Heading to ISTE

com.sherpa.iste2018I’m going to ISTE! The ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) annual conference is held each year at the end of June, is THE premiere conference for all things edtech, and this year it’s in Chicago! ISTE is reportedly exhilarating, a little overwhelming, and chock full of learning and networking opportunities.

Everything I’ve read regarding how best to approach the conference advises that you set goals before you go. It’s such a big conference with hundreds of sessions, a huge vendor hall, networking lounges, tech playgrounds, and evening social events, so a little planning goes a long way. The conference even has its own app!

I want to make the most of my time at ISTE, so I’ve been making plans and setting goals, which include:

  • Attend opening and closing keynotes. I admit that sometimes I skip these at conferences because they’re always early/late, but I want to make an effort to hear the featured experts, teachers and even students who will be speaking during the daily keynotes.
  • Experience different types of sessions. I look forward to traditional breakout sessions as well as poster sessions, Ignite presentations, “ISTE Bytes” sessions, research presentations, and a few longer workshops.
  • Get hands-on. There will be several “playgrounds”, at which you can try out various technologies. I’m especially interested in maker, robotics, and other types of STEM technologies, so look forward to trying out what I’ve only seen on Twitter!
  • Make connections. I love meeting new people and learning about their jobs, backgrounds and interests, so have my business cards at the ready and look forward to adding to my PLN! I’ve heard that there are various lounges as well, which will be a fun way to relax and make new friends.
  • Visit vendors. There will be over 500 vendors in the Exhibition Hall, and attendees are strongly advised to make a plan of attack before wandering in. I plan to visit vendors with whom our district currently partners, as well as others I’d like to learn more about. I also plan to pick up some free swag, I mean hey– you can never have too many pens/sticky notes/stress balls, right? I’ve also heard there are fun games and prizes as well, so bring it on Exhibition Hall!
  • L-E-A-R-N. I find conferences extremely energizing and inspirational. I have walked away from countless conferences with a kernel of an idea which I’ve then adapted and utilized in my own work. Learning from others, being challenged, and feeling amazed by the brilliance and goodness that exists in educators from around the world is a wonderful reminder of our shared commitment to doing the very best that we can for kids. I cannot wait.
  • Have FUN! Our state-level edtech organizations are hosting an opening party at the Museum of Science and Industry, which should be a blast. I’m also looking forward to attending Flocabulary’s Open Mic Night and, although I personally don’t plan on rapping in public, I do look forward to some good tunes! It will be fun to check out some of Chicago’s musical venues along with edtechies from around the world.

I’ve got my nerdy laptop backpack ready to go, a few Luna Bars and little packs of almonds stashed in the pockets, a phone charger and battery pack, an extension cord with extra outlets for new friends, and my Twitter’s all fired up and ready for action. LET’S DO THIS!

Planning Big Events: It Takes a Village

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week was our First Annual Summer Technology Mini-Conference and it DEFINITELY counted as “doing stuff that scares you.” Not scary like “The Shining”, or even “Get Out” (my colleagues are WAY nicer, more well-adjusted people), but scary as in “there are a lot of moving parts and we’re going to need TONS of participation and help from others to make this work.” Luckily, my district is full of incredible people open to new ideas and with an obvious passion for both learning and supporting one another.


I’d been tossing the idea of a summer mini-conference around in my head for a few years, but felt like I shouldn’t officially propose it until I had all of the details worked out. I decided to wait until our Curriculum Team began talking about summer professional development opportunities in early April which, for a big event like this, was probably too late. Everything worked out in the end, but we would have had a few more weeks to promote the event to staff, a few more weeks to hammer out some logistical details, if I had gotten the ball rolling a little earlier. My lesson here was not to be afraid to propose an idea even if not all of the details have been worked out– because the people who will ultimately help you pull it off will also help you work through some of the loose ends. This was especially important since I am new to the district and am still learning who-to-talk-to-about-what-when, etc.


Our teachers finished school on Friday, June 1st, and the Mini-Conference was Monday, June 4th. How to entice these teachers teetering on the brink of well-deserved summer vacation freedom to come back the very next Monday for a day of PD? Choose an inviting theme, of course! Our Mini-Conference was a LUAU, and participants were encouraged to dress accordingly. Luau treats were provided, Hawaiian music played during the social breaks, there were goofy door prize drawings, and everyone got a lei! The promotional materials made the theme clear and also indicated that this would not be your ordinary PD as there was, among other luau-related graphics, a flamingo on the flyer. The flamingo resulted in my only participant complaint, however, as he rightly pointed out that flamingos don’t live in Hawaii and therefore should not have been on my luau-themed promotional flyer. Point taken, although the flamingo WILL remain on the August flyer. Apologies in advance.


