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Archive for the ‘Back channeling’ Category

I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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Rock Star is a term attributed not only to Rock and Roll luminaries, but also to anyone who is an exceptional standout in a profession or a skill area. One cannot claim Rock Star status. Usually, others proclaim it, for you. One needs to be recognized by others in order to attain Rock Star status. It is more fan recognition of accomplishment than any real certified proclamation.

Recently, there have been a number of posts dealing with this pop culture adoration of educators at national and local conferences. As long as I can remember we have always had such people at conferences without the Rock Star label, but certainly with all the attention that would accompany it. I remember one statewide conference where Guy Kawasaki was to speak and the line to get in formed an hour ahead of time for a standing room only crowd. That was pure star power. Back then books, magazines, and journals determined the who’s who of the profession, leaning toward the authors, who were tagged as the conference stars. Adding fans to their readership never hurt an author’s standing.

That was then and this is now. What is different? Social Media should be blaring in your head about now. Print media has far less of an impact on our society today, while Social Media however, is having a profound effect. The education thought leaders, who use social media as their conduit to transmit their ideas and opinions to followers, have no control over who or how many followers they have. The only control they have is over the ideas and opinions they put out. If the ideas and opinions are good the following grows.

The first time I encountered my own popularity in social media was when I did a session in an Edcamp in NYC.  I expressed to my session that I wished we had a few more people. A woman in the back in a sincere voice said that her friend wanted to come to my session, but I was too famous. At first I thought the woman was just making a joke, but she underscored her sincerity. Frankly, I did not get it, but that has never been my issue. I will generally talk with anyone.

I think we all have people we look up to in our profession. At one time we were limited to physical meetings but now with technology tools of collaboration we are exposed to many times more thought leaders than ever before. We can have several people to admire and look up to. Part of the fun at Education Conferences is to see these people in real life. This is just human nature. I am still impressed with most of the people I held in the highest regard when I started out in social media lo those many years ago.

Where things go awry is when followers look onto their Rock Stars as unapproachable. This is not good for anyone. Most of the rock stars are uncomfortable with that, and the followers miss an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas. Whenever I am called a Rock Star, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. I feel I need to think more before I speak and have something meaningful to say while I am out in public at these conferences.

Of course the other extreme would be the people who want to fault the Rock Stars for having attitude problems, flawed ideas, no sense of humility, and a million other personality blemishes just to diminish their accomplishments.

This pattern of behavior is not going to go away, so let’s get it out there and deal with it. The term today is Rock Star. Next year it could be something else, but there will still be thought leaders and luminaries in the profession, and they will be called something. Some people will look up to them, and others may look for faults. I am just glad that we are in a profession where these people exist. They make us think, react, understand, collaborate, and learn.

I chose what I wanted to do as an educator, and as a user of social media. I have no choice in how people view me, or label me. I have grown to have fun with the recognition. I can also get somewhat of a feel for the social media influence on an education conference by people’s responses to me at the conference. I have several Education groups on LinkedIn, The Educator’s PLN, and #Edchat on Twitter. I also host The #Edchat Radio Show, as well as Blog on My Island View. On top of all of that I am a contributing Editor to SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. For this I am often recognized and thought of by some as a Rock Star. Yesterday I was introduced as the “Godfather of Twitter”. (Not my words) I am also thrilled when my wife, who is an education Tech executive, refers to me as her husband @tomwhitby. People get it. Most have a sense of humor. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, or we won’t have as much fun. It is time to get over it. I can say this because I am @tomwhitby Damn It!

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If we hold personalized learning in such high regard, why shouldn’t we apply it to our professional conference experience as well? Are we not attending these conferences to learn? I attend more conferences than most educators, and I try to enjoy each to the fullest. I also have an advantage over many educators attending these conferences in that I am a “connected educator.” I use Twitter, LinkedIn and many education Ning communities to reach out and connect with educators before a conference begins. It is not some privilege held by me alone. Any educator can do it, and everyone should. In my experience, when it comes to learning, personal relationships in sharing content offer much more to learners than the content alone.

Any of the major conferences usually have established websites or create special conference websites for perspective attendees to join. Usually, there will be discussions on upcoming topics, or scheduled presentations. It also enables opportunities for connections with other attendees. By establishing these connections, experiences can be shared on methods, and strategies to effect the maximum potential for learning at a specific conference. ISTE13 established a conference Ning to do that. It was unfortunate that only a small number of the 20,000+ attendees took advantage of that site.

