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We are social beings. During the pandemic, connections changed because we had to self-isolate, wear masks, and physically distance ourselves even from our families. This isolation and imposed distancing caused personal distress and changed what a sense of belonging meant. After some thought about this, I wanted to consider how I discovered my purpose and felt a sense of belonging before and during the crisis. This is my story.
Renting Someone Else’s Story
When I was raising my children, I worked as a dental hygienist. It was a great job with good money. I loved my job because I was able to work part-time and be there for my children. Yet, I didn’t have that feeling I belonged. I went into the field because my guidance counselor told me I should apply to the new program at the school. I did and was accepted as one of the eighteen spots in the program. I applied because of her story for me. I was also proud of myself that I was accepted as one of 700 applicants. I look back and believe that path was necessary for me to grow. I learned more than how to clean teeth. I developed skills that involved improving communication, listening deeply using empathy, organizing how to finish each session on time, and much more.
I loved the people I worked with and had loyal patients who wanted to just see me. I felt fortunate for the positions I had in different practices, but something was missing.
I went back to school to become a dental hygiene instructor at the local college. As an instructor, I felt like I was really helping students to increase their skills and strategies to support their patients. I taught for four years and kept in touch with many of my students. I even worked with several students in one of the dental offices I worked at and saw how they outperformed me. I felt so proud of them.
A Computer Geek, that’s me!
When my children were toddlers, I joined a cooperative preschool where parents were required to participate. Two of the mothers I connected with then are still my good friends today, Jan Pearson and Sylvia Crilly. My children then went to the elementary school with the children they met at the preschool. It made sense for me to continue volunteering on my days off. I was asked to teach several after-school programs and earned an adult learning credential.
This was when personal computers were just coming out. I had to get one even though they were extremely expensive. I wanted to learn everything I could about that computer. I took it apart and put it back together again, several times. It was like I was opening a magical door that empowered me to learn more. When the school got several Apple IIe computers, the principal reached out to me to learn how to use them and teach others. I then purchased my own Apple IIe that had a 64k separate hard drive and floppy disk. It cost me $4,200. Yes, that’s how much they cost at that time, but nothing was going to stop me from learning that technology.
I was hired to teach the Gifted and Talented classes, adult computer classes, became a chapter leader for the NASA Young Astronauts, and more. The principal reached out to me to help create a computer lab. We found a large unused closet that had enough room and doors to make it work. We worked weekends and nights to clean it up and it worked. I don’t know if you remember the MECC programs, but I was excited about using Oregon Trail, Oh Deer, and Odell Lake. So did the kids. I created activities around those programs that expanded the curriculum to integrate all the subjects. I still have some of those activities in a closet somewhere.
Every day I worked with kids and teachers made me closer to my purpose. I felt like I belonged, yet I was conflicted because I didn’t want to give up my job as a hygienist.
Dental Flossing to Mental Flossing
One night, I tripped and fell off my deck that was under construction. I broke my leg and was in traction for 4 months. I also damaged my neck but wasn’t aware of how bad it was until I lost the feeling in the fingers in my hands. I couldn’t hold an instrument and didn’t want to hurt a patient. I ended up needing surgery to fuse three vertebrae in my neck.
As I recuperated, I realized I was still renting my counselor’s story for me instead of doing what I am passionate about. I didn’t want to let my patients down. After I healed, I believed it was time for me to live my life on purpose. Actually, I wasn’t confident that I could do hygiene anymore with my damaged hand. It was scary to start my life over at 40, but I loved teaching and pushing myself to learn more.
My age didn’t matter because the educators I met welcomed me with open arms. I was active with CUE (formerly Computer Using Educators) and was part of a cohort through CTAP (California Technology Assistance Project) to build my skills. I learned how to write and groom grants and supported schools across the SF bay area region. I also was part of grants to teach kids and teachers. I LOVED IT. I finally felt like I was getting closer to my purpose. Kids were excited about learning as we showcased the learning process and products. I went back to school again to acquire leadership skills and started meeting educators from all over California at CUE Conferences. I ended up teaching the clear credential course at several universities and presenting at multiple conferences.
Being a Connector
One CUE conference made me get it that I was a connector. I was walking down an intersection in an aisle when a librarian I knew showed up. We started talking. Another librarian I knew came up to me to say hi and didn’t know the other librarian. I introduced them. Then another librarian I knew walked up. I introduced her to the others. As they started talking, I saw the AHA moments jump from one librarian to the other. I walked away smiling.
