Why I Want to Give You the DEN Finger for Teacher Appreciation Week

Still being fresh out of the classroom, I’ll never forget Hall Davidson explaining to me that I would be able to take 50 educators anywhere for a week of professional development, networking, and fun.  I thought, to myself,  “If I could spend a week with my friends, where would I want to go….. SEA WORLD, San Diego” It took a bit of convincing as SeaWorld had never hosted educators in their residential camp, but as soon as I explained that teachers were just grown up size students they said okay.

Next challenge to tackle, how would I take strangers and connect them in ways that allowed them to break down their barriers, bond in new ways, and realize that professional development could be fun.  I went to my local teacher supply / party store and walked the aisles for inspiration. There it sat… 3rd shelf up… the foam finger. I’d divide them up in small groups, compete in games, and each night the winning team would receive “THE FINGER”

I should have known, but never quite imagined, how fiercely competitive they’d each become, all for the honor of receiving the finger from their colleagues. We used this as a spring board to encourage our presenters and colleagues throughout the week as they shared best practice, by whipping our own fingers out, pointing them to the sky, giving them a whirl and a WOOT WOOT whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Since then DEN STARs have been giving fingers here, there, and everywhere!  (Even dressing up as the finger at our Tech-or-Treat conferences) It’s often one of the first things we need to explain at events, so that newbies aren’t offended when someone shouts out “Let’s give them THE FINGER”  Really, it’s the highest honor one can receive from our community… the acknowledgment of the amazing work each of you are doing.


At the end of our week at SeaWorld, DEN STAR Linda Foote’s husband came up to me and asked “What happened here?!?”  as he watched 50 educators saying goodbye with tears in their eyes.  My only explanation… They came strangers … They left family!

That’s what I love most about our community!  The DENthusiasm each of you take in welcoming and supporting new members.  The ways in which you inspire not only your students, but every educator that crosses your path.

I am often asked to describe what happens at DEN events and I do my best to talk about the DENtastic activities, but I always end with the DEN is not best described… it’s best experienced.

So, to each and every one of you who have helped transform this network of strangers sharing a similar passion to a community of family members with different talents and strengths who help guide and light the way for students and educators across the nation, THANK YOU, a GIANT WOOT WOOT and FINGER to all of you!

Now it’s your turn… I have a finger I’d like to give to you…. share a story about how someone from our community inspired you, brought you into the family, or helps guide you along the way.  We’ll send one of you our famous DEN FINGER!



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  1. Ketsana said:

    This story is not about one person from DEN who inspired me, welcomed me and encouraged me this entire school year. First I met Max Brooks at a DE workshop for my school district. From our first meeting, I knew that he was there to help me and guide me. He responded to all my trivial questions. Then came Ginny Washbourne who reached out to me through emails and encouraged me in everything I needed. DENnis Grice, my Rising Star Mentor, helped me so much in the various steps in becoming a DEN Star. Ever since I became a DEN Star, I have been welcomed by everyone I’ve had the privilege to meet. I can’t say enough how I love my DEN family. I can’t wait to be with them all at DENSI 2013!

  2. Mark Case said:

    I think, perhaps, the most memorable moment for me was getting the finger last summer on the last day of DENsi. I came to DENsi full of fire and excitement, but quickly got overloaded. I spent a LOT of time at the BAR (nope, not one from fermented grains…).

    I could not believe the number of people that took time out of their schedule at DENsi to work with me. I was clueless how to upload albums to a flicker. I had NO idea how to download an app. I thought I was pretty hip with technology till I got with these DEN people. WOW. I asked what I felt WAY too many questions.

    The last day, Porter presented me the finger because I was the one not afraid to ask the questions. I love that picture. I use it to tell others about our sub culture and how the finger is a good thing.

    Thanks for your story and letting me tell my finger story.

  3. Iram Khan said:

    I have to confess that until a few months ago, I had no idea what the DEN was! Our district got fancy cards with login information and were invited to workshops. Unfortunately I was “unable to attend” (no really, I actually had a conflict!) So, months went by without me even checking out the website. I even went to hear Dean Shareski speak one evening! Loved his talk, still didn’t visit. Then a friend invited me to her school, Dean was visiting and helping a teacher make a video with her students. The night before the visit, I panicked… “OMG I am going to see Dean Shareski tomorrow and I have know idea what DEN even stands for!” So, I finally logged in. Wow! I was overwhelmed and excited at what lay before me! Love the DEN and all the inspiration and connections it provides for me to be a better teacher and an administrator. Thank you DEN, now give me my finger!

