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Archive for the ‘conference’ Category

This is a topic I have written about before, and I will probably continue to write about in the future. I guess we should start by defining a big education conference. For the purpose of this post and my experience let’s make it conferences of over 1,000 attendees. Most big education conferences came about by professional organizations wanting to provide a gathering place for their constituents to meet and share ideas and best practices, as well as the latest tools for learning. The goal is to best educate educators about education. It seems like a simple goal, which should be easily accomplished. The easiest method of delivery is to have teachers teach other teachers. This shares experiences, successes and failures.

The first hurdle is the “when” of the conference. Someone determined that it must be held during the school year in order to get the best access to the most educators.

The conference can’t conflict with other big Education conferences. It would be a drain on the number of attendees, as well as a smaller pool of keynotes and key presenters to draw on.

The second hurdle is the “where” of the conference. Once a conference gets over a certain number of attendees there are limits to access to hotel accommodations. There is also the geographical deterrent. We live in big states in a big country. Whatever the location selected, some educators will need to travel further than others. To be equitable locations are often rotated in order to share the burden of travel. Unfortunately, some educators live in areas where the burden of travel will always be a consideration no matter where the location.

The third big hurdle of the big conference is planning. Most organizations planning the big events have some full-time staff, but they mostly rely on volunteer help to plan the big events. These volunteers are also full-time educators. Some organizations employ professional planning organizations to plan the event. Many of those planning organizations begin to determine the needs and direction of the event with less consideration to the culture of the organization. The event becomes the focus and not the organization.

The fourth big hurdle is the overall expense. The planning organization, the venue, and the need for a transportation system to and from the event all contribute to the overall expenses and ultimate ticket price of the event. To offset these expenses Education and Technology industry is often asked for contributions in the form of sponsorships. With great sponsorships there sometimes comes influence in the conference. Not every session is conducted by an educator. Often there are vendor sessions. Some are informative and objective, while others are blatant product pitches.

The planning of the vendor floor is also a hurdle. It is a great source of revenue, so it must have a prominent part in the conference. Sessions are planned around access to the vendor floor. The organization and support of the vendor floor is a priority at most conferences. Technology and scheduling are the biggest considerations for this segment. The vendor floor is the conference bread and butter.

Of course the heart and soul of any conference is the session planning. The printing of the program has a very big influence over submitting, approving and scheduling sessions. It creates the deadlines for the Requests For Proposals often ten months to a year before the next conference. Once RFP’s are approved, rooms need to be assigned in consideration of anticipated attendance to the session. Times need to be adjusted to address the length of the sessions. Signage must be made up.

These conferences are not just thrown together, but meticulously planned. We need to give more thanks and recognition to those who take this on every year.

The complexity of this endeavor however, tends to shift the focus from the original goal of way back when to that of a new goal. Somehow we got from “how to best educate educators about education”, to “how to best deliver a conference”.

Of course this does not apply in total to any conference, but every conference shares some responsibility for going at least a little astray from the original goal. It must be about the learning and not just the conference.

It would be great for educators to have a list of expectations for a session before they write their RFP. Having the rubrics used for assessing the RFP is also a winning strategy. It is most important to provide feedback to the rejected RFP’s so that educators have an understanding of why they were rejected. We do that as educators working with kid learners, why would we not apply the same method to adult learners.

We realize and appreciate the need to meet a printing schedule for session descriptions, but would it be possible to stagger RFP submissions, so they were not all submitted a year before the conference. How is a year-old plan relevant in a technology driven society?

If we as educators recognize that lecture and direct instruction are not the most effective methods of learning, should we not expect conferences to rely on those types of sessions less? Maybe more interactive sessions, more conversation driven sessions, more panel discussions weighed more heavily with audience questioning would all reach that goal of learning more effectively at a conference

In light of the Edcamp model of PD, as well as the connected PD of the personal Learning Network, maybe the big conferences need to seek more relevance. We need to understand all that goes into planning and executing a big conference, but conferences may need to reassess their goals. Educators need to learn more about their ever-changing profession in the most efficient, effective and relevant ways possible. That will take a number of methods to accomplish. None of it can be done at a conference unless it is efficient, effective and relevant. We need better ways to share what we learn from conferences. More live streaming and hashtags might be a strategy.