The main components of our Mini-Conference were three 45 minute Breakout Sessions. During each Breakout session, attendees could choose between four concurrent sessions offered by district teachers and staff. We had fifteen presenters offering twelve different sessions which included Google Drive Basics, Elementary Makerspaces, Connecting Globally with Technology, Utilizing Video with Students, Hyperdocs, Formative Assessments with Technology, and various technology tools such as Seesaw, WeVideo, Flocabulary, and more. I strongly believe that a major part of the draw for attendees was the opportunity to learn from their colleagues. This Mini-Con could NOT have been possible without the presenters. Almost every school had at least one staff member presenting, holding positions including elementary classroom teacher, instructional coach, information literacy and enrichment teacher, middle school core teacher, middle school exploratory teacher, and literacy and information coach. One session even featured fourth and fifth grade students as presenters! Our attendees represented every school in the district; early childhood, elementary and middle school staff; classroom and exploratory/specials teachers; coaches; and information literacy and enrichment teachers. AND principals and central office staff (I’ll get to them in a minute)!


One comment that I often hear after professional development opportunities is “This is great, but I wish we had time to actually work on what we just learned!” I decided to try out a “Sandbox Time” at the end of our three Breakout Sessions in order to allow people the opportunity to get started right away with some of their new learning. Sandbox Time was ninety minutes, back in the central meeting area where we had round tables, music and snacks still set up from the earlier part of the day. I’d say it was somewhat successful– I think it was successful for the attendees who stayed around to dive into new tools, work with teammates on planning for next year incorporating new tools and strategies, or ask questions of the presenters. Some people took the opportunity to leave early– which was totally fine, as we all have busy schedules and it’s possible that the Sandbox Time was not something that they needed. In the interest of constant improvement, I’m thinking of offering both Sandbox Time AND two additional concurrent sessions so people would have a choice between working on their own in the Sandbox or attending one additional session.


One of the things that thrilled me was the fact that several of our building principals, both elementary and middle school, attended the full Mini-Conference. One of the assistant principals that attended hasn’t even started in our district yet– now that is enthusiasm! We also had a few Central Office staff attend a few sessions, which was also really exciting considering that they are still working full-time. The attendance of administration is important for many reasons, not the least of which is to show their support for the organizers of the conference. Their presence meant the world to me. Their attendance was also a clear statement that they value the effective integration of technology and understand its importance to our teachers and students, and also see themselves as learners along with the rest of us! Finally, their attendance showed support for the staff who were presenting. We all know how validating it is to have our bosses see us in action, especially doing something a little above and beyond, and definitely out of the ordinary!


One thing about me is that I don’t like to be a bother, so it’s a little hard to ask for help. I don’t want to impose on anyone, so I generally try to do things with as little outside assistance as possible. This makes no sense when it comes to planning large events, however, so this is when it really does take a village! I was comfortable asking teachers for help presenting, as I knew this would be an opportunity for them to grow as well. It was harder to ask for help setting up for the actual day, however– BUT I am very lucky to work with amazing people who offered their assistance at the perfect time! Thanks to Carolyn for setting aside her morning to help attach giant palm trees to tables and then dress said tables in grass skirts, among other unlikely duties. Thank to Mike for braving the morning rush at Dunkin’ Donuts to deliver our participants their caffeine, and to TJ– the best and most helpful custodian in the business. I am also grateful to Mike and Rosemarie for their wonderful support and for ultimately making this idea a reality!


For several nights before the big day,  I’d wake up in a cold sweat worrying that everything would go wrong and that the Mini-Con would be a total failure! When the day finally arrived, however, I just had to let it go and know that I did everything I could do make it a success, and that the rest would be up to the participants and presenters. And since everyone was just happy to learn from each other, and have a chance to get together in a relaxed environment while learning a little more about technology, chances were good that it would be at least a moderate success. At the end of the Mini-Con, a few people even told me that they were going to sign up again for August! And it’s exciting that we get a chance to do it all over again.


Can You Make (Professional) Dreams Come True?

moon-478982_1920Two years ago I left a great job, a job that I enjoyed and that had the potential to progress my career in a new direction (educational technology). I left the job because my family had an opportunity to move overseas for a few years, where my husband and I would teach at an international school again and have the wonderful experience of traveling with our daughters, who would be attending the same school in which we would be teaching. I had to resign from this great job without knowing if I would ever have the chance to step back into the forward momentum I had been building toward a career in educational technology (I have been a school librarian for the past twelve years– I realize that there are overlaps between the two, but I have been looking forward to jumping with both feet into ed tech, with the hope of maybe someday being able to merge and lead in both areas).

