[BFTP] 3 kinds of ISTE sessions

[ISTELive 2024 starts this week so I am resurrecting three blog posts from previous years. Below is Blast From the Past (BFTP) #1 from 2015!]


Not including the more informal networking events, there generally are 3 kinds of ISTE sessions:

  1. Tools, tools, tools! These sessions focus on software, apps, extensions, productivity and efficiency, how-to tips, etc. Little emphasis on learning, heavy emphasis on how to use the tools.
  2. Technology for school replication. These sessions focus on the use of digital technologies to replicate and perpetuate schools’ historical emphases on factual recall and procedural regurgitation, control and compliance, students as passive learners, etc. Behavior modification apps, teacher content transmission tools, flashcard and multiple choice software, student usage monitoring programs, and the like.
  3. Technology for school transformation. These sessions focus on deeper learning, greater student agency, and perhaps real-world, authentic work. Learning technologies tend to be divergent rather than convergent, foster cognitive complexity, and facilitate active, creative student-driven learning.

We need more of #3. Lots more. Right now these sessions are still a significant minority of sessions at ISTE (and most other educational technology conferences).

Which kinds of sessions did you attend? What does that mean for your ability to effectuate change back home?

Which kinds of sessions did you facilitate? What does that mean for your responsibility as a presenter to help others effectuate change back home?

We’re wasting opportunities to move our systems…

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

Why a random motivational speaker won’t help your staff remember their ‘why’

This post from a school administrator came across my feeds this weekend:

Looking for suggestions of a great speaker for the first week of PD– motivational– reconnecting with your “Why” for staff. Thank you in advance for your suggestions!

I posted it to Facebook with the comment, “Does anyone think this is going to have any long-term impact whatsoever?”

Some folks thought that I was criticizing the speaker side of this dynamic. Just to clarify, I don’t actually have an issue with that side of things. If you’re offering something as a speaker or facilitator that others find value in and are willing to pay for, more power to you. That doesn’t mean that everyone will, but that’s okay. Find your niche. Try to do good work. Ignore the critics (or use their feedback to improve what you do).

Instead, I am greatly challenged by the request. There’s nothing in this generic call for a random ‘great … motivational’ speaker that says:

  • We are working on school culture and I need a carefully-targeted outside person who can build our capacity to do the following things, or
  • My teachers are really struggling. Who might be able to help me and my leadership team build better systems of support?, or
  • Based on robust feedback from my staff, we really need assistance with these key structures.

Instead, the request just feels like “Hey, I’d like to find some random person who hopefully can help us feel good and ignore our disengaging workspace for an hour and I’m willing to pay big money for it.” Um, maybe a standup comedian can do that for you? The long-term impact for your staff and school feels like it will be about the same…

There are at least three large concerns here:

  1. The belief that teachers who are disconnected from their ‘why’ will somehow derive significant benefit from a one-off ‘motivational’ speaker,
  2. The utter lack of follow-up or overall strategy that is built into this request, and
  3. The apparent lack of awareness that what is in need of fixing is local systems (which are primarily the leaders’ responsibility), not teachers.

Brad Weinstein aptly saidAsking teachers to remember their ‘why’ can be viewed as blaming teachers for losing their passion for teaching instead of working on improving the conditions that actually burn them out. Similarly, Mandy Froehlich said in a comment to my Facebook post, Most teachers know their why. They don’t know how to do their why in their current situation or the state of education.

School culture is critically important for organizational success, and the best facilitators that I know on this topic work with schools long-term from a coaching stance to help build both better systems and individual capacity. That is a whole different ballgame than “The culture and systems that I am responsible for are broken and I am hoping that a high energy, one-hour talk will paper over it.” Teaching is really hard, and it’s particularly difficult right now. As school leaders who are supposed to serve those in our care and also have limited professional learning funds, we owe our educators better than this.

See also