The Get Your Teach On (GYTO) Experience is like no other conference I have ever been to. When you hear people talk about it being like a party, that’s no joke. The energy, fangirling, light show, music, and stages are at levels comparable to a concert.
This recap is of the 2019 GYTO National Conference in Dallas, Texas. Prior to this, I attended the 2018 National Conference in San Diego and the “regular season” conference in Chicago. I intend for this review to be as honest as possible, so with that I do want to clarify that I follow many of the presenters on social media and have felt some of that fangirl mindset during my earlier conferences. Although I love what many of the presenters share on a regular basis about their classroom lives, by being able to attend my 3rd conference I felt as though I was able to look at the experience with a more critical eye. As you read this, keep in mind that this is from the perspective of a 5th year 2nd grade teacher who uses many of the “engagement strategies” hyped by GYTO. Whether or not you attended the conference and disagree with my opinions, I fully support you and your reasons for having those feelings. I am in no way saying that your opinions or wrong or that mine are right because they are just that- opinions. We all experience things differently, and this is simply how I felt after GYTO.
One additional note prior to the recap: I respect the whole GYTO team for their time, effort, and energy in putting on this conference. I can’t even begin to imagine the work that goes on behind the scenes, and you all clearly put in so much of yourselves. This recap is not intended to diminish any of that work- I appreciate all that you do in putting on the GYTO conference. I also DO recommend that if you are able to attend one of these conferences that you go for it!
Heads up: this recap is long and detailed. This is a lengthy blog post. I want to be as thorough and honest as I feel. Also, descriptions of sessions are taken from the conference guide.
Day 1: Pre-Game
I could tell that the organizers learned a lot from last year’s national conference. They attempted to address issues of lines at registration, set times for book signings, got additional lunch options to avoid as long of a wait time, and other logistical issues. What no one can prepare for is 4,200 fangirling (and fanboying) teachers who are looking to meet, learn from, and support some of their eduheroes. Lines formed hours in advance for GYTO swag (shirts and sweatshirts generally fell in the $30-45 range) and entrance to the keynote area. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited to be there as well…but I’m not going to push by anyone, let alone a teacher, to get a seat closer to the front. I’m not going to wait in line for two hours to sit in the 3rd row rather than the 20th. I’ll go into more detail about it later, but honestly one of the negative aspects of the conference was actually the attendees.
The big hype of day 1 was Rachel Hollis. My disclaimer here is that I do not follow her on social media and I have not read any of her books. I don’t read many inspirational or self help sort of books. I definitely felt as though I was the minority in that aspect. People were literally crying during her keynote.
As someone who hadn’t read any of her books and also didn’t really know a lot about her background, I felt as though I was going into the keynote on a pretty neutral level. The main thing impacting my expectations was that I saw Dave Burgess keynote last year… and loved it.
Now, Rachel Hollis isn’t an educator, she is a business owner, motivational speaker, author, etc. She also is expressively religious. This was a common feature of the GYTO conference- a lot of thanking God, doing what the Lord put you on this earth to do, and so forth. I’m not religious but also do not criticize others who are. I’m just noting that this came up frequently at the conference.
Here’s a first chunk of thought that teachergram won’t like- I didn’t enjoy Rachel Hollis. She had good stage presence and engaged the crowd, but she didn’t say anything that really blew me away. With GYTO talking so much about rigor and not fluff… I felt like a lot of what she said was fluff… generic motivational grabs at applause. It was pleasant, but it just didn’t move me.
One thing I enjoyed from her was how she pursued her goals even though people criticized her for what they perceived as not being a good mom. She knew that it would benefit her kids to see a woman be so successful. This resonated with many in the crowd, as “but what about the kids” can often hold many back from their dreams.
One thing I didn’t enjoy was moments of hypocrisy in her message. For example, while she said not to tear other women down, she made petty jokes about vegans for a quick laugh. You may think this is a silly thing to focus on, but she did criticize others for her own gain in that moment.
Again, my primary bias in this is that I absolutely loved Dave Burgess last year. I could have left after hearing Dave Burgess speak and felt as though I got my money’s worth, and Rachel Hollis just didn’t live up to that experience, for me. If she did resonate with you, I’m happy that you were able to walk away with inspiration.