Conferences are much-needed for educators, but if we add up all the attendees at all the conferences for an entire year, it is a very small percentage of the total number of educators in schools. Sharing and collaboration need to be a focus for attaining the goals that we have set. We need to better educate our educators in order to better educate our kids.

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I was very fortunate to recently to meet Richard Peritz at FETC. Richard is a television producer for the EduTech Foundation. Rather than write about my interview conducted by Dr. Cindy Burfield. Much of the interview refers to transferring from 20th century learning to the 21st. It will be like going from Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic to Communicating, Collaborating, and Creation. Here is the interview.

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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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I recently attended one of the largest education conferences in the United States, FETC in Orlando, Florida. The focus of the conference was the use of Technology in Education. The sessions and vendors were for the most part all technology-driven. Education and technology today are often linked together and are the predominant force in education conferences today.

Technology provides both educators and students a means to Communicate, Collaborate, and most importantly to Create. All of these “C Words” however revolve about the biggest  “C Word” of all in education, Content. Every teacher is familiar with the expression “Content is King” It is what has driven education since its beginning. It is the focus of lecture and direct instruction alike. It also, to my casual observation, appears to be the biggest draw for educators at these education conferences. The products that offer content delivery seem to draw the largest gatherings at the vendor booths on the exhibit floor. Of course, when this observation first gelled in my mind, I may have only then viewed the entire conference through that lens which might have skewed the results in my head.

Content delivery, however seems to be the magnet that draws in educators because that is how many educators envision themselves, as content experts. Of course that has been drilled into the heads of American educators for two centuries, so it should come as no surprise. The 19th and 20th centuries did not have the wherewithal in technology to support educators the ability to Communicate, Collaborate, or Create with any efficient, or convenient way. If it could not be done face-to-face and created by hand, then it could not be done. Of course this began to slowly change in the second half of the 20th century and sped up as that century closed out.

The addition of electricity first, and then computers moved everything forward at a rapid pace, but again it was all for content delivery. Movies and filmstrips dominated the 20th century. The overhead projector, which is still used to deliver content today, is technology that is over 75 years old. Video was a great step forward, but again for presenting content. As videotaping became easier, cheaper and a more convenient technologically, more creation began in the form of TV shows and videotaped presentations. Once students discovered the power of video, it was a game changer. Think MTV.

As technology advances, our abilities to use it to expand what we can do, and how we can communicate, collaborate, and most importantly create has changed. We can do all of this more effectively and efficiently than any of the previous centuries allowed.

Communication has taken on many new forms that affect us every day. Texting was only an idea in the 20th century and now we live by it. Collaboration was a face-to-face process in the bygone days of the 20th Century. Today, we are not bound by time or space for collaboration. It takes place anywhere, at any time, both locally and globally. The ability to create has surpassed anyone’s imagination in the 20th century. The computer can replace publishers. Movie, TV, and Sound recording studios also now can be computer-based. Creation of content has never been so easily accomplished.

Yet, with all of this change in our ability to Communicate, Collaborate and Create with content, many educators insist on focusing on content delivery. This is squandering a great opportunity to educate. Whatever happened to Bloom’s Taxonomy? If we fail to change the way we teach, we will have quickly outlived our ability to do so. Our kids do not need content experts, or content deliverers. The Internet does a far better job of that, than any educator can do. Content may always be King, but the approach to it must change in education. Educators need to be sounding boards and mentors, guides and counselors. We need to teach kids what is worthy and what is not – Critical Thinking. That is the biggest “C word” of all.

Kids are no longer limited to learning in the classroom. That is a myth that many believed in for decades. Access to information takes place 24 hours a day, but that is not education. We need to stop viewing technology as a distraction from education and see it as an attraction to it. It is only a distraction to students who have teachers who do not know how to approach technology meaningfully to use it to educate.