The best way to pre-connect with folks is to use the power of Twitter. It is easy to put out a few tweets asking who will be attending, as well as identifying folks who have an ability to make recommendations based on their past experience. This is especially helpful for polling people experienced with a particular venue, which in this case was San Antonio. It certainly helps to get a heads-up on places to go and places to eat.

Recommendations from other educators with like interests are most helpful in determining the best presenters on any given topic. On some topics it is not a question of what to look for, but rather, whom to look for. Some presenters may offer a perspective more in line with your interests. A recommendation goes a long way in finding the right presenters. Being forewarned is the best way to be forearmed against disappointment. Finding a presenter’s blog site is often a window to their soul as well.

Of course the very best part of being connected at a conference is the ability to share out to others, mostly through Twitter, what the experience is like in a small way. I find that when I take on the responsibility of sharing with others, I tend to: listen a little closer, pay attention a little more, be a little more critical in my thinking, and overall, learn things a little better. The ability to share comes with the responsibility to get it right. It helps me as much as those, with whom I am sharing.

I found the ISTE13 conference to be the most connected of all the conferences I have attended over the year. The organization’s board contains many connected educators. What always baffles me at conferences is that the organizations stress connecting, but do little to promote it. They print programs with presenters’ names but no Twitter “handles.” They give everyone nametags, but again no nametags contain Twitter handles, unless the attendee uses a marker to add it. As educators, one would think that we would fully support that which we espouse. Twitter names in programs for all participants, as well as Twitter names on nametags would go a long, long way in validating connected educators, as well as providing the very means necessary to expand the growing network of connected educators.

Of course the best way to personalize any learning at any conference is to walk up to someone and share ideas face to face. That is what I like best about being connected. The very people you meet with and share with virtually walk up in person for handshakes and hugs. The perception that social media restricts an ability to have meaningful connections is always proven wrong with each passing education conference. ISTE13 was no exception to this.

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I had a rare opportunity to experience a wonderful sharing of a meaningful, unselfish, insightful, reflective, and most enlightening, and personal keynote address at ISTE13 from my friend, Adam Bellow. I was also aware of his struggles with its creation over the last several months.

I have come to believe that a thought not shared is simply a passing thought, but a thought shared is an idea. That was never more evident to me than it was yesterday as I experienced the closing ISTE13 Keynote address from Adam Bellow yesterday in San Antonio Texas.

Adam shared with the thousands of educators in attendance what it means to be a connected educator. Before he did this however, he wove a story of his personal history as a kid growing up with a yearning for learning, and what that meant to him. He introduced us to his family, his motivations, his connections, his creations, and his ideas.

Adam validated what educators are doing globally with their connections. He managed to introduce many of his connections to the audience glued to the screen enthralled with the dazzling array of interactive slides and text underscoring and accenting every thought shared and explored. He managed to pump up the audience with a cadence so fast that there was little time to reflect before the next idea came streaming in. There were well over 300 slides in support of this cavalcade of ideas.

What I came away with was a profound commitment to continue to share ideas in spite of the roadblocks and side tracks of the detractors. There is power in connecting and sharing. As educators we need to harness that power not to control kids, but to teach them and learn alongside of them.

I do not feel I was alone in my adoration of this keynote presentation. I was not the only educator moved to tears and laughter. I was not the only educator to feel validated in my efforts to connect and share. The five-minute standing ovation as well as the lengthy line of well wishers waiting to shake Adam’s hand as recognition that he did strike the chords that validated and inspired everyone in that huge auditorium.

I know that this keynote was video taped. I only hope that in the spirit of sharing, so well highlighted in Adam’s address, that it is distributed by ISTE to be shared by all educators in an effort to advance all educators in connecting, sharing, teaching and most especially learning. I will post the URL when I get it and if permitted, I will post it on The Educator’s PLN. Thank You Adam Bellow @Adambellow.

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I recently participated in what might possibly be a one-time experience for an educator, an education conference in Las Vegas. Of course that probably doesn’t hold true for Nevada educators. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored the Leadership Now Conference in Vegas. It was a Quality event with high visibility speakers keynoted the event.

The speakers at the event were Solution Tree authors and each was a leading expert in their area of expertise. They were also all affiliated with the Marzano/DuFour group. This was a big showing of the PLC at Work institute. For the most part I happen to be a believer in most of what they preach, so I was quite happy with the topics presented.