  4. Carolyn Stanley said:

    I’ve told this story before, but it’s still valid. I was fortunate enough to attend a Celebration of Teaching and Learning in NYC in March of 2010. It was at a session on using Windows Movie Maker to edit DE videos that I first met Whitney Mihoulides, our New England District rep. I chatted with her and told her that our school was lucky enough to have a subscription to DE Streaming but that it was vastly underused. She took a real interest in me, introduced me to the concept of becoming a DEN star, and invited me to a face-to-face event in the area. The rest is history. I did indeed become a star, got our school to have a renewed interest in using DE resources, talked our administrator into getting individual access for all of the students in our district, and started training teachers on how they could enhance their use of DE resources far beyond showing a streaming movie to the whole class. Since then, I’ve attended many events as well as connected with many members of the DEN, mainly virtually, but I feel as if I know them. I will be attending a face-to-face at the Day of Discovery in Revere, MA soon, and I look forward to seeing Whitney and Max Brooks -mentioned in an earlier comment – there -live and in person.

  5. Robin Martin said:

    Janita you all have created something special in the DEN Community. There is almost a secret language shared among attendees at pre-cons, DENSI, Day of Discovery, etc. One person laughs and loves a silly idea and turns it into a fantastic lesson. It gets shared and now 50 schools can benefit from that community. This is the best \pay it forward\ group of people I have ever met. My first event was with Joe Brennan filming the door scene with people I never met. We laughed, learned and inspired each other. Then I saw them at another non-DE workshop and we were connected through that fun day of learning. I have been to over 100 conferences and workshops and there is nothing like the DEN.

  6. Jannita said:

    We <3 your stories… keep them coming! Seriously they inspire and spur us on!
    Robin, You are too kind… it's not us that makes this community so special… it's all of you! I am just so proud to be part of the family!

  7. Renee Conley said:

    It seems that I rec’d an email about DEN Connects around the winter holidays. I didn’t know what it was or if it would apply to 3rd graders. When I responded with my question, I rec’d a warm, encouraging reply from Jannita letting me know that 3rd graders were the perfect candidates to dive into DEN Connects. 🙂 Since we joined earlier this semester, my students and have loved the activities! While the kids have enjoyed all the activities, the one activity that they would say was the best ever would be our opportunity to participate in the Mystery Skype that Janice Abernathy organized. It was wonderful! It took map skills off the pages of the atlas and made it real. I look forward to next year and to learning more about becoming a DEN Star. Thanks again. Have a wonderful summer.

  8. Linda Foote said:

    I was just telling my boss the other day that nearly 80% of my personal professional development still comes from connections with all the amazing people I met at the unbelievable DEN Sea World adventure. It was a truly remarkable time of becoming a family and developing friendships and relationships with the best of the best leaders in using digital tools and resources to increase engagement and rigor for student learning. Guess the “finger” even fits that category of “digital” resources, right? Way to go, Jannita! You made it a FUN adventure for all of us. Thanks for your vision and for the tenacity to make it happen!

    • Genny said:

      Linda, I will never forget we were up until 2:00 am perfecting our video for the last day. We were the only ones left up getting ready to go to bed at 3:00am. LOL! We wanted to have it done for the last day just one of our many different projects due to Jannita. Our Podcast, Digital story, Inspiration with DE media infused and the pics from our scavenger hunt……and more……What a DENtastic learning and career changing experience. We left as not the same teachers. We were DEN STARS! Even before there were DEN STAR Teachers! Jannita left a mark on our hearts that week and a new meaning to our finger that will live on forever!

  9. Pam Williams said:

    My best professional development days occur every year during the DEN day before the state conference. I come away with lots of new and great ideas to implement with both my teachers and students. I use almost all of those ideas throughout the year and during teacher summer academy. I love spreading the wealth that Discovery Education and the DEN provide and always look forward to the next DEN day!

  10. Thomas Shaw said:

    I just got finished with a Inservice Day and Discovery Education was on my agenda. I showed the wealth of information and resources that are available. Year after year, one of the best resources available.

  11. Beth Weeks said:

    The Den is made up of so many inspirational people! I love the opportunity to hear Hal Davidson share with humor so many awesome tools to use with Discovery. Justin K was always such an encourager when we would have our DEN events! People in the Den LC like Howard, Linda, Elizabeth and Elaine along with so many others are always sharing great ideas and challenging others to try new things! I just love our community called the DEN!

  12. Jeannine said:

    The DEN is definitely an experience. Those that have experienced it are truly blessed. I am grateful to have been a part of it. The DEN is a perfect name for our group. If you look up the meaning of the term you will read things such as shelter of a wild animal (oh when we get together we can be pretty wild), a place to provide quiet, comfortable, informal atmosphere for conversation, and one of the units of a cub scout pack. I am grateful to be part of this ever growing pack of like-minded educators. We take each other into our hearts quickly and completely. Strangers one moment, friends then colleagues, then family as my grandmother would say, “toute suite”.

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