith, talking away like old friends.

    Thank you for making this journey to visit all of us!

    Now, to plan our next presentation…. open a Google docs, and ….

    1. Sheri,
      You are a gem! Like you, I was so excited to run across your yard and give you a hug! It was great timing for me to finally meet you. Our conversations for the past two years were real, and our friendship just grew being with you face-to-face. Thank you!

  2. Denise,
    This post resonates with me. “I am the teacher I am because of the relationships I have developed.” ~Dave Burgess, Teach Like a Pirate. I’d just read that sentence 1 or 2 days ago, and I know it to be true. But I know it a bit differently, too – I am the PERSON I am because of these relationships.

    Thank you for being YOU online. Thank you for opening up and sharing your heart, your learning, your ideas, and your encouragement. I am so happy for you that you were able to take this journey and meet such wonderful people who have helped make you – YOU!

    1. Joy,
      Thank you so much for sharing yourself with the world! You are an amazing helper to so many people. I love how you listen through Twitter to others’ needs. Then you meet their needs with just the right comment, tweet, quote or resource. I am a better person and teacher because of you.

      Thank you,

  3. Denise,
    Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Isn’t it mind-blowing that you can be a member of an online community but yet know these people at such a deep level? That’s what my annual ISTE trek is for me. My new principal let me know I could buy anything at the EXPO and he would cover the expense; my comment to my friends was “but I’d want to bring home the people.” There is nothing that can compare to the connections we all have made and no one can take them from us. They are ours, we own them, and I don’t think we’d want it any other way.
    I am so happy for you, have you ever considered writing a book about your experiences? I think it would be great.

    1. JoAnn,
      I love that story. Not only the part that your new principal respects and trusts you so much to say that about buying anything, but especially the part about the friends. You are so right. The relationships are real, and in our own communities, limited. However, because of the connections online, we can have friends and colleagues around the world.

      Thanks for being part of my tribe,

  4. Oh Denise! I have read through this a few times now because I just LOVE reliving the memories!!! I am so happy that we got to meet in real life. Thank you so much for being an amazing part of my PLN, and an amazing friend too!

    Johnny and I just loved having you and your dear husband and daughter with us…we wish it had been for longer though, because spending time with y’all is so incredible!!

    Thank you Thank you Thank you…

    …for learning with me, inspiring me and for being YOU!

    Big hug!


    1. Gallit,
      And I have many times read through all these comments from Sheri, Joy, JoAnn, and you–dear colleagues and friends. I’m finally attempting to say thank you.

      I was so touched by our visit to Surrey. I’m still feeling a bit overwhelmed, I guess. I’m so proud of you and what you do for children in your community, and now how you will spread that for so many future children as you work with college students.

      Enjoy that reading this summer!


  5. Denise,

    Connecting and learning with you has been transformative for me. I was so excited to meet and talk with you face to face. You helped me see what Genius Hour could be for students. I refer to my friend in Iowa often when talking with students and colleagues about Genius Hour.

    My favorite story came from my sister whose 9 year old goes to school in a different district in British Columbia whose teacher introduced their class to Genius Hour this year. My sister picked her up at lunch time to take her to a doctor’s appointment. She then surprised her by saying after the appointment they were going to miss school for the afternoon to have some Mom & daughter time at her favorite place. My niece responded back by saying, “I want to go back to school, so I can work on my Genius Hour Project.”. My niece isn’t usually thrilled by school but is thrilled about learning. She doesn’t know much about my involvement in Genius Hour which made that statement even more powerful. Her motivation was to learn because it gave her autonomous time to explore something she was passionate about.

    Thank you so much for making the trek up to Surrey to visit us. I look forward to an opportunity where we can meet again. Perhaps in Iowa? I love traveling too! Until next time my friend!


    1. Hugh,
      I love your story about your niece! I told some of my college students tonight. We are doing genius hour in college. I figure if the future teachers can have a good genius hour experience, they will bring it to their children some day. I have one working on her future classroom, one on food and nutrition, one learning to play the guitar, one on freezer recipes, and another one crock pot recipes.

      Yes, I too look forward to the next time we meet!

      Thanks for the warm Surrey welcome from you and your students! I’ll never forget seeing you in the office that morning and the big hug I got! Honk if you are awesome!


  6. Denise,
    Thank you for this post and sharing your experiences as you visited us in the north. It was so great to meet you even for the short period of time we had.
    Connections and community – two words that need more focus in all our lives as these truly change how we live day to day. Both of these can be a focus whether we are face to face or across the Internet. This I have learned over the past year.
    I am looking forward to continuing to build our connections and expand our communities.

    1. Thanks, Anne-Marie,
      I so appreciated you coming to the tweetup. It was a joy to meet you. It’s funny the communities that we create with those around us who are learning the same things at the same time. We feel like we are in it together, don’t we?

      I look forward to helping students expand their connections and communities in the future. Thanks to you and your students for sharing your learning with the world.


    1. Thanks, Laura! I liked your questions, so I’m going to give it a try.


  7. What a wonderful trip. To finally put faces and voices and homes with those you’ve come to know online must have felt like the completion of a circle. You’re lucky to have such a cooperative family as well. I enjoyed reading this.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. Yes, it did feel like the completion of a circle of friendship. I now feel closer to those folks because of our face-to-face meeting. However,I still find it amazing to see how close people can become with just digital communication.

      Thanks for visiting,

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