#ISTE19 Reflections & Rainbow Connections

Source: Daniele Levis Pelusi on Unsplash

I just got back from #ISTE19. Or maybe I should call it #PeopleJoyLoveFest19. I went to #ISTE18 in Chicago last year and enjoyed it, but now I feel like I GET it. After those five days in Philadelphia, I GET why people go to ISTE year after year. It’s the people, it’s the connections, it’s the tribe. I’m already thinking about #ISTE20 in Anaheim, CA. Because writing a post about “connections” sounded boring, I´m calling these “Rainbow Connections”, after the dear Muppets/Kermit the Frog children’s song, which to me has always evoked feelings of closeness, searching, and a little bit of sadness– perfect because this is how I feel about each of these connections.

Rainbow Connection #1: Google #LON19

This year was extra special in a few ways because I had the crazy cool privilege of presenting a TED-style talk during one of the keynote sessions. I’m thinking that whole experience may be a separate blog post. But the other reason it was extra special is because I met four people who feel like long-lost friends, brother-from-another-mother and sisters-from-another-mister, you get the picture. I was recently accepted into the Google Certified Innovator program, London cohort, which is coming up in just a few short days. I was excited to find out that five of us would actually be at ISTE and would have the chance to meet and hang out a bit before our big Google academy. I thought this was great, but expected not much more than having an hour or two of fun a few times during the conference. WRONG! Once we met and started talking, it became clear that there was something much bigger happening. Each of these people is so fascinating, and driven, and maybe a little bit weird (you guys know it’s true), that some sort of magnetic force pulled us all together. We found ourselves meeting daily, even multiple times a day, seeking out further and deepening connections. It seems that Google, in its infinite scary wisdom, knows what it’s doing when it plucks people out of their daily lives and throws them together. Clay Smith is one of these four, and in his post-conference blog post described being forever changed. I can feel it too– something opening up and evolving, increasing my connection to the world of people learning, and seeking, and growing.

Since one of our four is a New Yorker, I was also privileged to meet a big contingent of NYC educators. These people are doing some incredible work in areas of special education and assistive technology, information literacy, and connecting partners (vendors) with the community of educators that they support. They even held a panel discussion composed of a few curated partners and several NYC educators. Their positive approach to this partnership is something that all schools and districts could learn from. Another of our four is from New Mexico, so I got to meet a few educators from a place that is vastly different from the Chicago suburbs. Another of the soon-to-be Innovators is from California and told us all about how some of her schools are taking the leap into eSports, which is becoming a huge trend in middle/high schools and universities. The windows of insight that have been flung open to me because of the Google Innovator program have been mind boggling, and we haven’t even yet had the official academy. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

Rainbow Connection #2: TED Friends

As I mentioned, I had the opportunity to present a TED Talk I developed through the TED Masterclass on the mainstage at ISTE. Not only did this experience enhance my presentation skills, it also connected me with some outstanding people in the TED and ISTE community. First, there was Ashley Kolaya. After I was informed that I would be presenting on the mainstage, I was connected with a TED coach. These professional coaches regularly work with TED presenters on refining their talks and honing their message. Ashley was my coach, and her job was to help me revise my talk, make it matter, and then ensure that I was being as authentically myself as possible when presenting it. After several drafts and a few video calls, I felt like Ashley was personally invested and interested in helping me succeed. She was funny, relatable, and helped me overcome the imposter syndrome with which I was struggling. Thanks, Ashley!

Cheyenne and me at #ISTE19

My other TED friend is Cheyenne Batista. Cheyenne was the other TED Masterclass participant selected for the mainstage. She and I met over a video call with our coaches in May, but never in person until the day of our ISTE rehearsal the Saturday before the conference began. Seeing her in person was really exciting because we both were about to have this huge shared experience, so could relate and understand our mutual excitement and terror. Cheyenne also tipped me off to the teleprompter option, for which I’ll be forever grateful. Instant peace of mind! She also shared a powerful message during her Sunday mainstage talk, one which stayed with me and gave me strength as I prepared for my own big moment– her message was about the importance of personal voice and efficacy: “You have a voice, it will be heard. Prepare and perform.” We connected over email and a few times in person over the course of ISTE, including at her excellent ISTE session on inequity in schools. I hope that our paths cross again.

Rainbow Connection #3: Chicagoland Educators Kicking A$$

I had the opportunity to attend two amazing sessions by Chicagoland educators, both of whom kicked a$$ in most incredible ways. Steve Wick and Jen Leban (also ResetEDU) are well-known educators from the Chicago suburbs who stand out significantly because of their uncountable contributions to the body of knowledge and skill in the field of education. Steve is a high school teacher and technology coach who is a prolific writer, tweeter, and creator of helpful resources in a variety of areas, including visual literacy and design. Jen is a middle school technology teacher (my kids were lucky enough to have her!) who is a virtual guru of all things WeVideo, and basically anything that fits into the nexus of art and technology. Jen has a YouTube channel as well, and is prolific in her creation of helpful videos demonstrating a variety of tools. What’s notable about both Steve and Jen is that they are clearly putting themselves out there and creating so prolificly, not for their own benefit or glory, but to truly help others in the field. It was exciting to listen to them offer up their time after their sessions, via email, etc. Their commitment to helping other teachers is inspiring.

