Home Professional Learning Can You Really Connect with People at a PD Event?

Can You Really Connect with People at a PD Event?

by Emily Hopkins
Voiced by Amazon Polly

How do two people go from sitting at the same table at a professional learning event to feeling like they’re each others’ safe place, confidant, and friend for life? We talk about making connections, expanding your network, building relationships at conferences and events…but does that really happen? Like, really?

Back in 2009, Tammy McLain and Brenda McDonald were working on their TCEA Technology Director Certification. “We were both attending a Technology Coordinator’s Academy at TCEA Headquarters in the old building,” recalls Tammy. This particular event was led by then TCEA Board President, Kari Rhame, and TCEA’s Executive Director, Lori Gracey. Tammy and Brenda just happened to be at the same table. 

“Neither of us had any idea what we were doing in our jobs,” Tammy shares. “We didn’t even understand the acronyms or lingo associated with being a technology coordinator, so we instantly hit it off.” This actually wasn’t the first time, but the second time Tammy was attending the training. ”I didn’t understand a single word the previous summer when I attended. Lori knew I was remedial!” she laughs. But, if she hadn’t come back for round two, she would never have met Brenda. 

“It was literally friendship from the beginning,” says Brenda of their relationship. “We went to lunch together the first day, exchanged phone numbers, and have been such dear friends ever since.” With Brenda living in College Station, TX and Tammy almost eight hours away in Amarillo, TX, these two rarely see each other outside of TCEA events. “TCEA has been the catalyst because we’ve been able to see each other at least once a year,” Tammy explains. “And if there were other occasions, we made plans.” They even bunk together at TCEA events to share the hotel costs and spend time together.

Over time, what started out as hugs and quick chats at TCEA’s Convention & Exposition developed into a genuine friendship outside of TCEA. Even though they live hundreds of miles apart, Brenda and Tammy make a point to stay in touch through phone calls and texts. “Sometimes we may go months without talking, but then we just pick right up where we left off,” says Brenda.

“Brenda is like an extension of my heart and a safe place for my secrets, sadness, celebrations, and joys.” When Tammy thinks of Brenda, she considers her a lifelong friend that just “gets” her. Brenda describes Tammy as a huge resource for her, both personally and professionally, over the past 13 years. “Tammy is one of the biggest-hearted people I know. She has been through so much over the years, and even at the lowest time in her personal life, she was still such a beautiful and kind person to everyone around her.” 

When Tammy tragically and unexpectedly lost her son, she cherished Brenda’s support, friendship, and comfort. “Brenda was one of the only people who knew I just needed to talk about my son after he died. Most people were very uncomfortable about it. She cried with me.” Brenda was so grateful she was able to be there for Tammy. “I’m glad I was able to be a friend to her through this time. I can only hope I was able to help a little by sharing my friendship with her and being a shoulder to lean on.” 

Now, Tammy and Brenda are both members of the TCEA Board of Directors and have gone from feeling lost at that table back in 2009 to being leaders in their districts. Brenda is now the Director of Technology for Anderson-Shiro CISD, and Tammy is the Director of Instructional Technology and the District GT Coordinator for Dimmitt ISD. “I attribute the overwhelming majority of my professional growth over the years to TCEA’s events and members. Developing relationships and friendships with others that grow you professionally as well as personally is the icing on the cake,” shares Brenda. 

Tammy feels the same. “It was a game-changer and a life-changing experience for me when I discovered TCEA. It was a big deal for me for YEARS when there was a ‘Lori sighting’ at a TCEA event, and now, we work together for this important organization. How great is that?” Tammy and Brenda are thrilled and honored to be giving back to the organization that they feel has given them so much over the years– and given them each other.

Do you have a story of friendship and connection that began at a TCEA event? Reach out to [email protected] and share your story!


TCEA’s 2023 Convention & Exposition is taking place January 30- February 2 in San Antonio, TX, and it’s for anyone and everyone working in education! Don’t miss out on an awesome location with Texas-style fun, inspirational educators sharing resources and content, and the chance to meet a BFF for life. Early Bird Pricing ends November 4. Register now for the best price on the best conference in education.

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