Keynote: Set the Stage to Engage Reimagined
Description: What if….YOU CAN? What if you can create a classroom environment in any grade level that is driven by rigorous standards, academic achievement,growth, relationships, joy, enthusiasm, and FUN! Join Hope and Wade King as they walk you through the power of student engagement and help you discover your purpose that is rooted well beyond academic standards alone. Prepare yourself to develop a no-excuses mindset and unlock your full potential to creating and designing your most effective instruction yet. It’s time to stop looking for magic and realize that YOU are it!
I came into this already feeling the love for Hope and Wade King. Two years ago I was shaking as I walked into Hope’s room at RCA. I couldn’t wait to get a picture with her. I added hooks in my room to make room transformations easier. I went back and read her old blog posts. With that, I still love me some Hope King and I still find her inspirational, but the difference is I’m able to acknowledge that she is a regular person. Yes, she’s an inspirational teacher who works her butt off, but I can see her as a person, not just an idol. I didn’t get the same butterflies in my stomach when she said hi to me; instead, I felt like I could have a normal conversation with her and genuinely express my appreciation toward what she contributes to education.
With that, I saw their Set the Stage to Engage keynote in Chicago and in San Diego, and there wasn’t too much different in the message of this slightly expanded version. Hope and Wade talk at length about making lessons full of rigor, but I feel like the crowd somehow frequently misses the point and focuses on the songs, chants, and room transformations which are the method of delivery for the rigorous content. I don’t know how they could get that across any more than they try to do, and I don’t know why teachers don’t always get it (I mean, maybe I do, and maybe that will show up at the end when I criticize the teachergram community).
Session 1: Math- More Than a Worksheet with Amy Lemons
Description: Gone are the days where we can meet the needs of all our learners through one math worksheet. Join Amy as she shows you how the activities and games in your classroom can be LOW PREP but also highly ENGAGING! We’ll take TEN math games and make them student-centered, differentiated, and aligned with the standards. We’ll have you spinning, rolling, and chanting your way into a transformed math block.
Standards: 2.OA.B.2, 2.NBT.A.1, 2.NBT.A.3, 2.NBT.A.4, 2.NBT.B.5, 2.NBT.B.8
I use both Rooted in Reading and Magic of Math by Amy Lemons (+ Katie King & Hope King) since my district has transitioned to a standards based scope and sequence rather than a new curriculum, so I’m familiar with her work. One thing I appreciate about her sessions are that they are practical. You could take what she shows you and literally do it the next day in your classroom. She creates fun and easy games that engage students in the learning process. They sometimes involve a lot of cutting and gluing, but my students have always enjoyed her process.
*She did provide access digitally to the activities she showed us.
Keynote: The Ripple Effect with Niles Boyd and Mariah Cooper
This keynote was not at all what I expected. These two speakers are RCA alum and former students of Hope and Wade. I thought they were going to hop on stage and spend the whole time praising each of them, but instead they went up and gave amazing speeches about the impact of all teachers and the importance of their education, in general. Their presence on stage demonstrated the impact of the RCA education and training of students in public speaking.
Session 2: “Act”ions Speak Louder Than Words with Britt Sinitch
Description: Reading and writing may seem like two content areas in the classroom that could easily bore a student. Tasks like reading a standard driven article out of a textbook may not currently be the type of activity that has your students bursting at the seams with excitement or wanting more! BUT what we need to see is that as teachers, we can take our ordinary content and make it something extraordinary for our students. Let’s allow for our students “ACT”tions to speak louder than the words. In this session, Brittany will take you on a journey where you will learn how to start with a standard and bring what you are reading and writing to life in the classroom. It is time to get our students up and out of their seats as we engage them through theatrics, movement, and role-playing while mastering content along the way. Cue the lights…roll the cameras…annnnd “ACT”tion!
Standards: Focus standards for this session are selected by participants. Focus standards will vary by group.
If you don’t know who Britt Sinitch is, she is a high school English and Drama teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the location of a school shooting in February of last year. Brittany experienced a teacher’s worst nightmare, and I’ll go into a little bit more detail when I write about her keynote during Day 3. I followed her on social media for a long time and watched as she processed and worked through this horrific experience. Before I go on, I want to say that I respect how open she is about all that has happened, and that I can’t even begin to imagine all that she goes through.