Also representing Illinois were Amber Heffner, Traci Johnson, and Stan Gorbatkin. These three IDEA (formerly ICE) members are passionate about supporting educators in Illinois via the ISTE Standards, and each are involved in instructing the ISTE Certification course. Amber and Traci held informational sessions about the certification during ISTE, and are clearly enthusiastic about helping teachers understand these standards. Stan, a retired Director of Technology, is generous with his mentorship, sharing his experiences, and supporting educators like me as we strive to be our very best.

Finally, Jeremy McBrayer was at ISTE supporting his ten year old daughter, who was a winner in the Global Student Voice Film Festival! Jeremy is a regular conference attendee, presenter and visionary technology leader, so it was really fun to see him at a conference in a completely different capacity– excited for and proud of his daughter as she fulfilled her moviemaking dreams. Congratulations to them both!

Rainbow Connection #4: Women Leaders in Technology

It always strongly impacts me to see women in high profile technology leadership positions. Even though I know it’s possible, it is still powerful to see in person. I connected with several women technology leaders during the ISTE Conference, including the former Director of Dallas (or was it Houson? sorry! her business card is in my office) Public Schools Instructional Technology, the newly-retired CTIO of Green Bay Area Public Schools Diane Doersch, Director of Boulder Valley School District Kelly Sain, and the Director of the LAUSD Instructional Technology Initiative Sophia Mendoza! It is exciting to connect with these women and to let them know how much their leadership examples mean to me.

I’ve now been back for exactly one week, and I finally feel like I’m coming down from that ISTE high. Just in time to start thinking about Anaheim #ISTE20!

Doing Stuff that Scares You: #ISTE19

Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote a blog post called “5 Tips for Doing Stuff that Scares You.” I find myself a year later about to face one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my entire adult life, so I thought it would be interesting to revisit that topic and talk a little bit more about this newest challenge.

It all started this past winter with a voluntary professional development course that caught my attention. The course was the TED Masterclass for Educators, and was designed as a partnership between ISTE (Int’l Society for Technology in Education”) and TED. The course’s purpose is to provide free professional development for educators on how to give great talks. As part of the online course, you develop a talk, refining it throughout the course as you learn and grow your skills. At the end of the course, if you have developed a talk, you are asked to record and submit it. Three of those talks were then selected to be presented live at the annual ISTE Conference, held this year in Philadelphia at the end of June.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this: my talk was selected, and I was invited to speak onstage during the Tuesday “Featured Voice” keynote session. The ISTE Conference generally draws over 20,000 attendees, and the woman I spoke with who helps organize “Featured Voice” speakers told me that the Tuesday keynote session normally has about 5,000 people in attendance. Five Thousand. People. It will also be simulcast throughout the conference venue.

What the %$#&. When she told me that number, I got lightheaded and felt my stomach somersault more than a few times. As I said in last year’s post, I do tend to gravitate towards high-pressure situations, but this was definitely a new record. The talk is now 8 days away, and I can safely say that I am starting to FREAK OUT.

The factor that is causing me the most anxiety, however, is not even the number of people that may be there– no, the thing that is making me lose sleep is actually the story I’ll be sharing. As I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog, I have a particular interest in the topic of failure, especially looking at how the ways we talk about and frame failure have a significant impact on others and on ourselves. When I developed and then recorded my talk, it was for a small audience of strangers who I knew would be wading through hundreds of hours of footage. I didn’t know them, and figured that they would never have reason to actually know anything more about me besides what I shared on my video. The script, as they say, has been flipped– and now my story, which with the help of my TED coaches, has become even more personal and specific, is going to be REALLY public, REALLY soon.

*******So this blog post kind of petered out. I wasn’t sure where I was taking it, so I let it fizzle. It’s been a week or so and now my talk is only two days away. I’m pretty much okay with sharing my story, as there’s no going back now.

I think what I’ve become most overwhelmed by has been the level of support and encouragement I’ve received from friends and colleagues as I’ve started sharing pictures and updates. I was reluctant to share anything for a long time because I was afraid of looking like I thought I was “all that”, or like I thought I had more to say than anyone else. Imposter Syndrome is real, and it’s pretty hard to overcome. I see the other mainstage speakers and they’re all CEOs, Founders of This, Nationally-Recognized That, and it was hard not to compare my relatively pedestrian job to some of these luminaries.

More than anything, what’s been overwhelming to me has been all of the messages and tweets of support and encouragement I’ve received. People are SO good and kind, and want to cheer others on, which is something you tend forget unless you have a chance to be on the receiving end of so much goodwill. How grateful I feel to these people who have reached out with an encouraging message can’t be quantified. I am reminded, as I get up on that big stage, that people WANT to see me succeed. People aren’t waiting for me to fail, which is amazing thing to know. As nervous as I am to get up there and give this big talk, I know that I’m surrounded by people who believe in me.

So as far as doing stuff that scares you? TELL people about it, and then let them surprise you by being your cheerleaders, and reminding you that you MATTER and that they care. Thanks, everyone.

P.S. Here’s a little teaser video I created on my phone (!) using Adobe Spark Video: https://spark.adobe.com/video/BmomkODAjFnlv