10 Sticky Things from ISTE 2013

Gum WallI’ve sat down several times to write a reflection on my #ISTE13 experience, but so far everything has been inadequate in capturing my thoughts and feelings about my trip to San Antonio. Thanks to Amanda, Paul, Michelle, and Bob for encouraging me to get it together and share something. Amanda suggested a list of the thoughts about the experience. So, here is a list of things that have stuck with me since ISTE:

10. There’s a lot of money being made on schools. Walking through the vendor expo agitated me. I’m not against entrepreneurship or technology or tools, but something didn’t sit right with me as I saw all the stuff being peddled to educators. It made me uncomfortable. Tools are helpful, but students really need good teachers. (And teachers deserve to receive fair wages, too.) Schools should invest in good teachers before pouring funds into technology. If they don’t, they are wasting money.

9. It stinks to miss the session you most want to attend. I was early but in the wrong room, and I’m still unhappy about it. By the time I discovered my mistake and got to the right room, the session was full. The Gestapo had barred the doors and wouldn’t let me enter. Seriously. I’m not still irritated about that. Really. I’m not… #YesIAm

8. Teachers, particularly PBL teachers, are a generous bunch. I went to the PBL Birds of a Feather session and loved it. It enjoyed hearing other people’s experiences with project-based learning, and receiving some tips and ideas to further my thinking and planning. I really appreciate their willingness to share their stories and tools, too.

7. Bigger isn’t better. Yes, the conference was in San Antonio, and ISTE was definitely a Texas-sized conference (13,000+ attendees). I went to large sessions in enormous rooms surrounded by hundreds of people with gifted presenters (only when I felt I had to), but my most memorable learning happened in small groups in quiet corners through conversations. ISTE was the biggest conference I’ve ever attended. I enjoyed it, but I prefer the smaller conferences, TeachMeets, and Edcamps over the massive convention gathering.

6. Numbers cause strange things to occur. I understand our fascination with numbers, but they really mess with our heads. At ISTE, a friend asked me what I think about the idea of social media without the numbers. No Klout scores. No number of Twitter followers. No count of Facebook friends. No tally of Instagram likes. No total of blog post views. Personally, I really like the idea. After all, what do those numbers really mean? How does one accurately interpret them? And what does our fixation on those figures show about us?

At the airport on my way home, I was waiting with a friend. He’s a nice guy. He’s generous, funny, and thoughtful. He’s also a well-known educator. He’s been on Twitter for a long time and has many followers. While we waited for our flights, one of his followers identified him, approached, and asked to take a picture with him. He kindly agreed. What struck me most about the interaction was the woman never introduced herself to him. She never told him who she was, what she does, or even what her username is. She just wanted a picture with him–as if he were Bono or someone. I wonder if quantifying everything is actually making us all somewhat crazy.

5. I’d rather be friends than a PLN. Don’t get me wrong. Being a connected learner is important, and I value the network I learn with online. I’ve invested a significant amount of time into developing that network. Somehow a small number of those connections grow into true friendships–even though we may never meet in person. I’m amazed by this. At some point personal learning network no longer accurately describes these relationships, and honestly, I’d prefer a few true friends to a vast network of learning connections. Being at ISTE solidified and renewed several friendships. For this I’m thankful.

4. “Walk and talk” is my favorite learning method. Don’t get me wrong. Reading and writing is valuable me. Project-based learning is powerful. Class discussions are insightful. Simulations can drive home a point, and I still benefit from the occasional lecture, too. But I find walking and talking truly transformative. I had several walk and talk “sessions” at ISTE, and they were some of my favorite learning experiences. I’m trying to figure out how to merge more of them into my learning now that I’m home.

3. Our faiths and philosophies of life shape who we are and how we learn and teach. We don’t always talk about those things in our interactions. To do so is risky and requires transparency–an intimacy, that isn’t always comfortable. And yet, when we know these things about each other–when we share our hearts, our stories, we can connect with and learn from one another at a deeper level. I had several risky conversations while at ISTE, and I’m a better teacher and person because of them.