Technology is not the silver bullet for education. It is a tool for information and content that continually develops. Content and information are the basis for all education. If educators can’t adapt to the developing tools for communication, collaboration, and creation students will find their own mentors and guides. Educators are left with two choices, Relevance or Irrelevance. There will be little time to catch up at the rate technology is changing. Open minds and a continuing need to learn must be part of the profession. We need to continually develop as professionals and share out what we have learned to our community of educators. Technology is as much of a tool for the educators as it is for the students. Educators need to employ the best methods of; communication, collaboration and creation to do with content that which needs to be done to educate technologically driven students. This will require a change in both attitude and methodology on the part of today’s educators. The big problem is to get this concept across to educators who are not reading this post, or any other education Blog, the unconnected educators. How do we change the minds and hearts of people not connected to the means to do that? The other “C word”, Connected.

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I recently attended a provocative session at Educon. For those who don’t know Educon is an annual education Conference held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia each year on the week before the Super Bowl. It is a conference of discussion as opposed to a conference of presentation. Each of the sessions is a facilitated discussion that involves the participants.

It was in one such session that #Edchat received what I thought was an unwarranted criticism from one of the participants in the session.

For those who may be new to social media scheduled chats take place on Twitter on various topics in education throughout the week.  Each is hosted and moderated by an educator who has an interest in the topic of discussion. This real-time chat is conducted through the use of hash tags (#Edchat), which curate all the tweets, so that the chat can be followed without interference from other tweets on the stream. One would simply create a column to follow the specific hash tag and all other tweets would be filtered out so that only hash-tagged tweets would appear in that column. I gave a complete description of education Chats in this post: Chats: What are they and why do we need them?

The Edchat criticism came in a discussion that I attended on The Privileged Voices in Education; facilitated by two people I greatly admire Jose Vilson, and Audrey Watters. I attended that particular session in need of making myself more aware of how I might be unknowingly offending and even demeaning people, as I address things from a position of privilege as a white, heterosexual, male educator. Those are all factors that have been brought to my attention lately, specifically because I have a voice in social media, and I haven’t been aware of my privilege in our very diverse culture. This need for awareness comes with the added responsibility of being an educator. I was unaware of my micro-aggression. As I consulted Wikipedia for specifics I found Micro-aggression: “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color ” I need to reflect on that discussion more before attempting to delve deeper in a later post. A follow-up post on this is my intention.

Of course the Edchat criticism came during this particular educator’s comments within this larger more important discussion, so I did not feel it appropriate to respond to him at the time. It was later however, that it occurred to me that we, as educators, are also privileged and must be aware of the less educated or informed. The comment about Edchat was not horrible. It was not even offensive. As a founder of Edchat, I am always listening to educators’ comments. Of course it doesn’t help, when a comment is made about Edchat in a room full of educators, and that a half-dozen, or so, immediately turn to me to see if I will respond. It reminds me of a group of kids gathered to watch a fight afterschool.

This educator said he was introduced to Edchat nine months ago and he felt that Twitter, and Edchat specifically was not the right place to have education discussions. He felt that 140-character format was insufficient for discussion. That was when it occurred to me that he might be speaking from a position of privilege as an educator who is exposed to education discourse. He certainly is an educator who was afforded an opportunity to attend a $200 conference in Philadelphia. His experience is not that of educators in other regions of America and even further from those of educators outside America. Who was he, to make the judgment for other people who an education chat had little, or no value? Opportunity to freely discuss issues in education does not take place in every school globally. Education chats are global, and they offer a glimpse, yes, just a glimpse, of only some of the things that concern educators. It is also mainly an American point of view for most of the chats probably dominated by a northeast influence. Additionally, I have no idea how many people of color are involved. I might assume that not as many as we should have. For anyone to consider all of this and feel that their experience outweighs all others in a judgment on the worth of a chat, may be a little too much, but, the again, I have already made too much of even this.

