ISTE: It's What You Make of It

ISTE: It's What You Make of It

After attending my 5th ISTE event in a row, I always enjoy reading various reflections of the event. Those reflections usually reference the opportunity to network with other educators. The proverbial, “the hallway conversations trump sessions” statement continues to be the theme of the posts made by your favorite bloggers. Of course, one must realize the bias of what you read online. Those who blog and tweet are those who have, and find value, in a networked community of learners. Most of these folks are pretty empowered to pick and choose sessions in balance with informal time with colleagues. They’re the ones that try and make it back year after year not because they think they’ll be blown away by something amazing or new but because they treasure the opportunity to reunite with colleagues and friends. It’s summer camp for educators.

This year I tried to pay attention to those not so well connected, those who have never sent a tweet or might not know what “PLN” stands for. In my hands on session for example, I met a principal who shared that he came to ISTE to understand things better. He recognized the world was changing all around him and felt he was on the outside looking in. He talked about how proud he was that he learned a little more about a tool like twitter and was able to take a photo and post it online. Now many would argue about the trivialness of that act, how it represents the low level thinking of educational technology and lacks the vision and potential of real computing. I didn’t see it that way. I saw it as a thoughtful individual beginning a journey that many of us have been on for years. I sensed this excitement with many people who were being exposed to many ideas they’d not considered or had time to absorb.

I watched people excited as they were being introduced to perspective they had never entertained. As much as many of these ideas have been shared for some time now, I’m never too surprised at how new they are for busy teachers who work 10 hours a day and come home to their families The majority of teachers work in schools and districts with few visionaries who are attuned to ideas that include using technology to make learning better. ISTE represents the minority.

We often hear that if you leave a conference with one good idea you can use in your classroom, that it’s worthwhile. That could be argued from many angles but I think we ought to modify that statement to say if you leave a conference with one great colleague you can learn from in the future it’s been worthwhile. One of my favorite moments was when I read a tweet by a former student of mine who is in her 2nd year of teaching. She’s a primary teacher and was frustrated with her first day of the conference. She struggled finding quality sessions. I wanted to help her out but hadn’t looked at the sessions from her perspective but knew another teacher who had. I replied to her with the name of the teacher who could help her. The next day I saw the two of them meet up in the blogger’s cafe to map out some potential opportunities. The two had never met before.

Whether it’s the summer camp aspect, the exploration of a new tool or idea, or some combination of the two, I encourage people to own their experience, to not be critical of someone else’s and support everyone in connecting to the best and brightest thinkers in education. To that end, it’s a pretty amazing few days.

Photo by Brad Flickinger