2. It’s good to hangout with guys. I love my colleagues at work. They are amazing teachers and incredible people. I’m blessed to teach with them and to learn from them. I cannot imagine a better group of co-workers, and yet they are almost all women. I’m the only male homeroom teacher at my school, and I am one of only two male teachers that isn’t an administrator or coach. My male colleague teaches music in a different part of the building so we don’t see each other much. It’s a strange dynamic being the only guy. (This is my first job in an elementary school.) Connecting with guy friends outside work hasn’t happened either over the past few months. At ISTE, I spent a fair amount of time just hanging out with guys. I needed it, and am thankful for the time. One of the main reasons I went to San Antonio was to meet and hangout with John. Fortunately, I also spent some quality time with Chad, Rodney, Thomas, Jeremy, Tim, Tony, Paul, Stephen, Will, Tim, Steven, and Nick. It was good to listen, to laugh, to share with them.  Now, how do I convince them to move to Memphis?

1. You can’t beat face to face. I love reading and commenting on blog posts, engaging in Twitter chats, and talking via video conferencing. They are valuable learning experiences. It’s handy to connect asynchronously with others and to learn together even though miles apart, but it doesn’t compare to being side by side or right across the table.

What about you? What stuck with you from ISTE 2013?

22 comments

  1. Sisdr

    So many of the things that stuck with you resonated with me, Phillip. I saw you joined us in Lift and so followed the link to this blog. Thanks for that, this, and teaching. As the only Black teacher in the department on my campus, I encourage you to keep hanging out with the guys. We know life is not really a binary equation. Both AND is truly best. Looking forward to more of you in the blogosphere!

    • Philip

      Thank you for taking the time to comment. I have joined Lift and I’m trying to keep up with several new habits there–one of them being to blog more. My goal is two posts each week. Hopefully, I can manage that. Thanks for taking the time to connect. I’ll add your blog to the list of those I follow via RSS. Warmest regards!

  2. Wesley Fryer

    I really enjoyed this post, Phillip. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to connect with you this year at ISTE. I had wonderful experiences at the conference as well, the best times were actually having lunch with just a few friends individually. The dynamics unleashed by social media at events like this are definitely weird. At one point I met someone who I had encountered one other time F2F and through Twitter, but I didn’t remember them and the situation was fairly uncomfortable. (They were upset I didn’t remember them.) At some statewide conferences this past year it was similar, where I had a fair bit of trepidation because I knew I wasn’t going to recognize everyone I probably should have. I know there are limits to how many people we both count as real friends and that we naturally recognize because we interact with them. Social media challenges this in F2F settings like ISTE. Overall, my experiences at the conference were very positive, but there were a few moments of weirdness. It’s difficult to accurately describe this but it is definitely a real dynamic.

    • Philip

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Wes. As much as you travel and as many people as you interact with, it’s impossible to remember everyone or even most people. Anytime I approach someone I know that I don’t see on a regular basis I re-introduce myself. I don’t expect anyone to remember who I am apart from family and close friends, and it seems most courteous to reintroduce myself and help people re-make the connection. I, too, am sorry we didn’t get to connect at ISTE. I saw you across the Bloggers’ Cafe but got stopped by another connection while making my way over to say hi. When I looked up again, you were gone. Hopefully, we can meet F2F again soon. Thanks again for reading and commenting, Wes.

      • Wesley Fryer

        I’d love to come to another teachmeet in Memphis. I agree that small get-togethers like that, along with tweet ups, can be really great learning opportunities. I actually need to connect with Clif for some recommendations on consulting and coaching. Please let me know if you all have an upcoming teachmeet or other PD opportunity in Memphis. My college roommate and good friend lives in Memphis, and I also need a new excuse to come visit him with my family. 🙂

        • Philip

          We’d love to have you. I don’t know of anything planned right now, but maybe there will be something on the horizon. If we plan something, I will definitely let you know. Thanks again!

  3. Justin Stortz

    I’m trying not to be sad. Seriously. But, man I am. I can’t help but feel I missed out on such a great opportunity.

    I wish I could’ve been a part of 4 and 3 with you. Someday I’m going to write about #2 and being almost the only guy at an elementary school. It can be very lonely at times.

    Enough of the sap. I’m glad you finally shared your reflections as I enjoyed reading them. Perhaps our paths will cross someday.