Of course the backbone of most of what was discussed was the idea of collaborative learning communities within individual school districts. I love the idea and I believe in the concept that collaboratively we all benefit more in learning and teaching. I do find the idea of stopping that collaboration at the district level somewhat limiting however. We need global networks of collaboration. We should not stop at the borders of our own school district or just the network of a group of paying participants of some larger group. Collaboration through social media is free and global. We need to explore and use it to our best advantage as educators and as students.

The First keynotes by Robert Marzano and Richard DuFour lasted an hour and a half each. They were lectures with text-ladened slides to keep the audience (learners) on track while laying out the research and philosophy of the grand plan. There was a printed and bound compiled text of the presentations along with worksheets for the learners. I actually weighed it. It was THREE pounds.

The highlight for me was the keynote by Sir Ken Robinson. He did a keynote that covered many aspects of several of his TED Talk videos. Although I heard much of it before, it meant more live, presented in sir Ken’s unique blend of humor, irony and common sense. This was a vast improvement over the last time I saw him at ISTE with a disastrous panel presentation after what seemed like a ten-minute keynote. In contrast to that, Sir Ken’s Solution Tree retrospective presentation was one to remember.

The workshops following the keynotes were again 90-minute lectures with text-ladened slides that corresponded to the three-pound, bound, text workbook. The material covered in the workshops was essential. The research seemed sound. It was all a common sense approach to the complicated problem of education reform. Each workshop was a clear presentation of how we might best approach what we are doing now in education with what we might be doing even better.

I only wish that they applied the same amount of time, research, and development to their methods of teaching and presentation as they applied to their subject material. First rule of PowerPoint: Don’t read from text-ladened slides to the audience, even if it is from a book written by you, the presenter. To do such a presentation differently is not going to be an easy task and it will probably take several iterations of a presentation to eliminate so much text from slides, but it will help the learners or should I say audience. Although there is a certain element of entertainment in education presentations they are designed to inform and teach. That means the seats are filled with learners and not audience members.

The workshop leaders of the workshops that I attended were wonderful, knowledgeable, and experienced educators. Leaders included: Rebecca DuFour, Tammy Heflebower, Timothy Kanold, Anthony Muhammad, Phil Warrick, and Kenneth Williams. The workshops that were most striking and helpful to me however, were the workshops of Anthony Muhammad. He dealt with changing the culture of the school in order to affect any meaningful change in the structure of the school. I found him to be a shinning star in a room full of stars. He was dynamic, engaging, and most of all gave out meaningful ideas to deal with the real changes for education reform with the most “elephant in the room” problems. He later gave a rousing, closing keynote.

The low point for me anyway came when they had the panel discussion at the end of the sessions of the second day. It was not very well attended by the participants of the conference. The panel was made up of the key members of the Marzano group. Of course the lead panel members gave the longest answers. It was the questioning of the panel that struck me to be rather archaic in our world of technology. The audience was asked to write questions on a piece of paper that would be picked up and delivered to the moderator. There was no microphone stand for open questioning. There was no hashtag back channel screen. The moderator was not monitoring an iPad for questions. I guess this was made difficult because there was also no Internet service for the conference, which should be a mainstay of any education conference.

Criticisms aside, I found this to be a very informative conference. I wish it could have been live streamed to the many connected educators who were following the conference hashtag over the three days. I think the Marzano approach to collaboration and addressing the whole system in order to affect change is a sensible and sound approach. I would simply love to see an updated methodology in their approach.

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I am very fortunate to have a position that gets me invited to education conferences around the country, and occasionally out of it as well. I have written a number of posts describing the benefits, and the blemishes, of many of them over the last year. I am writing this post, as I am en route to Austin, Texas to participate in one of the big ones, the SXSWEdu Conference. Last week however, I attended a gem of a conference conducted by the Illinois ISTE affiliate, The Illinois Computing Educator’s Conference, referred to as ICE13.

After attending so many conferences, it is easy to point out the flaws of any, or each. Most conferences require RFPs, the requests for proposals, to determine the sessions for the conference program far too many months in advance of the conference. The need for this is to have several, and in some cases, too many people, read over the proposals in order to determine which sessions to approve. Perhaps several staggered deadlines for RFPs might allow a more varied and relevant program. Another gateway to relevance could be a period of time within the conference to conduct an Edcamp format for a segment of the conference. I think all conferences could benefit by some innovative schedule planning.