These twitter chats and even blog posts are not the deep discussions needed for us to make all the right decisions in education, or even our personal lives. They are however starting points. They are flags, signposts, billboards, and bulletin boards to concerns that educators have. They are forerunners and precursors to the needed deeper discussions. Please don’t criticize Chats like Edchat for not being the needed deep discussion. They were never intended to be that. They were set up to create awareness for the community. The very deep discussion that was taking place at Educon was in great part a result of the tweets and chats of social media as explained by the facilitators. We should remember that sometimes a chat is just a chat.

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As a tweeter of education tweets (many, many education tweets), I often find myself on lists that people put out as recommendations. Whenever that happens there will be a number of people who will pass their judgment over the quality of the list or the quality of the qualifications of individuals on that list. Of course, there are no rules in social media, so that will go on no matter what. I do think that we need a perspective on these lists in order to gauge the intensity of criticism.

First, we should state that anyone putting out a list, recommending people to follow, has found worth in the information that those people have put out. We can’t judge the value of that information to that individual, since we all come from varied backgrounds with varied experiences. What an inexperienced educator finds of value from others may not be as valuable to an educator of many years experience. That does not mean that the information is worthless. It is still valuable to a new educator. It indicates only that that particular list would not meet all the needs of a more experienced educator.

The biggest problem with any list is that someone is always left out. Even in listing your best ten recommendations there is sure to be someone you want on that list equal to all the others, but that would be eleven. Not gonna happen.

We should keep in mind that these are all personal recommendations. As we personalize our learning, we follow those people who best speak to our needs for learning. Again, who works for me might not work for you. I know that I have seen people on list who I follow, or have stopped following because they do not offer enough to supplement or challenge my learning. Those recommendations would not meet my needs, so although I would not take them, that gives me no license to publicly criticize the list, or individuals on it.

Another criticism that I have become most sensitive to recently is faulting an educator for “not even being a teacher”. Not every educator is a classroom teacher. That does not mean they aren’t educators. That doesn’t mean they can’t offer valid information, or considered opinions. (I do draw the line at non-educators making education policy. That is another discussion for another bottle of wine.) Administrators technically are not classroom teachers.

Quite honestly, many classroom teachers have little time to spend on social media when compared to those who educate educators as a vocation. Many consultants, bloggers, vendors, and retired educators spend greater amounts of time sharing information. We need to remind ourselves that sharing in social media allows us to judge the worth of the idea rather than who proposed it. I have become somewhat of a social media professional educator, hence my sensitivity to the criticism. That position however, is based on a 40-year classroom career (for the haters).

The main benefit of any lists recommending people to follow is that there are lists of people to follow. Social media, although no longer in its infancy, is still new to many educators. New educators are joining the community daily. All of us can take recommendations of people to follow. Lists offer a starting point for some, and additional value to established Personal Learning Networks for others. We must however, determine on our own, if any person warrants a continued “follow”, or a quick, unheralded “unfollow”. We design our own learning. We have a say, a voice in who we choose to learn from. Lists are introductions to people we might not yet have been exposed to.

I would hope that lists could be viewed with more tolerance, if not appreciation. Remember that the people on the lists did not choose to be there. Their appearance on the list came from another. They do not deserve to be publicly criticized for that. They are not to be targeted because someone else doesn’t get it. Respect is key to social media succeeding as a vehicle for our learning.

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Of course the end of this year is about to slam us in the face with the fact that all of those well-intended resolutions, both personal and professional, for 2013 will no longer have the time to be fulfilled. Undoubtedly, we will feel really bad about it this year, because they were all great resolutions. As far as the professional resolutions go, many of the ideas may have come from connected colleagues and blogs, so they were very relevant as well, and specifically designed for 2013. Maybe there is a possibility that we can repackage a few for 2014.

Having an intention to do something is different from accomplishing that as a goal. Resolutions only require the intention to do it. If we want to increase the odds for success, we need to keep the resolution simple and limited. I am a big believer in the KISS method, (Keep It Simple Stupid). The intention of creating and implementing several new great ideas in the coming year may be more than most of us can handle. I would suggest that we resolve to design and implement ONE new thing in our world of influence. To accomplish more than that would be a bonus, but not necessary to complete our resolution list.