    – @newfirewithin

    • Philip

      Thanks, Justin. I really wish you had been there, too, but I know we can’t do everything. Being a guy at an elementary school is challenging. I love my school and what I get to do, but I do miss having more male peers like I did when I taught high school. What do you do to find/have that male companionship? I’d be interested to know.

        • Philip

          I wish you lived closer so we could set up some type of regular F2F hangout. We could always video conference, but it’s not the same, really. But I’d be game if you are interested.

          I do have a buddy that I try to meet up with once a month or so, but it’s tough with a big family and a life-encompassing job.

  4. Michelle Baldwin (@michellek107)

    Thanks for taking the time to write this. I think a lot of the things you bring up here are also on the minds of people who attend ISTE, especially if you’re a repeat attendee. For new attendees, I know ISTE can be really overwhelming and, outside of the Newbie lounge/volunteers, I’m not sure how ISTE addressed their needs. On the plus side, I know there is talk about creating a mentor/mentee system for the next few years.
    On a personal note, I’m especially grateful for the time you and I sat in a lounge and talked. Your point about face to face is my main reason for going to ISTE… online connecting makes it possible to converse with people around the world, but it’s never the best substitute for those in-person conversations. 🙂
    So glad you shared.

    • Philip

      Thanks, Michelle. And thanks for the push to share something, too. I enjoyed ISTE. Our conversation was one of my highlights, and it was good to be among friends. The problem for me is that I need more face-to-face times, and I can’t afford to conference hop all year. 🙂

    • Philip

      You were definitely part of those two (and a few others as well). Thanks for commenting, Jeremy. When does your flight arrive in Memphis? 🙂

  5. Hadley Ferguson

    I love the “I’d rather be friends than a PLN”! As you note, digital connections are wonderful, but there is nothing like f2f. Walking and Talking was fabulous, as well as the risky conversations. There is something about being away from home, with people you know a bit personally and trust professionally that creates a great environment for growth.

    • Philip

      I completely agree, Hadley, and I’m amazed at how deep the connection and conversation can be. Thank you for spending time walking and talking. Next time I promise to pick a destination that isn’t so gluten-centric. 🙂

  6. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Pal…

    Great reflection — and I love “walk and talk” too. That’s one of my favorite parts of Educon. Anytime I get to walk 20 blocks with you, I feel like I’ve learned a ton and had a great time doing it.

    Regarding numbers on social media, I’m starting to see them as a bit of a necessary evil. Here’s why: Numbers imply credibility to sources BEYOND the circles that we swim in — and that implied credibility often leads to opportunities to get invited to important conversations about teaching and learning.

    I’ll give you an example: Dell reached out to me before ISTE and invited me to be a part of a panel about transforming schools that involved a bunch of heavy hitters from the business world and from the parent community. I’m pretty sure that the only reason I got invited was because I’ve got a large following on Twitter and on my blog. The numbers served to get me to the table.

    Now I know that numbers don’t GUARANTEE credibility — and that some of the strongest voices have small followings simply because they don’t play the social media game.

    And I know that some of the people with the largest followings aren’t people that I always admire or trust. I think they really ARE shameless self-promoters who could care less about relationships and growing together.

    So it’s an imperfect system to say the least.

    But if numbers give real live classroom teachers a chance to be seen as experts — and then invited to conversations that they would have otherwise been left out of — I almost think the crap that comes along with quantifying relationships and credibility might just be worth it.

    Does any of this make sense?
    Bill

    • Philip

      I understand your point, Bill, and I guess you might be right. As much as I’d prefer to dismiss the numbers entirely, they may be helpful on some level. That said, it’s DEFINITELY an imperfect system and one I don’t trust. I don’t care how many Twitter followers and blog readers you have. If that all goes away tomorrow, you will continue to influence my thinking and my teaching because of the time we’ve invested in each other and what we do. I know you are an expert at our craft. Maybe stats and metrics allow outsiders a shortcut to finding credible people like you. Maybe the numbers are necessary (and not completely evil), but personally, I’d prefer to find my influencers by investing the time in genuine, quality relationships. Congrats on the Dell thing. They were fortunate to bring you to the table.