I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when meeting the members of my PLN (personal learning network) for the first time. I definitely did not expect to feel like I was amongst family from the moment I stepped off the plane in Denver. But, I guess when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. These are people from all over the world, from all walks of life, that share something very important: a passion for education and the use of technology in education. In other words, if you ignore the differences in height or weight, hair color, eye color, or skin color, rock star status or starry-eyed groupie, those of us gathered at ISTE for a few short days were really all the same. Educators dedicated to our students.
There is a phrase that keeps bouncing around in my brain ever since ISTE, and it's something that Vicki Davis said in one of her sessions. We always talk about our "three takeaways" when it comes to conferences or professional development of any kind, the three new ideas or tools you take with you back to your classroom. But Vicki put it in a way I had never heard before:
If you don't do something with the information you get from a conference right after you get home, you won't be changed.I won't be changed. When I really started to think about it, I think that was the reason I went to ISTE. I wanted to be changed. I wanted to be different afterward. I wanted for something deep down inside me to wake up and say, "This is it! This is what you are meant to do! Now, go do it!!"
I probably should have asked for specifics.
Let's start here. Just what were my three takeaways from ISTE? They can be summed up thus: Connections. Creativity. Collaboration.
By far, the best part of ISTE for me was being able to connect to the amazing people who make up my PLN. Being around people who think like I do when it comes to student learning was invigorating, but it was also incredibly validating...I wasn't the only one in the room who knew what was going on with technology! What a novel concept!
My Connections Takeaway. During the school year, I get so involved in all the things that make up my job that I always seem to be working. All day. Every day. I can't keep that up. I need to make sure to include time in my year to connect with my friends. There are so many different ways to connect with people in the 21st century; I know that. Any type of connection, virtual or otherwise, will be so much better than none. I made so many amazing connections while I was in Denver, and I'm bound to make even more connections at Google next week. These are connections that don't end when the school year begins, at least not if I nurture those connections instead of ignore them. Or myself.
Most of what I learned in sessions at ISTE, at the Denver Zoo with all those amazing Discovery Educators, and in plenty of moments in the Bloggers' Cafe, could fall under the category "creativity." If you want to engage your students, bring creativity back into the classroom. We know we have standards to worry about and tests to work toward, but what about the learning? Shouldn't learning be fun? I love learning something new; I find learning to be incredibly exciting and full of hope and promise. Do you? Do your students?
My Creativity Takeaway. There are so many ways to allow our students to be creative in showing what they know. We just need to be open to letting them. Let the students decide how they will be assessed. Not only will they have a more vested interest in the process, but they will go above and beyond what you think they are capable of. I saw that very clearly last year. One of my goals for the last school year was to take a step or two outside of my comfort zone and let my students have more control over their learning. It led to some pretty amazing experiences for all of us. As it turns out, part of the reason the kids loved it so much was that they felt like someone was finally listening to them and honoring their ideas and opinions.
In case you're wondering about the picture above, I took it during one of Rushton Hurley's sessions. He is an incredibly dynamic speaker, not to mention truly inspiring. It's hard to capture the essence of a presentation in a photograph, but I think the energy with which Rushton shares his passion came through fairly well in this picture.
Before leaving for Denver, I asked myself what my goals were for ISTE. One of my main goals was to learn more about collaboration, but I especially wanted to know more specifics about how I can get my students working with students from other schools, other states, even other countries.
My Collaboration Takeaway. My biggest concern about collaborating with other schools has always been that I wouldn't be able to manage the project and that I might let someone down. My learning issues make doing my job challenging enough. Would I be able to handle what I imagine would be a fairly large undertaking?
For all those who know me, I'm sure this will be a tremendous shock: I believe I may have been overthinking things a bit. I'll give you a moment to recover from that incredible insight.
Anyway...at ISTE I was able to attend Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay's session 7 Steps to Flatten Your Classroom. It was probably the best thing I could have done while at ISTE in terms of my own growth as a teacher. Vicki and Julie make it sound easy enough that even I could handle it. I know that I'll have many moments of doubt in any project of this nature, but being at ISTE reminded me that I have people all over the world that I can lean on for support. That alone gives me the confidence to step a little further outside of my comfort zone.
To be honest, I think my biggest takeaways from ISTE had nothing whatsoever to do with technology or even education. I learned a lot about myself while I was in Denver, and I was able to see the changes that I've made as a teacher and as a person in the last five years or so. I'm not the person I once was, and that's a good thing. Talking with teachers from all over the globe made me realize that maybe I don't need to be in a classroom to make changes in education, but I'm there now and it seems like I may just have some pretty good ideas. Stay tuned...
True "Rock Stars" are those who don't believe they are.
Learning happens anywhere...
...and is more fun with a few thousand of your closest friends.
Life comes with musical accompaniment, and you get to choose the soundtrack.
There are so many ways to communicate; never miss an opportunity to reach out.
And, most importantly...
...are great friends...
...no matter where...
...you find each other.
My deepest gratitude to all of those who have helped me along on my journey. The journey is never smooth...but that's what makes it interesting!
Photos: Most are mine and can be found here: Flickr
Photo from EduBloggercon is from Peggy George
Photo of Lee Kolbert and Me is from Lee Kolbert, taken by Teryl Magee
Photo of Teryl Magee and Me in Bloggers' Cafe is from Melanie Holtsman