It does seem strange that in my decade-plus of educational technology instruction that I have attended multiple national conventions like ISTE, but I had never, before this year, attended NYSCATE, New York’s equivalent EdTech conference. There are a number of reasons for that. It’s a 6-hour drive to Rochester in the cold close to Thanksgiving. I still have school through Wednesday while other schools in the state have the week off. I am limited to how often I’m allowed to leave the city, so I save it for the biggest events. But the saddest and most inexcusable reason is that the city has its own ecosystem for grants and funding, connecting with vendors, training teachers, or even sharing ideas. We even have our own NYC Schools Tech Summit. So the city and state are frequently separated on this (as they are in many other ways).
But even with all of that, both the city and the rest of the state would benefit from sharing our expertise with each other. That was made clear when NYSCATE held it’s first Digital Leadership Conference conveniently in Brooklyn. So, after that, I committed myself to attend and present at the NYSCATE conference this year regardless of snow or exhaustion. So I drove the mind-numbing 6 hours alone (since my co-worker couldn’t get approved) fueled only by my killer playlist, podcasts, and too much trail mix. I wasn’t sure if I would find it worth the effort, but I would try, despite my social aversion, to connect with educators in different circumstances as well as connect with my younger brother’s family in Rochester. So whether inhaling exhaust fumes at Monster Jam with my niece and nephew, exploring historic sites, digging into MakerFaire creativity (yes, they have a MakerFaire and a student exhibition day), or inspiring accessibility advocacy with like-minded teachers, I found it to be a worthwhile enterprise in renewing and confirming my beliefs about what life and quality education should look like.
- Education at its best is magical. We were treated to the impossible science of Jason Latimer which made clear the idea that magic is just science we haven’t yet explained and also how when we discover and learn some amazing new thing whether it’s the advance of AI or the genetic possibilities of CRISPR, it can seem like magic or science fiction. You can check out Make Learning Magical by Tisha Richmond for more ideas on ‘magical’ learning.
- We should be producing the future creators of technology and not consumers of it. A key way to do this is to engage in more hands-on project-based learning which can involve tech but it doesn’t always have to. This doesn’t mean we want a generation of Etsy sellers, but we do want to empower today’s students to create the solutions for tomorrows problems.
- Project-based learning is meaningless without the right culture in place. Whether you call it challenge-learning or Makerspaces makes no difference if you’re not fostering a community of creation across the board. One room for it won’t cut it.
- Libraries remain one of the few places where choice exists in many schools. That means we’re dictating too much of what is required and the sole way we’ll accept a student to display mastery. It also means that libraries (and librarians) remain a crucial and often underused part of our school and the larger community.
- A teacher’s role is not to provide information to students but liberate and transform them. There’s no need to be an information box in an age of Google and YouTube. If that is all a teacher is then they will all soon succumb to the inevitable robot apocalypse (only sort-of joking). If instead, we are here to guide students in their strengths, help them confront and find support for their weaknesses, and challenge them in ways they wouldn’t themselves we may find a purpose for ourselves in the future as well as the present.
On Growth & Innovation
- More tech on its own is never the answer. This is less obvious to many than it would seem. That’s why I tried to answer the question Is More Tech the Answer? more completely in addition to giving 16 Keys to Successfully Implementing Technology. A computer can create as many new problems as it can solve if you don’t have a well-thought plan in place.
- EdTech departments should be obsolete. This goes to the idea that siloing education departments is counterproductive. Every educator should strive towards proficiency and professional development should be driven by the very teachers benefitting from it.
- 21st-century learning is outdated. I’ve heard this voiced by more than one educational leader. The 7 C’s are still crucial for modern students, but the terminology is just another way to describe an effective contemporary educator. The 21st-century is now! It’s not that we shouldn’t teach content, but content should be embedded in these skills.
- Every teacher has something valuable to share. Whether in their first or forty-first year, every decent educator has some expertise to share whether it’s on managing student behavior or managing their own mental health. Whether through pineapple charts or regular teacher-led PD, Building from within is the most powerful way to build capacity in a school.
- You will encounter obstacles in sharing and growing your personal and school’s capacity. Plan for them. You may not yet have quality professional development available or organized locally. There may be gaps between pedagogy and the technology available. You may not be future-focused and there may be issues with equity of access for students and staff. And even if you do have good plans, how do you continue to scale and sustain them. As the adage goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. Make sure you have plans in place for the inevitable obstacles. Perhaps start here.
- You can only be truly successful with 2-3 initiatives. What becomes a problem is that many schools and districts have 2 or 3 times as many initiatives moving forward. How successfully can you meet the needs of all of those? Perhaps it’s best to look at what is most crucially and immediately in need of innovation.
- Choose the right type of pilot program based on your goals and make it clear to all involved. There are different levels of edtech piloting programs whether it is exploratory, technical, instructional, or a full implementation. You should give them different names to prevent confusion. You may be exploring with a small group to determine if an effort is worth it or you may be worried if your teachers, infrastructure, and IT staff can handle it. Whatever your goal is, make sure everyone involved knows it.
- Maximize the effectiveness of people and tools to accelerate innovation. The 5 keys to acceleration are the human capacity of your leaders, the quality of your design thinking, your ability to personalize instruction/training, how effectively it is data-driven, and whether you’re turning your learners into creators that can inspire future learners.
- Whenever possible, include students in the major decisions. It’s crucial to bring in all the people who have a stake in your efforts to improve/change whether that includes staff, students, parents, and the surrounding community. It will give them a sense of ownership and you a larger pool of talent and a greater ability to distribute tasks.