There are so many ideas that are flying around the connected educator hangouts, that selecting but one to act on should be a simple task. A difficult task to arrange would be to have everyone in the world jump as high as they could at the exact same time to see what effect gravity would produce as a result. That is a real challenge.

To ask every educator to select one new idea and implement it in the coming year pales in comparison to the mass jump. The total effect of such a singular accomplishment could take education closer to where it should be in addressing the real needs of students. The other consideration is that other educators often adopt successful, new ideas. The snowball-rolling-down-the-hill effect could result in that unattainable “Paradigm Shift” that we have heard so much about over the years.

In order for this to work, we need to make a selection for the right idea. That may require that we connect with other both connected and unconnected educators to find what new ideas have worked for them.

We can collaborate with other educators for specifics. We may need to connect our unconnected colleagues for help. We may want to keep up with Education Blogs for relevant posts because they are often the result of our thought leaders in education. We must be sure to connect our unconnected colleagues with those blogs as well. We can also access webinars that are becoming so prevalent on the Internet and share them as well. We can seek out education chats for relevant ideas for change.We can even take along an unconnected friend to a chat. Education communities on Ning sites are another great way to gain access to these new ideas. There may be a need to share those sites with the unconnected. If we are lucky enough to attend an education conference, we could access new ideas face-to-face with other educators. The digital Face-to-Face method would involve Skype, or Google hangouts. Both are easily shared with unconnected colleagues.

Once we determine the best new idea that we can embrace, understand, and implement, we need to put our energy into it. We need to commit. If it doesn’t work the first time through, we need to assess why, and make adjustments, and repeat as necessary. Once we have fulfilled our New Year’s resolution, we need to examine the process that got us there. If it worked successfully once, chances are it will work again. The best part is whom else we involved and benefitted in the process, even beyond our students. Happy New Year!

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Collaborative learning has always been with us. Educators have for ages shared ideas and methods with other educators that they came in contact with on a face-to-face basis. Most educators insist that face to face connections are their best connections. Unfortunately, for some educators, it is their only form of professional collaboration. Technology, however, has been a game changer in the area of collaboration. It has enabled at least hundreds of thousands, if not a million educators to connect in various ways to share and collaborate professionally, learning and growing in the process. This has become a growing movement recognized as connected educators. The U.S Department of Education has recognized and supported the movement for the last two years with Connected Educator Month. Although many are connected, a majority has yet to reap the benefits.

What has bothered me for several years now has been the lack of support by the State and National Education organizations for the connected educator. The conferences of these organizations do have some sessions on Personal Learning Networks and how to connect educators, but the need for more information on those topics always seems to exceed the supply of sessions at these conferences.

Two State conferences of ISTE affiliates that I am familiar with have gone out of their way for connected educator education. Both NYSCATE of New York, and ICE of Illinois have created booths and lounges to educate and connect educators on the advantages of being connected educators. NYSCATE even gave out mugs to those who connected to other educators on site.

The irony of this dilemma comes in the fact that all of the Education organizations are now very quick to develop hashtags for their conferences, in order to create a buzz, and branding for both the conference, and the organization among connected educators. They fail however, to support that connectedness at the conference itself.

Few programs offer Twitter handles of educators and speakers in their programs. Nametags do not contain contact info for connecting.

Friday night I put out a tweet that we should start a movement petitioning all education organizations to at least support connected education by including Twitter handles on Nametags at conferences. Educators are connected in many ways using a cadre of applications to do so. Twitter in my estimation has been in place the longest supporting and promoting connected educators in developing collaborative personal Learning Networks.

Three people who I respect and admire from my own PLN immediately jumped on the tweet pointing out that an endorsement of one application over all of the others might be unfair. I was surprised that anyone was even on Twitter late on a Friday night so close to the holidays. As educators I guess we strive to be fair to everyone even if that one is an application. Both Pintrest and FaceBook were mentioned as additional ways to connect, and we should not favor one over the other. I would add that LinkedIn and Plurk are also in the mix. There are any number of Social Media applications that afford educators the ability to connect.

