Tech & Learning – Live Chicago 2017: A Superintendent's Takeaway

Tech & Learning – Live Chicago 2017: A Superintendent's Takeaway

Tech & Learning events are always notable in that when you leave, you feel almost overwhelmed by powerful new ideas. The Tech & Learning Live Chicago 2017 was no exception, but the unintentional (or was it intentional?) common thread that seemed to connect all of the sessions emerged early in the morning and continued to surface throughout the day was one not so much central to “tech” as it was to “learning.”

Instructional Coaching

During the morning mini-keynote sessions on Academic Coaching, one phrases that truly resounded with me was, “If you insist, they resist.” This phrase was actually shared during a session on the essentials of 1:1 and peer coaching models. As the mini-keynote session continued, this point was solidified by one of the comments made toward the end, which stated that anyone could be forced to do something, but it wouldn’t necessarily be done well.

Moving to the Cloud

This powerful notion of inspiration versus coercion (an essential pillar of leadership) was discussed in length during the leadership strand on moving to the cloud. As different administrators from various progressive districts (such as Nick Polyak @npolyak from Leyden 212) suggested, mandating one standardized learning management system (LMS) appeared to present as many problems as it did solutions. Echoed by Hank Thiele (@henrythiele from Downers Grove 99), he felt that by mandating one district-wide and supported LMS, as opposed to allowing teachers to choose based on their own preferences and comfort levels, the “organic” nature of truly artful teaching could be lost, or harmed. When deciding to move district instruction into the cloud, it appears most are at least wary of causing the unintended “if you insist, they resist” effect.

Making Space for Maker Space

This commonality even managed to permeate some (at least one) of the smaller “Anything Goes” sessions. At Table 6, I was fortunate enough to have been selected to facilitate a practical discussion on “making space for the maker space” within the general curriculum. During this presentation (which can be viewed at: ) a topic that emerged during both occurrences was how to empower more teachers to incorporate the maker movement into their lessons. Participants were curious if districts were mandating a minimum use of the maker space? Or how were districts overcoming teacher hesitation in utilizing maker spaces?

While the presentation was not intended to be one that provided answers but rather encouraged the sharing of strategies and successes in a comfortable yet professional “round table” format, consensus was reached that forcing teachers into the maker space would not be the most effective in encouraging teacher (and subsequently student) risk-taking. Again, anyone can be forced to do something, but not as well as if they embraced it willingly.


After attending these always enlightening sessions, I pondered the implications arrived at during the three-hour drive from Chicago back to downstate Illinois. Instructional coaches mostly agree that it is best not to force teachers to integrate technology with which they feel uncomfortable; at least, now without assistance and professional encouragement. District-level administrators also concur that while moving to the cloud with instructional delivery, choices surrounding the particulars of these decisions were best left to the individual teachers most impacted. From a building-level perspective, forcing teachers to use a school’s maker space would most definitely not lead to the engaging and innovative teaching sought. At each of these cross-points during Tech & Learning Live Chicago, I caught myself thinking “If you insist, they will resist.” Yet in the year 2017, as our schools are adapting to better prepare students that are innovative and curious enough to avoid having their jobs/skills replaced by automation, why do we so often insist on a one-size-fits-all approach when assigning student work? Especially when as adult professional educators, we realize “if you insist, they will resist.”

Todd Dugan is the Superintendent of Bunker Hill CUSD #8 located in Bunker Hill, Illinois -- a rural district in downstate Illinois. Most recently, Dugan was awarded the 2019 winner of American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) “Leaders Matter” campaign.