Fear, Connecting, Sharing and Learning from an 8 Year Old

I share a connection with my nephew that far exceeds our familial bond. Saturday, I was honored to take him with me to assist in my DEN Virtcon Haiku Deck and Movenote presentation. He creates some of the most amazing digital stories and I knew that his input would be invaluable. In the last few years, we’ve watched Braeden shed some of his social fears and anxieties that kept him from interacting with the world in public. As we released his art to the world, he seemed to come alive even more. For a boy that would remain silent for hours on end in front of people that he did not know, Saturday’s event wasn’t easy but it was a huge step.

There is a big difference between creating a video by yourself and “performing” live in front of an audience. When Braeden makes videos, it’s usually him or the both of us together at most. He knew that they were shared and he even insisted on it. What the 8 year old didn’t realize was that people were actually watching. When the first “stranger” walked up to him to shake his hand, I saw it on his face plain as day…fear. I felt his hand get sweaty and I recognized the change in his demeanor. I knew what was happening because I’ve felt those things too.

For years, before getting “connected”, I too dealt with a bit of social anxiety. In crowded rooms, I would literally get sick within the pit of my stomach. I made every excuse in the world to stay home in lieu of attending social events. When I was there, my device was my salvation. I focused on what appeared on screen and doing that helped ease the tension that I felt. In my mind, the world was constantly judging me and I was afraid of what they thought. It’s odd articulating that now because today it seems silly, while in the moments of living it, it was crippling fear.

When I became a connected educator, I was exposed to a world of people who cared just as much about education as I did. Within the technology realm, I wanted to learn and even share some of what I knew. That would take speaking up…something that I was NOT comfortable with doing. For me, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was TCEA 2013.

I’ve been to many conferences and walked past people without interacting. I guess you can say that I “stayed in my own head” and went session to session keeping to myself the entire time. Before I walked into the doors of TCEA, I remember taking a deep breath and thinking…

This time, I’ll connect. I’ll sit down and have conversations. Suck it up Rafranz…fear nothing.

I walked over to the “Digital square” as the large group assembled was planning the day’s unconference. As I stood there, Scott Floyd called my name in front of everyone and asked if I would facilitate a math session. I felt my entire body tremble, the pit of my stomach ached and within seconds I felt myself respond from deep within…I said, sure! The inner me screamed…”the heck?”

When in “teacher mode”, I have no fear and that included teaching “planned” sessions at events. I had no problem with being a “session presenter” because in those moments, I was STILL in teacher mode…in control of the interactions. The idea of facilitating an unconference session scared the living daylights out of me because it wasn’t planned, there was no structure and I had to have collaborative conversations face to face. Virtual collaboration was one thing but face to face conversations were entirely different. I had a choice and I could either succumb to my fears or jump in blind and share. That was the moment that I stopped being afraid and why I credit Scott Floyd with changing my life.

Jumping back to Braeden’s Saturday dilemma, I had a new appreciation for his fears because they quickly took me back to my own. When I finished session 1, I sat with him in a corner as he was supposedly recording his movenote. The movenote was his idea…not mine. I watched as tears flowed from his eyes. I had not seen those tears in years. I took him outside and we talked, giggled and somewhere along the way he became comfortable within the silent halls of that school.

I told him that he didn’t have to do anything that he did not want to do. He didn’t have to speak and we would leave as soon as I was done. I knew him so I was prepared…no problem. What happened during my session was a moment bigger than I can articulate. I watched a little boy rise from his own fears and participate in ways that even he didn’t envision himself doing. He stood beside me and came alive, sharing, whispering and giggling.

On the ride home, I asked him what was it that made him okay with participating.

He responded …

You made it look fun and I felt that I could do it too.

I was already on my way to treat him with a “Hobby Lobby” run for more clay and that statement just added happy tears to the equation.

Later that night, the boy who was afraid to speak added these thoughts…

If you don’t try something, you’ll never do it.
If you don’t do it the first time, you’ll never have a second.
You can’t get a second plate without first eating the first.

In case you missed it…Sharing = 2, Fear = 0

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