Reflections on TechForum Northeast…

What a wonderful work area available to patrons of the Gastonia Courtyard Hotel

It’s early morning, Sunday, in Gastonia, NC, at the Courtyard, and I am so pleased to find such a nearly perfect place to do some work in the lobby of the hotel.  I have about three days of e-mail to sift through, a keynote address to assemble, and I’m still working on a special project for Class Blogmeister.  But those are not the concerns that wrenched me from my sleep so early in the morning.

I have to say that Friday’s TechForum was one of the most beneficial and meaningful conference experiences I’ve had for a very long time — and I didn’t get to attend a single presentation.  First of all, most of the New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvannia, Virginia (sorry if I left anyone out) attendees were ed leaders and most of them were technology folks — and most of them are on-board.  More than once, I heard the phrase, “…preaching to the choir.”

Not a thing wrong with this.  The choir needs a director.  What’s different is that the definition of director has changed.  By far, the most valuable experience for me was the panel discussion moderated by David Jakes, with Patrick Higgins, Ryan Bretag, and myself in the hot seats.  The session was titled, Beyond the Web 2.0 Hype: Focusing on What Really Matters.

The four of us had collaborated on a set of questions to focus on, though we stuck pretty close to the starters that Jakes initiated.  I’m planning to post my more thoughtful (or at least more grammatically considered) answers to those questions in some following blog posts.  But there were some particular take-aways from the conversation that I want to share here.

First of all, the choir is growing, becoming more vocal, more provocative, and more influential.  As a result, it is crucial that we learn to sing better and on the same key.  There are a few stanzas that are beginning to resonate.  One is, “Pay attention to the kids.”  This idea was eloquently raised when the discussion shifted over to tech-director as barrier.  One of problems agreed upon by many in attendance, was where the district has hired a technology director (or czar) from the industry sector, to maintain its million dollar investment in computers and infrastructure.  The problem is that they often (and certainly not always) work toward protecting the technology, rather than working to empower learning.

Boldly Going where few have gone before — illustrated by this Kevin Jarrett photo

I asked the audience that if we accept that this situation will not simply go away, how might we educate non-educator tech directors?  Some called for a certification.  Other’s flatly said that all tech directors must first have been a classroom teacher.  Then Patrick Higgins suggested, “Have them shadow students.” 

This was such a sublime answer that I almost stood and clapped.  Of course, this technique would work best, if students are completing assignments that require the resourceful use of the information infrastructure to build learning, rather than just looking up the answers to questions.

Then there were some truly wonderful descriptors from Bretag, such as the suggestion that many of our schools are full of “one-room school houses.”  Teachers are isolated behind solid walls, and many of them like it that way.  We need tunes that expose this sentiment for what this is, the selfish denial that classrooms must change to serve our students’ needs.

I also liked his use of the phrase, “the knowing/doing gap,” the value distance between simply being taught something, and knowing how to do it.  My notion of robust education is not necessarily measure by how much you’ve learned, but how much you can do with what you’ve learned.

And finally, I probably stepped on some toes, but I pointed out that that as members of the audience shared inspiring stories of things they’d observed among their teachers, they almost always spoke in terms of the teaching.  The delivery of content and alignment to the standards.  The stories were powerful, and they were entirely about learning.  But the terms were still about the job of teaching.  I think that we need to change those words as we sing our songs.

The one thing about my keynote that seemed to resonate with people was how I started the address by sharing something that I had just learned in the last 24 hours, suggesting that as we work to redefine teaching, we could do worse than saying teachers must first be master learners.

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Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.