Many of the strategies presented at GYTO can be adapted to higher or lower grade levels- a Mario themed room transformation can be used in 2nd grade and in middle school, but the rigorous content involved will obviously look different.
Even with that, I was a little surprised to see that she was doing a session for 2nd grade. She also seemed to present in the 4th, 5th, and 6-8th rooms. Now, elephant in the room, I’ve seen her frequent criticism online about not having rigorous content. I also unfollowed her on Instagram because I no longer felt like I was benefiting by engaging in her content (This is not a terrible thing to do. If you aren’t getting what you need from someone’s social media, please unfollow them, even if they are a big account and give away many great things from Amazon. If it’s not good for your teaching or your mental health, unfollow. If someone gets upset that you unfollowed them, they need to reflect on why they are on social media). These things made me a little skeptical of her session from the start. Also, not that we can’t learn from every teacher, but she has only taught for 2 years now.
For me, the session was not valuable. Britt tried to incorporate elements of theater, like improv and role play, but our table of teachers was often confused by the directions and how the activity rigorously engaged us in a standard. Other ideas were also not incredibly original or innovative.
Session 3: Energize your ELA Block with Elizabeth Raff
Description: Establishing an energetic, creative, and student centered literacy environment is key for success! Join Elizabeth Raff as she prepares you to use movement for core vocabulary and literacy skills, increase fluency by utilizing poetry, and create a reading culture that lasts after your school year is done. Apply these classroom tested strategies into your ELA block and you’ll find your students begging for more!
Standards: Applies to any ELA standard.
Even though I’ve attended other GYTO conferences, I was never able to see Elizabeth Raff present until now. I really loved her session. She was full of energy and excitement (as are most of the presenters) but I felt like I really connected with her message. She showed some research to support what she was saying, and also included videos of what she was doing in action in her classroom. Much of what she does is rooted in elements of Whole Brain Teaching, so it was a method of engagement that wasn’t just songs and room transformations, it was more practical on a daily basis. She also took us through the picture book Voices in the Park and modeled how she would use it with students to teach a variety of standards. I thought she was fabulous.
Keynote: Unplugged with Team GYTO
Description:Real people. Real Stories. It’s time to UNPLUG from testing, standards, stress, and mandates, and RECHARGE with little motivation and inspiration.
I was not emotionally prepared for this set of keynotes. During this time Deanna Jump, Nicholas Ferroni, Wade King, Todd Nesloney, and Brittany Sinitch shared stories of how teachers and teaching have changed their lives. Prior to this, I didn’t know Deanna’s back story, Wade opened up more than he has about his history and the impact it has on him, and Brittany had not really talked publicly about the details of Parkland. I had just read parts of Todd’s story in his book Sparks in the Dark and cried on an airplane because of it, but hearing him talk about his cheerleaders of his mom and grandma was absolutely incredible. I was so appreciative that they all were willing to be so vulnerable and to share their stories.
One odd thing about this was that Amy’s husband, Jared Lemons, was the moderator of this keynote. I understand that because of social media a lot of GYTO fans know who he is, but I didn’t really get why he was hosting. He also is a preacher, so as mentioned earlier religion was brought into the conversation pretty often. It just sat weird with me.
Session 1: The Glow Games with Wade King and Chris Pombonyo
Description: On Your Mark…Get Set…. GLOW! It’s time to amp up the engagement with GYTO’s official Glow Games! Join Wade King & Chris Pombonyo as they take you out of your seat and into the blacklights to transform your thinking of traditional “games” in the classroom. With no “turns” and no “outs” everyone is a player in these academic focused games, that are sure to not just GLOW, but STICK!
Standards: SL2.1, RL2.1, RI2.4, L2.4, L2.5, 2OA.A1, 2NBT.A1, 2.NBT.A.4, 2.NBT.B.5, 2.NBT.B.7
This was a fun and interactive session. Chris and Wade first talked through how to do a Glow Games room transformation, including links to Amazon lists of products. An important thing to note is that all of the activities they discussed would still be fun and engaging in the light and not just as glow in the dark. You don’t need to spend the money. While Chris has added many new games, many of the activities can also be found in Hope King’s blog post about glow games. They used simple games such as spoons, tic tac toe, and ring toss to review content in a rigorous way. I appreciated that they showed how easy it would be to differentiate for different grade levels but also for different levels in your classroom. They also talked about some tips and tricks for classroom management during a room transformation like this one.