- Life and learning are about exploration and the relationships we build while doing so. Chris Bashinelli made it clear that the future is about connections. Connections between ideas, people, cultures, and concepts on a worldwide scale. We need to move ourselves and our students towards becoming global citizens.
- Your family is a powerful force for support and encouragement. No one’s family is perfect and some people are wholly estranged, but family is less about people with common blood than it is about people with common hearts. Gladly, I NYSCATE I got to spend time with people who met both criteria.
- Involving yourself in an educational community is crucial, and there are many ways to do it. Begin with participating in training and social events. Then begin to advocate for others by bringing fellow educators either physically or having them join on social media. Then when you feel confident you can begin to present what you’ve learned to others and finally apply for grants and awards.
On The Digital World
- Teaching about the bad things on the internet is never enough. The challenges that web brings from Finsta to Fortnite, Snapchat Streaks to self-cyberbullying, young people will constantly find new ways to break boundaries. There are reasons for that, but our goal should be to teach how to move forward positively in all environments regardless of our familiarity with the latest trends. Banning and blocking will not solve a problem when there will always be alternatives. Teaching how to impact your physical and online communities in a meaningful way is an important part of digital citizenship instruction.
- Digital colonialism is difficult to combat using the tools of digital colonialism. While we can debate the benevolence of different tech giants, I’m sure you’ve heard the common refrain of “I’m quitting Facebook or here’s another problem with Facebook” as a post…shared on Facebook. While Twitter and other social media platforms can be sources to initiate change, we need to explore alternatives for when those behind the scenes of these platforms aren’t as forthright and equitable as we would want.
- There is such a thing as a positive selfie. While I was initially deeply opposed to this idea, Barb Tasber and Rick Bray helped me see an alternative. I mean, selfies sound inherently selfish and vain not to mention that they can also be dangerous. Hundreds of people have died from dangerous selfies and I know of few people who aren’t annoyed by the sight of selfie-sticks. They’re banned from many places. People will spend an exorbitant amount of time trying to capture the “perfect moment” to share via social media while missing out on actually experiencing those moments. So there are real issues. I’m also annoyed when people mislabel a photo, especially a group photograph, as a selfie. It is not. Even if it’s taken by a member of the group, that would be a groupie, right? It’s social and collaborative in the way a selfie is not. The one selfie exception though that I can see as being inherently worthwhile is the personal confession. While this idea has definitely been overdone with pet confessions, a person sharing a personal struggle openly through an image with text (or a video-also not a selfie) breaks down barriers in the way the ‘best of the internet’ is supposed to.
- No one should ever have to ask for access. Yes, we should encourage young people with disabilities to advocate for themselves, but we shouldn’t make them have to fight just to access the information that all the other students get. The work of Albert Rizzi with My Blindspot functions as an advocacy organization for young and old to bring access to those who need it and is worth looking into.
- Technology can unlock knowledge, access to it, and the time to procure it. Technology is best when it’s transformative like taking us to the moon or allowing a non-verbal student communicate. But it is worthwhile even when it makes us more efficient to give us the time and ability to access knowledge that previously would have been difficult to procure.
- It is crucial to understand the difference between tolerance and empathy. We can’t simply tolerate those who are different or who challenge our thinking. Tolerance breeds contempt when we see someone as refusing to conform to our view. It is crucial we learn to empathize especially with students who are raised in a different experience than we had either racially, religiously, economically, or socially. Ken Shelton made it clear that understanding is not predicated on agreement with another person.
- Race, gender, socio-economic status, or geography should not be predictors of success. Sadly they too often are and we must make an effort to account and mitigate these factors as much as we can. Granted its hard to fight for equity effectively in a school when they walk out into their neighborhood that remains segregated and polarized. Even so, that can’t be an excuse to take no action. As trite as the saying sound at this stage, it is no less true that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Being a lifelong learner means that any event, conference, or PD can never offer you a complete solution, but it can be the impetus for you to begin the ongoing process of innovating your educational practices. To continue your ongoing learning there are a multitude of options. As I said above community is crucial so you might want to connect to an ISTE PLN, join a Twitter chat, or just begin the conversation with people in your school. There is online training available galore also. Of course, Apple, Google, and Microsoft have their own offerings as do many other companies, but GCF covers a lot of basics on technology. You can also seek insights online from your favorite blog. Hopefully, the fact that you’ve read to this point means you find this one worthwhile. Perhaps begin with my 16 Keys to Successfully Implementing Technology. Maybe before that, you need some money to implement the changes, so you can look into Donors Choose or other grant opportunities.
The strength of organizations like NYSCATE is that they make themselves a resource for all of those things: funding, information, training/certification, and an encouraging community. And while I have a lot of those benefits internally within New York City, we all benefit from new perspectives. I met people from school districts that consisted of 1 building of 500 students with their own unique challenges and efforts. What they may struggle to have in funding and resources they make up for in flexibility and the speed with which they institute changes. I wanted to share some of the nearby NYSCATE opportunities that I thought were particularly valuable.
- Google Certified Trainer Institute – Dec. 6-7, Bronx, NY
- Microsoft Teacher Acadamy – Jan. 10, Newark, NJ
- Virtual & Augmented Reality Workshop – Jan. 24, Bronx, NY
- ISTE Certification for Educators – Jan. 28-29, Harrison, NY
- Microsoft Trainer Acadamy – Feb. 4-5, Newark, NJ
- Makey Makey Invention Literacy Certification – Feb. 6, Bronx, NY
I’m not telling you that you need to sign up for all that you can. Perhaps your growth is better served by talking with your colleagues and peers or in relaxing and quietly reflecting on your practices. I would only suggest attempting multiple methods (just like you would for your students) to determine how you can grow and have the greatest impact.