This past Friday night was the banquet at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s conference in Saskatoon. I had built this up in my mind as my “Oscar Night” when I would be receiving my award as a 3M National Teaching Fellow.

In retrospect of the phenomenal conference experience, the highlight wasn’t what I had hyped. It was the chance to meet the other members of my cohort. Since the time I was approached about being nominated for the honor, the greatest appeal of the 3M was that it carried with it not just a plaque, but a chance to spend several days with nine other people committed to teaching excellence and educational leadership. (3M sends the 10 winners on a retreat in November.)

I got my first taste of what the retreat will be like when we had a “meet and greet” lunch – our first chance to get to know the other winners. I had a flashback to my first practice of the Biddy Basketball All-Star Team in 1975. Hard to believe I was in the same gym as what seemed like the best guys in the world from my 10 year-old perspective. The Imposter Syndrome looms large when you are put in a room and told you are one of ten winners of a national award. One of my friends who won last year, Angie Thompson, sent me a card reminding me never to doubt that I belonged. This was an important tip for this moment.

Getting beyond the initial brain noise, I settled in to the magic of getting to know these extraordinary people. The delightful Robert Lapp, from Mt. Allison University, facilitated our session. He asked us to share stories related to when we first heard of our success. These ranged from Nick Mount of U of Toronto’s tale of someone thinking he had won three million dollars (from a headline “wins 3M” – honest mistake) to an account of one’s legs failing from the shock of the moment.  I’m not saying the glam of the banquet wasn’t fun; it was a great event and Fred Phillips from the University of Saskatchewan did a masterful job of representing our cohort in his speech. Yet the core of the exhilaration and delight of the conference was the people. This was, perhaps, the most profound evidence I’ve had that any satisfaction from adulation tends to live in its anticipation and vanish in or shortly after the moment. What matters is human connection and that bond is a huge privilege when it is with such precious kindred spirits who have devoted their lives in parallel directions.

My growing anticipation of time together in November (at Banff Springs), I believe will not dissipate when realized, but the elation will expand in the experience and its memory. Next time someone tells me “it’s not about you,” I’ll be sure to listen. It’s about the people.

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