The Way ISTE Should Be Attended #iste17 #iste18

How do you think we build a future? I think we build it by investing in our kids and investing in education.
~Elizabeth Warren

Everyone has now returned from the beautiful chaos that is ISTE. I’ve been to ISTE several times now, and it still feels just as massive as the first time. However, this year was different in one big way. How was it different you ask? No, it wasn’t a product or app that I saw, it wasn’t a vendor party, and it wasn’t a particular presenter (way too many great ones to list anyway).

This is the first time I’ve attended ISTE as part of a group from my school district. In the past, I’ve always gone as just me; I attended on my own. This year, however, I was fortunate enough to attend with 10 other fantastic educators from my district. Our Director of Curriculum, one of our instructional technology coaches, 6 high school teachers, and 2 middle school teachers. This is a really great group with a great desire to be better for kids and a desire to help their colleagues be better too. It was such a pleasure to help them experience their first ISTE and learn from so many of my excellent friends. I was able to hear about their excitement first hand after listening to my friend Jennie give a standing ovation-worthy keynote, I watched them post selfies with other presenters that I knew they’d love learning from. I felt like a proud parent! ­čÖé

I just kept thinking, “Every person that attends ISTE should get to attend this way.”. I know many do, but I also know many that wish they could. That’s not to say attending solo cannot be impactful; just want to make sure that’s clear. And yes, many have a tribe of people that they only see at ISTE each year that they’ve become connected to through Twitter, blogging, and other connected means. Those connections are important too and a huge part of who I am. I love getting to see so many amazing friends that live all over the world…it’s the nicest feeling ever!

However, if you work for a school or a district and you have the means to take a group, please do it. Take your district leaders, school leaders, and certainly your teachers. As many as you can take. Plan now for 2018. It’s worth the investment I promise.

ISTE 2018 in Chicago

Growing People Change People

I often see this question in Twitter chats, in keynotes, or when it’s asked of esteemed panelists: “How do we create real, systemic change in education?”.

While I’ve never thought there was one clear answer to this question; one particular action or formula that could solve all the problems in education, I do believe that people (as in you and I and every other education Bonsai plant picturestakeholder) have all the power to make the changes that need to be made for our students. The power lies with us. We should never underestimate the power of a group of people who are well-informed about the possibilities available to our students.

Think about it this way. What if every person that attended a conference, went to an edcamp, participated in a Twitter chat, etc. committed to sharing 1 new idea with just 1 person? Then the 1 person they told commits to sharing with 1 person, and so on and so on. While your school or district likely sees the value in participating in professional learning opportunities, do they see (and hold teachers accountable to) the value of sharing out what has been learned? Not just creating reflection around how it will help me as a teacher, but looking deeper at how it will help me help others.

Just like we should be personalizing and differentiating learning for students, I wholeheartedly believe teachers should get the same in their professional learning. While I’m sure there’s more work to do in that specific area, I think a lot of systems are seeing the value and starting to provide a wider variety of options, particularly self-directed ones. However, we must make a more concerted plan of how our learning is not only going to affect our teaching and learning but how it could affect all teaching and learning. We need to lean more on our own people and empower them to spread their genius to all stakeholders.

 

Being a Conference Attendee

Last week I had the pleasure to┬áattend FETC in Orlando. I mean, who doesn’t love going to Florida in January┬áright? However, Orlando is not the word in that first sentence that I want to focus on here. The imperative word in that first sentence is attend. ┬áI did not present once at the conference, which I discovered was a big surprise to many of my colleagues when I answered, “Zero.” or, “I’m not.” to their question, “How many times/What are you presenting?”.

It’s not that I didn’t want to present; I love getting to present to teachers and teacher leaders. FETC is an awesome place to present. This happened to be a trip that my district sent me on and I chose to be 100% an attendee. It was fantastic not having to worry about getting slides ready, making last minute tweaks and changes, and just the general stress that comes with presenting at a conference. It was a refreshing change of pace (no pun intended).

The more this came up in conversation as I visited with friends, the more I thought that I really don’t do this enough for myself. Then it made me think that more presenters (especially the well-known ones that present a lot) should make time for themselves to just be an attendee. So many of us speak about being lifelong learners and having a growth mindset, but do we really walk the talk as much as we should? ┬áI know an in-person conference isn’t the only way to learn. We have blogs, books, YouTube, etc. to help us “sharpen the saw” too. For me, though, there’s still high value in an in-person event and just attending. I feel like I will not only be a better tech coach (the sessions were awesome and I learned a lot) but a better presenter because of it. It’s a choice I would encourage presenters to make more often. It’s re-energizing!