I chose Twitter because it was the one application that has been used specifically for professional collaboration over the longest period of time, by the greatest number of professionals. I wanted organizations to be able, in a simple way, to support and promote connectedness with educators. My connected colleagues however do have a valid point. Maybe a better method would be to allow conference participants to place on their nametags their preferred method of connecting with the name of their choice. Educators should not have to ink in their own information. It needs to be recognized by organizations as a legitimate for of professionalism for educators. The unconnected educators need to be educated and convinced of the legitimacy of connectedness.

The larger picture here is to get these Education Organizations to support connected educators and not just use them. PLN’s will never take the place of conferences, just as computers will never take the place of educators. Our world is changing and to stay relevant we need to change as well. In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined. Collaborative, connected educators are making a difference and creating transparency in a system that before operated behind closed classroom doors. Sharing the good and shining a light on the bad benefits all educators and in turn all students. That deserves to be supported and promoted by our own professional organizations.

 

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A question that I often get from educators is: How do I get to do what you do?  Always intrigued by that question, I continually have to consider what it is that I do, that would appeal to anyone other than me? In reflection, I love what I do in this second career that I stumbled into about five years ago. I get to tweet, chat, blog, broadcast, podcast, interview, comment, write, speak, consult, and travel around the world. I guess I could be considered a professional social media educator. Of course it is not something I could devote enough time to, if I was not retired from teaching after 40 years in the classroom. I find myself on, or near a computer all day, every day. I know of several dozen educators actively involved in doing many of the same things. Most of these educators started as early adopters of social media when it began to gain momentum in our society.

What were the conditions in education that empowered certain educators with the ability to influence, to some degree, the profession of education? Who is responsible for recognizing and validating certain individuals as education thought leaders? What changed in education that diverted us from the usual more traditional spheres of influence in education to a social media-driven influence?

Traditionally, education authors had influenced education with published works. These experts, many from Higher Education, would write books and Journal articles that affected the profession. Recognition came through published works from highly credentialed educators. These are the same experts who would also speak at education conferences. Recognition was also given to educators who successfully presented at the National Education Conferences. For decades these were the influencers of change in education.

As Education became more political the influencers changed. Politicians, and business people began to enter the discussions in education. Big companies making big profits in education began gain more influence in the discussion. Before long the educators’ voice in education was barely a whisper. Discussions resulted in mandates and laws, which was the culmination of influence of many non-educators with little transparency in the system that produced these directives.

With the rise of social media, educators began their own discussions online. The education community started to grow on LinkeIn, Facebook, and Twitter. The educator discussion began as a collaborative sharing of ideas for teaching. Soon educators began to compare notes on pedagogy, methodology, policies and mandates. Questions about inconsistencies and flaws began to be explored. The discussions were interactive, and reflective. It was educators questioning educators about education without influences of re-election, tax implications, profit margins, or public opinion.

Collaboration revealed ideas that were practice to some but innovation to others. Social media is global and that influenced ideas as well. Ideas from other cultures entered the conversations. The community soon noticed those educators, who embraced the ideas, and exposed the hypocrisies, and inconsistencies. Recognition came to those who were consistent with good and original ideas.

Those same educators who tweeted their thoughts needed to expand their ideas and moved onto blogs. Some still felt limited and found a need to author books. The pathway to thought leadership had become more democratized. People were recognized for their ideas rather than their titles. Educators had access to other educators for vetting ideas. Access through collaboration using technology as a tool to make collaboration an anytime, anywhere endeavor was a game-changing advancement.

Potentially, any educator today, who has the ability to collaborate with other educators, can share their way to thought leadership. It takes: a collaborative mindset, a love of learning, ability to creatively think, ability to effectively write, ability to comfortably speak, and a driving desire to affect change in education. These are the skills of the several dozen people that I know who have become thought leaders in education through social media engagement.