ICE13 was a little different from many of the other statewide education conferences by virtue of its venue. Although I flew into Chicago, I had to drive what, according to my GPS, was a 45-minute trip outside of Chicago to St. Charles and a resort called Pheasant Run. This venue made a big difference in the tenor of this conference. The presentation rooms were spacious and well equipped as most conferences, but what made the difference was the sprawling hotel itself. There were two bars and several gathering areas with couches and comfy chairs throughout. It was hive of connectivity and networking based on discussions and discourse. It was a great place for presenters, keynotes and participants to meditate, mingle, and mashup ideas and concepts in education.

For me the highlight of the conference was what was called the PLN Plaza. It was used as an overflow area for the keynotes as those speeches were streamed in. The best part however was that the keynotes, as well as many presenters, were scheduled for drop-ins to conduct discussions on their topics with anyone who stopped by. It was up close and personal in the best way. This is an experience many bloggers benefit from at the Blogger’s Café at large national conferences. The PLN Plaza was the brainchild of a group of people including: Dan Rezac, Elizabeth Greene, and Amanda Pelsor, all of whom kept things moving along there for the entire conference. It was a comfortable gathering place where I engaged in many discussions, as well as networking, and connected throughout my entire stay.

There seemed to be more Twitter activity at this conference as well. Connected educators seemed to be a topic that was emphasized by many of the keynotes and several of the presenters. Camaraderie between the presenters because of their connectedness was very evident at ICE13. The conference also had more than one Wi-Fi network to connect to, which made many people very happy.

In addition I also enjoyed The UDL Playground. I first saw this at the NYSCATE Conference in New York. It is a place where a number of vendors can demonstrate tools as participants ask questions to learn about Universal Design for Learning. The activities there were interactive and very instructive. In full disclosure, my wife’s company, VIZZLE, was quite active in its participation at both conferences. It would be great if more vendors participated in activities like the UDL Playground to enable educators to engage authentically beyond a basic booth demonstration.

Education conferences are a needed component of professional development for teachers and administrators, but they are not going to maintain relevance without connecting their members in greater numbers during each conference. Unconnected educators are pumped up and energized with each annual conference. That occurs annually. They need to meet people and network with the new people who they meet at the conference. Connected educators are pumped up and energized year-round, and go into hyper-drive at conferences as they connect face-to-face with all of the educators they have been exchanging information and sources with during the year. We need to stop just talking about innovation as a goal and practice it as professionals. We need to innovate in every aspect of what we do, and we do it wherever and whenever we can. Connectedness has been digitally enhanced through technology, and it is an innovation we need to employ extensively.

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When I accepted an invitation to attend the World Innovation Summit on Education, WISE2012, in Doha, Qatar, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into. In my own arrogance I thought I was a seasoned education conference attendee. I have been to maybe a hundred education conferences both good and bad. I planned or helped plan at least a dozen local or statewide conferences. I even considered myself an experienced critic having done several well-received posts on various professional education conferences. There was very little in all of that which prepared me for what I was to experience in Doha.
The idea that I had about an international conference relied heavily on my ISTE experience. After all, The “I” in ISTE stands for international. It never occurred to me that I would need an electronic translator to understand what was being presented or being asked about by presenters and audience members. Translators were given out to everyone before every session. I was not prepared for the number of security checks. I never realized how people needed to adhere to cultural protocols. After all was said and done, I realized that the life, of an American educator, is in worldly terms, a sheltered life indeed.

The more I attended sessions at WISE2012, the more I realized that this was not an Education conference that focused on the needs of educators, but rather it focused on the needs of education. Those are needs, not of the educators, but of the learners. Those are needs not of school districts, but of countries. This was truly the needs of education on a global scale. Many of the educators at this conference were not academic teachers, but administrators of NGO,s, Non Government Organizations established for the purpose of providing education.

Education of girls came up time and time again as clarion call of this conference. I could easily understand that call with my American perspective. I clearly understand that there are cultures in the world that do not consider women equal to men, and therefore, they believe women are not entitled to an education. As true as that is of some countries, that is not the reasoning behind that clarion call. The reason obvious to many at this conference, other than me,was that, if we educate a woman, we educate a family. It is a simple explanation to address a complicated problem. Many countries depend on women to be the teachers. These countries do not always have the luxury of selecting college graduates. They often rely on women with an education that culminated somewhere on the secondary level. The fallback position for educated women would be that at the very least, they could educate their own families.

