7 Lessons Learned From the ISTE Leadership Forum

1. ISTE puts on a good show.

I’ve been to other ISTE conferences and they always put on a good show. This was similar but on a more intimate level. The JW Marriott was a fantastic place to host the conference and downtown Indianapolis was a fresh environment (I had never been). More than anything, I appreciated the warm reception of their staff and the presenters. It’s always a nice experience to hear someone talk on stage and then be able to have a one-to-one conversation with that person later in the day. This type of venue opened up those discussions in a big way.

2. Education was first, technology second (the way it should be).

The focus was on purpose. Let’s start with “What do we want students to accomplish?” and then work back from there. Sure, there were booths for companies promoting their products and software, but the presentations were about learning and how technology can be an efficient avenue towards meaningful experiences. Chris Lehmann’s opening Keynote set the tone for the conference in this regard, as Steven Anderson tweeted during the speech: “Schools should be places of great passion. We have to unlock that in ourselves, in our classrooms and in each other”. Sometimes we get wrapped up in what the tools can do, instead of focusing on what we want our students to accomplish. This conference brought that back to the forefront of our current discussion.

3. Purposeful conversations…but more time to share needed.

Many of the conversations I had at #istelf12 were about growth in education and how we as school leaders can have a positive impact. However, most of these conversations happened on my own time, in between sessions, lunch, and dinner. Next year I’m hoping ISTE will have some “unconference” opportunities in the model of Educon and Edcamps where we can hear ideas from everyone involved. Many of the folks attending this conference could have traded places with the presenters, but wouldn’t it be great if we all had an opportunity to present. That was a missing piece and something that we will all look forward to next year.

4. It wasn’t all about vision, more about doing.

Vision is a word that is often overused and not used properly. The final presentation focused on Action Plans for teachers, administrators, and districts…that’s what I’m talking about! I know I tried to focus my sessions on presenting an idea and then letting educators create something to actually take home and apply. It’s not enough to just listen, and it’s not enough to just share a vision. When we collectively work towards something at a conference then the vision can become a reality…instead of a “good idea”. This consequently is one of the areas in education that frustrates me. With our current level of technology and globalization we are able to see visionary schools at work, and what makes them successful. For some reason though we as an educational community don’t apply those successes to many of our “plans”. Case in point…a large a majority of people at this conference would say without a doubt that the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia is a leading model for schools in the US. If that is true…how many schools have followed this model? Have any? If we see something working extremely well over a period of time (not a flash in the pan) why aren’t we applying those lessons. Let’s continue to take vision to implementation as an education community.

5. The platform wars continue…can’t we see the forest from the trees?

I had a good conversation with George Couros about Google Apps vs. Microsoft in schools. It seems this was a conversation that many people were having all over the conference: “What platform is your school/district/institution using to move forward in regards to technology?” I don’t think there is a clear cut winner…although from my discussions it seems that teachers really like Google Apps but IT departments like Microsoft for security reasons. As more and more case studies of different schools pop up we’ll get a better idea of what is working and what isn’t. In order for that to happen, we need to make these discussions honest and open. And we also need to remember that the end goal is what’s important: the students. If a variety of approaches to technology can get our students to the same spot, then we shouldn’t have a problem which one it is…but, if we know that one approach is working much better than others – it should be accepted and implemented.

6. Learning to HELP and not to TELL as leaders.

In my “Going Paperless” session someone shared out with everyone the following (sorry I’m missing your name!): “As a leader I’m just starting to implement these ideas into my everyday work. I’ve realized that it is much easier to say to someone, ‘let me help you’, when rolling out a new initiative, rather than just ‘telling’ them what to do.” I took this as one of the key learning points during my time in Indianapolis. Visionary leadership is as much about professional practice than anything else. Doing these things (like Going Paperless) first, and then sharing with your staff or students how you did it, allows everyone to have the same shared experience and collaborate on a leveled playing field.

 7. Don’t plan 5 years down the road anymore…

Finally, I came away with the “plan” to not to plan too far down the road. An administrator in my “Blogging” session shared that his school had bought 650 new iPads…but hadn’t brought them out of the box yet. Why? Their teachers have not yet been trained on how to use the iPad effectively as a teaching tool, and some don’t even want to use it as a teaching tool. He asked, “What’s the life span on the iPad?” The iPad 1 came out in 2010 and now some may call it obsolete compared to what is available. If that is true…then how can you make a 5 year plan with a tablet that won’t be comparable in three years? The final session of the conference focused on this issue, and it is a big one in terms of EdTech. What is coming that will change your plan, and more importantly what do you have no idea about that will revolutionize your plan in five years? If we keep our plans short and our minds open, then these possibilities and opportunities will be easier to embrace as they arrive.

To Learn More About the Conference, Visit the Wiki for Resources and Information: http://2012-leadership-forum.iste.wikispaces.net/

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