While I loved this session, I felt like I basically already knew most of it based on reading Hope’s blog post and by following the presenters on social media.
Keynote: Set the Stage to Engage Dare to Begin
Description: You’ve got engagement on the brain. You are on the edge of your seat with enthusiasm for creating dynamic lessons that will bring your instruction to life! You are ready to begin and there’s no stopping you now! In the second part of Set the Stage to Engage, Hope and Wade will provide you with practical tips and tricks to find your somewhere and take your instruction next level. Join this dynamic team as they take you behind the magic of creating both rigorous and engaging lessons that will take ordinary standards and make them extraordinary for your students.
In this keynote, Hope and Wade elaborated on their first keynote. Honestly, I don’t remember specific details of it because it blends in with day 2, and I already had seen part of the keynote and follow them on social media extensively.
Session 2: Make Social Studies Important Again with Lanesha Tabb
Description: In a world that is increasingly interconnected, we must consider the topics and themes that we put in front of our students to learn about very carefully. In this session, we will unpack the need to bring social studies back in a fresh and impactful way!
Standards: Building a culturally responsive classroom.
I’m a big fan of Lanesha Tabb. I heard this presentation last year at the national conference, and it changed my classroom. Prior to that, I hadn’t taught social studies. I was one of those “I don’t have time for that, I’m already too overwhelmed, I touch on topics through reading” teachers (it’s okay if that’s where you are, no judgement). After hearing her, I taught social studies regularly and my students LOVED it. So many of them said it was their favorite subject. Lanesha discusses the importance of social studies and then breaks it down into manageable components. She shows you how to go about teaching social studies, not just what to teach. She also addresses many of the concerns you have about why you don’t currently teach it. If she can teach social studies and have deep conversations with Kindergarten kiddos, so can you with your class. Some teachergrammers complained they didn’t get enough handouts, and I just eye rolled because they totally missed her message. Go follow her. She’s making waves in education.
Session 3: The Magic of Rigor with Amelia Capotosta
Description: REAL books give us REAL engagement and create REAL passionate readers. So how do we make these books both engaging and rigorous? It’s time to take a read aloud to the next level with meaningful and hands-on activities beyond the worksheet. Use one authentic text to teach your ELA standards for reading, language, and writing, while also integrating cross-curricular content. Join Amelia on a magical journey to entwine rigor and engagement!
Standards: RL4.1, RL4.3, RL4.4, RF4.3
Truth: I wasn’t supposed to go to this session. I was supposed to be in Steam Mania with Hope and Amy, but I already saw that presentation last year. Some people left early from 4th grade, so I filled in in their seats to see Amelia present. Amelia’s presentation was centered on Harry Potter and how to engage students through a real book, not fluency passages or leveled readers. While the example activities she had were Harry Potter focused, I felt as though it was easy to see how you could immerse your reader’s in a captivating book and find ways to engage them with the standards within it. She did show some other examples of mentor texts she uses throughout the rest of the year, as well. I really enjoyed this session. You had to be willing to think about how you could do the same thing with other books besides Harry Potter. I think some teachers struggled to realize that and only focused on the HP part, even though Amelia said that multiple times in her presentation.
Keynote: Q&A Panel with Team GYTO
Description: You ask…we answer! Come with questions ready as team GYTO answers all of your burning questions for building student engagement, amping up your rigor, finding balance, and more!
I enjoyed this session because it included some of the presenters that I didn’t get to see during any of my grade level sessions. The audience was able to ask questions like
- What would be one thing you’d be totally lost without if you didn’t have it for teaching?
- Advice for a first year teacher
- Teacher self care
Many of the panelists shared amazing answers, but I want to give particular kudos to Rachelle for talking about teacher mental health and the value of therapy.
Session 1: Morning Choice with Adam Dovico
Description: What if students could not wait to get into their classroom in the morning? What if we were able to teach teamwork, collaboration, and sportsmanship before the bell even rang? Join Adam Dovico as he shows how to “rethink” your morning routines by implementing Morning Choice!