Another area hampering education throughout the world is the lack of infrastructure, as well as barriers of country and climate. The Qatar Foundation through WISE provided funding for the development of floating classrooms. In an area of the world where seasonal flooding dictates the progress of the country, students, who are cut off from roads to their schools for extended periods of time, can now be safely served by these solar-powered, floating bastions of education. This innovation sponsored and funded by WISE will be supported and duplicated in areas that require such solutions to advance education.

My final eye-opening issue is the problem of educating students in areas of conflict and war. Americans are fortunate that we are not a nation involved in armed conflict on our own soil. Our children, with few exceptions, do not come under fire on the way to school. Their lives are not threatened as a direct result of getting an education. These are not factors that hold true for all countries. Conflict at best constricts education, and at worst destroys it. This is an issue that faces many countries, but it is not complicating the lives, or is it even on the minds of many Americans. It is an issue that must be addressed.

These are only some of the issues discussed at the WISE 2012 conference. This conference does not lessen the problems discussed at American education conferences, but it does give them a different perspective. I was profoundly affected by many of the issues at this conference. It was attended by not many classroom teachers, but by a great many educators. There was far less discussion about methodology and more about the survival strategies of education. This was a necessary and powerful meeting of policy makers and organizations that deserve support and recognition for what they try to do every day for our world. An educated populace is the key to making our world a better and safer place. Collaboration of concerned world citizens is the only path to that goal. This was the WISE Education Conference.

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A few weeks ago I received an email invitation to attend an education conference with all expenses paid. This is done to get the conferences noticed in the education community. It is an expense and a necessary element of Public relations. Depending on the quality of the conference, sometimes it pays off, but sometimes it exposes flaws of a conference to the world of connected educators. This is not an uncommon practice, and as a connected educator, I look upon it as an opportunity with each occurrence. I have been afforded a number of such opportunities since becoming an education Blogger.

What really struck me about this invitation however is that it came from an organization called WISE and it took place in the organization’s home city of Doha, Qatar. I consider myself an educated person, but like many Americans, I am only familiar with maps of vacation destinations, and war locations. With the advent, and exception of the GPS those are the only real maps I ever look at. Sad commentary, I know. My ignorance of the geography of Qatar was complicated further by personal prejudices stemming from it being, in my mind, a country of the Middle East. I am not consciously prejudiced against, or do I hold responsible, the Muslim religion for the events of 911. I am however, a New York educator who was personally and profoundly affected by the events of 911. I did have to overcome some personal hesitation, as well as family concerns in order to accept the invitation. The world is a much more dangerous place. All of that being said, I am very glad that I accepted the invitation, and flew to Qatar for the International Conference of the World Innovation Summit for Education, WISE 2012.

Of course the icing on the cake was that my close personal friend, connected educator, and fellow education Blogger, Steve Anderson, @web20classroom, was also invited, and accepted the invitation. I did need to prompt him a little, but I did not need a cattle prod to do it. I am sure that Steve had many of the same reservations, so travelling together helped ease those trepidations for both of us. We were even able to schedule our 13 hour flight with adjoining seats. Life is good.

Qatar Airlines was very impressive, but it was the organization of the logistics team of Wise that was really impressive. Our sole contact was a young woman named Nandita, who was a delight. Her team was able to invite and move and collect educators from all over the world, while jumping through every international hoop placed before them to complete their task. They were also able to accommodate the individual needs and desires of the educators as well. It was a daunting task, well accomplished.

My next question was how does a plane with over 400 passengers get off the ground? My second question was how does it stay in the air for 13 hours? Answers to both questions were stated to my satisfaction through the accomplishment of both. The Airline was incredible, and the meals, snacks and beverages were all included and expertly delivered on the flight. The crew of over 20 people was wonderful. The passengers were a truly international representation with Americans in the minority. Since the flight left at 9:30 PM New York time, most of the 13 hours involved us trying to sleep. That was not an easy assignment.

At one point I managed to get about an hour into a really great snooze when I was half awakened by a beep. This was followed by a male flight attendant tapping me on the shoulder saying, “ Sit Lower”! Of course even in my twilight sleep, I wanted to immediately comply with each command, so as not to appear to be The Ugly American, so I attempted to sit lower. I had no idea what that meant. My seat was all the way back, and I was as scrunched down as low as I could get, but I tried to scrunch down further. I only hoped my attendant would be pleased with my best attempt to comply with his command to “sit lower”. As he came back down the aisle I could not contain myself any longer. “What did you mean by “Sit Lower?” I asked.

