What’s Going on?: An ISTE 2015 Reflection

I attended my first ISTE last week in Philadelphia. It was large, constant, and rewarding. Essentially, it was a really great family reunion. ISTE is not about technology. ISTE is not about Twitter follower counts. Simply put, ISTE is about relationships. And, how we leverage those relationships as educators to move our schools and our country forward. In education, relationships and conversations are the two most important initiatives a school can employ.

In America, we find ourselves surrounded with tensions of inequality and social injustice. And, although these issues may not have found their way to your classroom, our education system is where we begin to solve these issues regardless of the context. Rafranz Davis and Bob Dillonspoke of these inequalities and injustices in their powerful ignite sessions. Their words were both powerful and timely. And I encourage you to have a conversation with both of them and make Rafranz and Bob part of your connected network.

If our country is going to learn and heal from our troubled past, we must start in every American classroom. Every life, of every student, in our country, matters. There are plenty of difficult conversations that need to happen and not only push our thinking forward, but the thinking of our students. These conversations are not simply a trend or a policy that happens in the wake of a tragedy or an injustice, no, this is a shift in our entire culture. Ultimately, if we are not self aware and mindful of the realities in our classrooms, and all classrooms, then we can never move forward.

Our students will be faced with some of the toughest challenges in the coming years. If we cannot provide the spaces for ideas to blossom and innovation to occur, then we are doing our students and our country a disservice. These spaces must include a diverse array of thinking and technology along with engaging conversations and deliberate, spatial designs to promote them. We must challenge our students with tough questions and give them the arena and tools to explore them and discover a variety of solutions. Essentially, the American education system needs to get over its infatuation with numbers and letters and focus on the human element. We all teach to develop minds, ideas, and character. And, just for once, I’d like to see a national focus to promote relationship building in schools and the adjoining communities and not just test scores. We owe our students and are country so much more.

So, this was my ISTE takeaway. It was not an app or a device, rather it was the need for a cultural shift around what equity in education really means, and how we begin to solve this problem. I connected with so many beautiful minds last week at ISTE and the Tech & Learning CIO summit. And, all the while I made a point to sit and observe what was happening around me and listen to the conversations rather than trying to lead them. The human connection is so powerful and can really change the world. In education, we must leverage the power of connectedness through technology and focus on building relationships. Not only in our connected education communities, but in our classrooms. This shift begins with proper modeling by school leaders and educators. We need to be the inspiration for our students and the role models when it comes to leveraging the power of connectedness.

Can you imagine if  our schools functioned like an ISTE conference? What if the purpose of school was to find the spaces to learn that suit you best and engage in the conversations that interested you most?  What if school was about solving grand challenges and questioning the world around us, rather than arbitrary letters and numbers? What if school emulated the reality of life beyond compulsory education, rather than a prep program for the uncertainty of a student’s foray into the ever-changing global economy? I’m hopeful that the American education system can have a renaissance that drives global  innovation and promotes equality and empathy. But, we must act now and ensure that our students have the ability to not only solve these challenges, but create their future.