During my two years at the international school I feared for the impact that my family’s move would have on my career. This in itself was guilt-inducing, as wasn’t it selfish of me to be so concerned about my own career, when my family was having an incredibly meaningful and enriching experience?  This was a struggle that I never really overcame, but did find peace with eventually. I had to accept that our decision could be both positive (overseas travel, family time, working in and having our children attend a great school, wonderful new friends) and negative (the potential impact on my career) at the same time. A little cognitive dissonance never hurt anyone, after all.

This past December, we had to officially declare whether or not we would be returning to the school next year. Partly due to my career goals, we decided to return to the U.S. This meant that my job search was on, and the pressure (much of it self-designed) began to mount. The five months between my first application and today have been a study in patience and in equanimity. During those five months and, really, in the two years since I decided to leave my previous job, I dedicated myself to intentional, continual, self-improvement in ways that would bring me closer to my goal of working in educational technology leadership. Even though it may have seemed strange considering my role as school librarian, I gained Google certifications, volunteered to create and manage the high school’s Twitter account, presented on technology at various conferences and workshops, designed and facilitated an online staff technology professional development program, and continued to read widely and participate frequently in the area of educational technology, particularly online via social media and blogs.

Fast-forward to today, and I’m thrilled to say that I recently got the Job of My Dreams. The one that seemed like an impossibility, especially due to those life and career decisions I made two years ago, which, while positive in may ways, seemed to derail the potential to achieve this dream. I am a testimonial to the fact that Dreams Come True and that it’s worth believing in this– and believing in yourself– even when it seems like you’ve taken a road the path for which is irreversible. I’m currently reading How Remarkable Women Lead by Joanna Barsh and Susie Cranston, where I came across the following rather serendipitous passage*:

Many women set out, traveling down academic and career paths, only to discover meaningful work after more than a few turns in the road. The zigs and zags of their career may seem inefficient (surely a straight shot to your goal would seem a better choice). Things are not always what they seem. In most cases, women leaders recall that these zigs taught self-awareness and those zags led them down the path to skills and experiences that opened a door. It was not time wasted. It was their time for discovering what they loved and learning new capabilities (p.23).

I identify with this so strongly because I don’t for one second believe that these past two years, spent in a situation that I thought was actively moving me away from the career direction in which I wanted to go, were wasted time. They obviously were NOT wasted time when it came to family, travel, friends, and new experiences, but neither were they wasted time when it came to my career. This was a lightbulb moment for me. These past two years have confirmed for me the following: that I am ready for a change in career direction; that I do have leadership skills; and that educational technology leadership TRULY is my passion.

I felt a burning need to write this post because for so long people tried to reassure me by saying that it would all turn out alright, and that I could jump back into my career trajectory after this detour, but I DIDN’T BELIEVE THEM. Now I believe. I also wanted to write about this because I have several friends who have similar fears about their own careers, wondering if kids + family have set them back, or if they will ever have the opportunity to break through the ceilings of their own (or others’) creation.

If you’re feeling defeated and directionless, or just wondering how to increase your chances of finding your own Best Job, here’s what I’ve come up with– it’s not rocket science, but it is what ultimately worked for me:

CONTINUAL HARD WORK & GROWTH (Seek additional education and training; present workshops in your area of expertise; find small or large opportunities to get involved; create something new. Seek out anything that will grow your skills and experiences, and try to always have something going on the back burner.)  

MAINTAINING & FORMING NETWORKS (Maintain relationships with people whose careers you admire; who inspire you and from whom you can learn; who support you and your career aspirations; and who could help you with a reference, a phone call, a job posting heads-up, giving career advice, etc. Also seek to form new relationships with people who inspire you; who are leaders in your organization; and who might be able to strengthen and add to your professional networks.)

THE RIGHT FIT (Vital to remember. It’s not always about you. You could be working hard and growing, maintaining relationships and forming new ones, but if the job isn’t the right fit, it will never work. If an opportunity doesn’t work out for you, but you feel that you’ve done everything that you could, examine the reasons why it wasn’t the right fit. The jobs that didn’t work out for me during this time of interviewing and job hunting were for positions that didn’t fit my experiences and skill set, or for which there were already strong internal candidates in mind– aside: never underestimate the power of the internal candidate!! The job that ultimately worked out and was the Dream Job of the bunch? The job where the district’s needs aligned with my strengths and experiences. The same position in a different district may have had completely different needs and therefore would have led to the selection of a completely different candidate. It HAS to be the right fit for you and for them.)

Don’t Give Up. Believe in yourself. It’s out there.

* More serendipitous quotes:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path. – Steve Jobs

The thing that I learned early on is you really need to set goals in your life, both short-term and long-term, just like you do in business. Having that long-term goal will enable you to have a plan on how to achieve it. We apply these skills in business, and yet when it comes to ourselves we rarely apply them. – Denise Morrison, CEO Campbell Soup Co.