Standards: Content and standard integration subject to the teacher.
Adam Dovico is an energetic and inspiring guy. I’ve briefly talked to him in Chicago (I asked him to Facetime with my principal and give her a shoutout, and he was total open to doing that) and San Diego, and I appreciate that he recognizes me and would say hi anytime we crossed paths (many of the presenters had to hustle between sessions, so time was valuable).
Adam presented on how he implemented morning choice throughout the entire building where he was a principal. This meant that students were able to gradually filter into the classroom and had time to talk, play, and adjust to school before starting the learning (as if those other things aren’t learning, right). He talked about funding, how to actually implement it, and the management and procedures component of it. I also greatly appreciated that he had data to back it up. He showed the changes in tardies and office referrals before and after starting morning choice. When you have the data to support what you’re presenting on, you’re going to get better buy in from me.
After this, there were three more sessions and the after party, but due to the schedule of flights and the prices related to that, I left early.
I stared at the computer screen and took a big, deep breath before I started typing this section. While there were some GYTO sessions that were not as for me as others and there were presenters I didn’t get as much from, a big thing that impacted my experience at GYTO were the attendees. Yep, teachers. As mentioned, the GYTO fandom is real and out in full force. Don’t get me wrong, I fully support many of the presenters and love going to GYTO, but some of y’all (spends 4 days in Texas, starts saying y’all) need to calm down and recognize that these are still regular people that are presenting. I get it, I was once freaking out about seeing Hope King, too, but I’ve grown and reflected and become more critical of anyone presenting at conferences or writing blog posts. Do all of these presenters do everything right all of the time? Nope, they’re just people. Is it fun to get a picture with a person who inspired an amazing lesson you did? Yep. Is it okay to push people to get to the front of the line? Are you kidding you are teachers and wouldn’t let your students do that. If you think I’m making up that this happens, there are literally instastories showing it.
I am a part of the teachergram community. I enjoy sharing my message and getting ideas from others. I think Esther Brunat is an amazing math teacher and she’s funny as can be. I can tell her that without taking a picture and posting it as proof. If I had a picture, sure I might post it, but I’m not gonna be mad at people if I don’t end up taking a picture.
There’s also an unfortunate amount of people on social media that are so concerned about gaining followers, and trying to be recognized at conferences, that they become inauthentic. I recommend you take a hard look at the people you follow on social media. Actually look at their page. Are you gaining anything from what they’re posting? Are they posting educational content (if that’s what you’re there for)? Are the teachers you’re snapping pictures with sharing anything besides cute, staged photos? Sure, I post a picture of a cute thing I bought here and there, but I hope that people are also enjoying my book recommendations and snippets of my lessons. Tailor your feed so that you are becoming a better teacher.
Q: Do you really learn good content or is it just inspirational speeches?
A: Great question because both of these components are present at GYTO. They keynotes came off as more inspirational than content based, but I felt like the majority of my grade levels sessions consisted of solid content and ideas that I could reasonably implement in my classroom.
Q: Do you choose what sessions you go to?
A: When you register, you sign up for a grade level. If you go, I highly recommend you look at the conference guide (here’s the one from 2019 Nationals) before you register and that you look at the sessions in all of the grade levels. Now, if you teach 1st grade I don’t suggest that you sign up for 6-8, but you may want to look into the differences between the K-1, 2nd, and 3rd grade line up. I know many 1st grade teachers that registered as a 2nd grade teacher because of what sessions were offered. I should have looked at the line up prior to registering because I had seen quite a few of the 2nd grade sessions already. Maybe I would have signed up for K-1 or 3rd grade. As mentioned, I did fill in in an empty seat in 4th grade for a session, but that isn’t actually allowed.
Q: Is it worth the money?
A: The 2020 4 day (3 days of sessions, one day of just an evening keynote) national conference registration is about $475. The upcoming regional ones (2 days) are listed at $391. I’m actually surprised that the 2 day one costs so much. When you consider the costs, also think about travel expenses, lodging, and food. For the 2019 National Conference, staying at the location of the conference was around $300 a night, and I can’t swing that even if I share a room with 3 other teachers. Instead, I stayed with 4 other girls in an AirBNB for a total of $140 per person. We did have to pay for Uber & Lyft, but even with that cost it was so much cheaper than the provided hotel.