He answered, “I am sorry sir, I said, ‘Seat Belts On’, as the seatbelt light went on.” I was very grateful the lights were out and most everyone continued sleeping, including Steve seated next to me. I really felt dumb at that point and not at all like an international education blogger.

Upon arrival we were herded to school buses which would rival most upscale buses in America. They were air-conditioned with comfortable seats, seatbelts and an information display at the front of the bus. The bus ride took us through a city that was lit up to show some of the most interesting architecture I have ever seen. Although we had just eaten breakfast on the plane three hours earlier, it was now 8:30 PM and we were at an alcohol-free cocktail party with incredibly delicious finger foods. That would be the eating with fingers, as opposed to the eating of fingers.

At this mingling event we got to talk to educators from around the world. They were interested in what Steve and I had to say about what we did as connected educators who Tweet and Blog and present at education conferences. We were interested in how WISE provides money for innovative education programs and recognizes educators. This WISE 2012 conference will hopefully prove to be a most productive event. It again underscores the fact that in today’s world everything global is local and everything local is global. I look forward to Tweeting and Blogging more on this as the week progresses. Watch for the Hashtag #WISE2012!

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Today I attended the 39th Annual Conference for the Association of Middle Level Education in Portland, Oregon. I actually presented for this group for a couple of times about 25 years ago when it was The National Middle Schools Association. That was back in the day when we had far fewer middle schools. The model most often employed back then was the Junior High School. Junior high schools were 7-9 mini high schools. Little kids, little problems (what were we thinking?).

The middle school movement changed that for many school districts. It supported a more collaborative model for educators with a team oriented approach to education. I was a high school teacher for Six years, a junior high school teacher for ten years and a middle school teacher for eighteen years. From that perspective I describe middle school educators as teachers of kids, and high school educators as teachers of courses. I also describe elementary teachers as saints. That is not meant to disparage high school educators. Their job is to prepare students for a college environment which will be, unfortunately, far less supportive or nurturing for students.

I did not participate in many sessions today, but I did study the extensive program, and I did stop in to a number of sessions to get a feel for the conference. My focus at education conferences is no longer as a classroom teacher, but as an educator supporting professional development as a path to education reform. Through that lens, I was amazed at how little the sessions of this conference had evolved in the many years since I presented.  Many, many of the sessions were hour-long, PowerPoint presentations with a period of time at the end for questions and answers. In one of the sessions that I monitored, the presenter would not take any questions until she finished her PowerPoint.

I always wonder why experienced educators with a firm grasp on learning and methods of teaching would subject their audience of adults to presentations that they know would never work with their students. For some reason, many teachers abandon what they know, to become what has been modeled to them as the method of how an educator should present to colleagues, rather than employ proven methods of teaching. How many people can retain information delivered in Text-laden slides spanning over an hour of presentation and only 15 minutes if interaction? Let me be clear. This was not done in every session, and sometimes it may be the only way. The trend however should be taking presenters to more effective methods of presentation. Presentation is teaching, and that is the subject we as educators are experts in.

The other big thing that stood out to me was the subjects of sessions that were provided. The topics covered many of the important issues of middle level education. There was however, much duplication. This could be good for the purpose of planning on the part of the attendees. It enables them more flexibility in scheduling their personal slate of sessions. It also offers different views of the same subject. The downside is that redundant subject sessions limit the total of topics to be presented.

Of course my most critical comment would be the lack of technology not in the delivery of the sessions, but within the subjects of the sessions. Yes, it is not an ISTE conference, but education is now employing a great amount of technology with in many cases limited professional development for educator’s specific needs in their specific subject areas. More sessions in any conference need to be tech-oriented supporting Technology Literacy in education for educators, as well as students.

With that thought in mind I began observing how many of the participants were connected educators. I did hear the Marzano name mentioned in a few sessions, so I believe there is some connecting going on, but is it enough? I could only identify about a dozen tweeters at the conference who back channeled sessions. I do not believe any of the sessions were being live streamed to the internet. I was impressed with the mobile app supplied for the program. That might have been why so many participants were looking at their phones. Middle School educators are the most team-oriented, collaborative educators in our education system. I could not understand why the tweets were not flying fast and furiously.