I felt like this was my purpose: to connect people with similar passions, ideas, roles, etc. I started a group on YahooGroups (TechStaffDevelop) in the early 90s with over 400 educational technology geeks like me. We didn’t have pictures on our profiles then, yet the connections grew and blossomed. I was stretching my reach and decided to go to the ISTE (International Society of Technology in Education) conferences. At one of the early ISTE conferences, I was leaving my hotel in an elevator with another woman and we weren’t wearing our badges. She asked me where I was from and I said Oakland, California. She said, “I have a good friend from Oakland. Do you know Barbara Bray?” I answered with a big smile, “I’m Barbara.” She then said, “I’m Janice Friesen from Missouri.” We hugged and have been friends ever since.
Stories Connect All of Us
As part of several grants, I was asked to lead multiple projects to support teachers integrating technology across the curriculum. In 1993, I started a Women’s Ed Tech Consortium where we had retreats to connect and support each other. I remember the retreat in Asilomar that year with 20 of us including my good friends Julie Drake, Julie Duffield, and Cynthia Chandler. I’m fortunate that they are always there for me and I try to be there for them.
I helped write technology plans, visited schools all over the country and several other countries including the 1994 technology conference in Russia via CUE with Peter Hutcher and Michelle Parga. That was an amazing experience and the connections we made are all great memories!
In 1997, I was asked to co-write the technology coordinators column for CUE. In 2000, I was asked to run the professional development column and continued writing it until 2014. My first assignment was to get the stories from educators at ISTE in Atlanta, GA. I walked up to people I didn’t know and asked for their stories. I also asked people for names of people who inspire them and if they would connect me to them. I treasure that issue with 12 amazing stories and still have several of the connections I made then. I met one of my connections from those stories, Jay Cohen from WHYY Radio, later in Philadelphia in 2018. When we talked, it was like we had known each other all that time. I kept most of the past issues and read a few of the stories where I had interviewed different educators. The stories were good. The connections continue and made the stories memorable.
I realized then that I always loved the stories.
In 2017, I started the Rethinking Learning podcast to talk with inspirational thought leaders about their backstories, their why, and what they planned for the future. Many shared stories with me that they never told anyone before. I also made sure each podcast had a blog post that my guests helped me write to take each story deeper. The stories connected us.
The stories fueled my passion and led me to my purpose. I have made so many connections with awesome educators and plan to share other connections in more posts. There is one connection that took me on a great journey to belonging.
Connecting and Building a Sense of Belonging
In 2017, I was at the Digital Badge Summit before the ISTE Conference and sat down at a table where a woman was sitting alone. We started talking. Her story was amazing. Each story made me want to learn more about Ilene Winokur from Kuwait. We talked about doing what we love. I saw that sparkle in her eyes when we talked about purpose and passion. We continued talking all the way through the ISTE conference where I introduced her to everyone I knew who was there. We were silly and serious. We ended up talking all night, literally. We’ve connected and roomed together at conferences and have been good friends ever since.
During Covid, we continued to connect through Zoom. Ilene has been on my podcast several times and I’ve been on her podcast. We do virtual sessions together. When you connect with people who really listen, and want to know you, and you feel you know them, you develop that sense of belonging. That’s how I felt and still feel with Ilene. We call ourselves soul sisters. It’s like we’ve known each other forever. When you feel you have a purpose and are passionate about that purpose, you need to talk about it. I feel so fortunate that I can reach out to my soul sister to talk about any questions, concerns, and ideas I want to discuss. This feeds my purpose and gives me a real sense of belonging.
When I wrote my book, Define Your Why, I reached out to Ilene for feedback. I trust what she shared with me about what worked and what didn’t work. I appreciate her honest reflections. When Ilene wrote her book, Journey to Belonging, she reached out to me for my feedback. Because we are both living on purpose with a strong sense of belonging, we have the confidence to be there for each other and others.
In fact, we are presenting together at the ISTE 2022 conference in New Orleans, LA. Our presentation is on “Belonging and Purpose: Embracing Empathy and Building Compassionate Communities” on Monday, June 27, 2022, 12:30 – 1:30 p.m.
My purpose fostered a sense of belonging. What about you?
- Are you living your purpose?
- Have you been renting someone else’s story for your story?
- Do you feel lost or don’t feel you belong?
- What are you passionate about?
- What can you do to pursue your passion?
- Was there an experience in your life that impacted you?
- What connections do you have who believe in you?
- Do you have one connection who really is there for you?
- Why is it important for you to live on purpose?
- What is your journey to grow your sense of belonging?
- What other questions came up as you read this post?
Looking for the books mentioned, click on the links/images below:
|Journey to Belonging
|Define Your Why