GYTO has a great option to try to attend by fundraising through DonorsChoose. You can register before your project is funded in order to save your spot. I ran into many people who were able to attend because of that, but I also talked to people whose friend couldn’t come because their project didn’t get funded.
One day I did a rough breakdown of the registration cost (not considering swag we got) and the length of the sessions, and I found that each session cost me about $30 at the national conference. Regional conferences seem to cost about $40-$45 per session.
So, is it worth it? Based on the amount I have learned and what I take back to my classroom, I absolutely think it is an experience that many teachers should have at least once. I also feel this way about the Ron Clark Academy, which has an even higher price tag.
Q: What grade levels is it for?
A: This year’s nationals was K-8, but it looks like the conferences for this next year are all K-6.
Q: What kind of speakers are there? Mostly TPT authors?
A: Here are the presenters from the conference I attended
- Deanna Jump, Hope King, Wade King, LaNesha Tabb, Abbie Mullins, Cara Carroll, Cassie Stevens, Katie Mense, Rachelle Smith, Amy Lemons, Britt Sinitch, Elizabeth Raff, Adam Dovico, Todd Nesloney, Chris Pombonyo, Katie Mullins, Greg Coleman, Amelia Capotosta, Josie Bensko, Nicholas Ferroni, Courtney Hinshaw, “Kori, Chelsey, and Megan“.
- Many of these presenters are TPT authors. I don’t think that discredits them as presenters.
- In the past, I was able to see Michael Bonner, Mr. D, and Brooke Brown. You need to look at your conference guide to see who will actually be there.
Q: Should I go to nationals over one of the regional ones?
A: Oh man, tough call. It depends on what you’re looking for. The hype of nationals is unreal- you will have a totally unique experience that celebrates educators. With this, it’s also so crowded. Being in crowds of 4,200 educators honestly overwhelmed me. I regularly went into the bathroom or into an empty room just to take a break from it all. I can’t imagine how the presenters feel with this many people everywhere and they are also trying to get pictures with you.
A national conference is such an experience, but now I’m at the point where I think I’d prefer and suggest a regional conference. You still get to see many of the primary presenters you are most likely excited for, but it won’t be so crowded. Honestly, when I went to the regional one in Chicago, I felt like it was kind of an after thought for the GYTO team. It didn’t get as much social media spice as the other regional ones. Not sure why, but regionals have appeared to be better since that one.
Q: How much does it cost?
A: Check out the website for specifics. My answer above breaks it down a little bit, too
Q: GYTO seems super white. Is it?
A: I’ve seen this criticism on social media, too. This conference definitely has an audience that tends to be religious, white, and female. Many of their presenters are that way as well. There are some amazing presenters who are not white, but I can agree with you that it isn’t incredibly diverse. Critically look at the conference guide before you register.
Q: Is it worth going more than once?
A: For me, it took going more than once in order to be a critical consumer of GYTO presentations. As mentioned, I was star shocked early on. This year I wasn’t as obsessed with getting pictures with my favorite presenters; instead, I really took in what they had to say. If you do sign up more than once, make sure you check the conference guide to ensure you are getting different sessions. I went to nationals last year. During my time at nationals this year, I didn’t feel as though it was as valuable. So, I personally would probably not attend again unless there were new presenters or I was in a different grade level.
Q: What swag do you get? How much does other merchandise cost?
A: In my grade level, we got a binder, two dry erase products from ETA hand2mind (I think that’s where they were from…) skinny tote bag, small notebook, pen, and a travel coffee mug. Shirts and swag from purchase generally ranged from $30-$50. You can shop online for some of the swag options but not all of them.
Q: What’s the experience like as an administrator?
A: I am not an administrator so I can’t speak for how they feel, but GYTO did have Get Your Lead On (now also as its own stand alone conference) session that I regularly hear is absolutely amazing.
If you got through all of that, congrats because that was the longest blog post ever. I hope you were able to have some of your questions answered through this. If you have any additional questions, feel free to comment or message me on Instagram.