It was then that I began to consider my own Twitter Stream, my Personal Learning Network. At a glance, I realized that much of my network, although global, is weighted on the east coast. Whether I was personally connected to these folks or not, the #AMLE2012 hashtag still should have approached trending. That never came close.

The idea of connected educators should be a focus of all education conferences. Criticisms aside, this was a wonderful conference that offered educators a shot in the arm to get those creative juices flowing. People come off of a conference like this ready to move up. The problem settles in as time passes. The idea of being connected enables those educators to keep those juices flowing. The great boost that educators get at the conference is enabled to continue beyond the conference. Although many education conferences meet some needs of educators, often times there are simultaneously missed opportunities. Things are moving too fast for missed opportunities.

This, as I explained, is my view through the lens of an educator interested in Professional Development leading the way to education reform. We cannot have professional conferences that focus on supporting the status quo. We do need to effectively share what is happening in classrooms today. The greater need however, is what should be happening in whatever we decide will be the classrooms of tomorrow. This is my lens, my observations, and my opinion.

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During the weekend, I attended my fourth #EdcampNYC. I have attended or participated in about a dozen Edcamps nationwide. I think that puts me in a solid position to make a few considered observations on the subject. In the interest of full disclosure, SmartBrief and SmartBlog on Education have supported the Edcamp Foundation during the past year.

The Edcamp movement has been around for a few years. It is a widely known professional-development format that was spawned from social media educator connections. Most connected educators are familiar with it, but most educators are not connected — hence a need for explanation and definition. I know that the model is based on BarCamp in Philadelphia. I have no idea about BarCamp. I know the image I have in my head, but that has nothing to do with education.

I am familiar with the unconference aspect, which is the driving organizing premise of Edcamp. There is no set schedule of sessions provided to participants as they arrive at the venue. There is usually a breakfast spread and a huge amount of coffee in a gathering area to start the day. Participants see a blank schedule displayed for sessions. Session times and rooms are clearly seen, with no descriptions. Session descriptions are created right then, by participants. All sessions are discussion driven. Although some people come with prepared materials to share, those materials might or might not be the focus of a session. Blank cards are available to participants who have a specific topic they want addressed. Each person writes that topic on a card to establish it as a session. Usually, the person proposing the session heads up the discussion. It is amazing how the establishment of one topic spurs the establishment of a related topic, or something on the other side of the education spectrum. The establishment of topics gets people talking about and exploring subjects that they might not have heard of before Edcamp.

The selection of topics stimulates discussion and questioning amid participants to determine where they will go, what they will attend and what they should expect. There is another element to the Edcamp model that is often not seen in other PD formats. Participants are encouraged to quickly assess the relevance of a session. If they do not find personal value in a particular session, they are encouraged to move on to another. When selecting a session to attend, participants need to consider backup alternatives. That is called “The Rule of Two Feet.” My best description of this is that it is a face-to-face, real-time, social media discussion. It is the application of a digital culture in a real-world situation. All sessions are open discussions that are patient with, and respectful of, all participants.

Edcamps are free to participants, but it takes a Saturday commitment to participate. That means educators in attendance are there because they want to be there. We must ask: If this is so popular and inspiring, why aren’t all schools employing this PD model? To answer that, I have to go back to a session for administrators at the last annual ISTE conference. Some founders of Edcamp presented a great session to educate administrators who might not be connected educators. The intent was to explore the possibility of using Edcamp as a source for PD from within the system. Edcamp is almost solely organized by passionate educators working outside the system. There was one question coming from admins repeatedly: “How do we control it?” The answer was clear. You don’t control it! Edcamp’s success is based on trust and respect, as well as a personal drive for professional development. It is the educator’s personalization that some of these administrators did not seem to get. Their questions seemed to indicate that they did not trust the ability of educators to properly determine what they needed in PD.

The Edcamp movement continues to advance with the passionate support of connected individuals. Hopefully, we will begin to hear from progressive-thinking administrators more interested in real education reform than in controlling what and how teachers are developed. Administrators’ control should be second to educators’ development. Edcamp should not be the sole method of PD, but it should be considered a serious addition to tools that develop educators. In our fast-changing, technology-driven culture, we need educators to be continually learning so they provide a relevant education to students. To be better educators, we need to be better learners.

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