Collaboration has long been a factor in the education profession. It is through technology that this element, this form of learning, has been turbo-boosted to become a driving force in learning. It empowers people to gain control over what it is they need, or want to learn. It also enables that person to intelligently and responsibly shares their learning with others in order to fill a void created by the isolationism of education in the past. It was that isolationism that made educators vulnerable to influences of outside forces that may not have had education improvement as their main goal. That is the stuff that makes a good education thought leader. It is within the reach of most educators to get to that position, and the profession, as well as the system, will benefit with every attempt by educators to do so.

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For those who may be unaware, The WISE Summit is an education conference held each year in Doha, Qatar. The Qatar Foundation, which supports innovation in education around the world, sponsors it. It was my good fortune to be invited to attend last year along with my good friend and colleague Steven Anderson. The invitation to attend the WISE Summit comes with travel and accommodations paid for by the conference. This enables attendees to be truly representative of a huge number of countries worldwide. I was quite fortunate to be invited back a second year and lead a discussion in a common ground session.

One thing that sets the WISE Summit apart from all other education conferences we have become most familiar with is that the WISE Foundation is able to act on their good intentions. When they find educators who are passionately pursuing innovative educational endeavors, The WISE Foundation shares not only the idea with their summit attendees, but they deliver those very innovative, passionate educators to personally tell their stories to the WISE Conference. This in person delivery more than anything else best shares that passion and innovation in hopes that it becomes infectious. This conference sets itself above all others in that it fully support its intentions with actions, and of course this does not come cheaply.

The result of the huge investment in this education, and innovation connection is that the very necessary ideas for change in education can be discussed and shared at levels that potentially can make a difference on a worldwide level. Some of the most influential, Non-Government Organizations, responsible for educating millions around the world have personal access to these exceptional individuals and their ideas. The best part of this from my personal perspective is that, as an educator, and a blogger, I have the very same access to those folks. I find their ability to share their stories based on their ideas and experiences is not just inspirational, but also empowering.

There are so many people with whom I connected at this conference that I could write about, but a single post could not begin to scrape the surface of connections. Almost every business card handed to me at the conference brings to mind something about the individual represented. Of course it helps that I made notes right on the card after receiving it. It was my personal method of keeping up with so much information.

Of all of the connections and friendships that I made in Doha, Qatar, there are two individuals who are probably best described as unlikely standouts among educators. At a truly international conference I tend to bond more quickly with American educators. I find myself naturally attracted to and comfortable with people who seem familiar when I am in unfamiliar surroundings. To my advantage however this was my second year attending the WISE Summit, so a great deal of venturing beyond my comfort level took place. The two people I first came in contact with upon my arrival probably had the most profound effect on me for the conference. One was an African-American man from South Los Angeles, California, and the other was a white man from the South Bronx, New York. The three of us met for the first time in Doha. It was their first trip to Qatar and they were both wondering what it was that got them the invitation. I knew why they were invited within minutes of each of them telling me their story. Both men had a mission in life and each was passionate about it. Both were about helping people and each was laser focused on that goal. Both encountered great obstacles set up by culture and politics and each had battled and won great victories. One was steeped in hyperactivity and had a hard time sitting in a chair. The other was mellow and very laid back. I was comfortable with both guys and we got along fine. They are people I will keep in touch with and follow, as they continue to do wonderful things for their communities and that alone will drag or push many of us along with them.

I could not do justice to their stories in attempting to describe them to you in this post. I could not begin to even attempt to describe the passion and enthusiasm of these men for what it is they each do. It is ironic that each was brought around the world to meet for the first time when one considers what each of them did to get there. To best serve you as a reader, I can connect you with their video, so that you can see to some measure that which I saw in full measure. Even that should be enough to recognize these men as extraordinary educators and people we need to hold in high esteem with our support.

These are the Ted Talk videos of my new friends, Ron Finley, and Steve Ritz. I would expect you to view them, and hopefully, pass this along to other educators as well.

 

Simply click on each title to view the video.

 

Ron Finley: A guerilla gardener in South Central LA

 

Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx

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