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Life Lessons Learned at ISTE12

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This past week I attended ISTE12 in San Diego.  I have gone to 5 previous ISTE conferences so I knew what to expect.  I went through my online conference planner and selected the major events; keynotes, social events, and highlighted speakers, leaving time for walking, talking, and just breathing in the ocean air.  I arrived a little early to build in recreational time in San Diego.  My arrival day was Friday.  A walk on the beach was planned for the afternoon and a dinner with a few other early birds in the evening.

At ISTE11 Joan Young, @flourishingkids, made a quick stop at my post session to introduce herself and to say that she followed me on twitter.  I responded to her with the same. For the past year we tweeted with acknowledgements to one another.  Having heard via Twitter that she was arriving early, I invited her for my walk on the beach that Friday.  After about 10 minutes of a little shyness and getting acquainted, we began to really talk . . . and talk . . . and talk, not about the weather, not about our jobs, but about our life passions.  Joan astutely noticed that social media had set the stage for us to interact with one another as if we were beginning at page 100 of a book.  The setting, character development, and part of the plot had been set through our connections via social media.

Fast forward to Saturday evening about an hour prior to the keynote featuring Sir Ken Robinson.  I was extremely excited about seeing Sir Ken Robinson having been a fan since his first Ted talk on Schools Kill Creativity and having developed a Teaching with TED page on his work.  So when he was announced as a speaker, I yelped with joy.  That evening I went to the #edchat tweet-up at the San Diego Conference Center to meet up with Joan for dinner.  Lisa Dabbs, @teachingwithsoul, another passionate educator, who I also met via our social networks and in person for the first time at ISTE12, was going to join us.  Through a tweet posted a little earlier, I saw a picture of Joan with Zoe Branigan-Pipe, @zbpipe, at the #edchat tweet-up.  I knew and respected Zoe’s work, and asked Joan to introduce me to Zoe.  Joan took me over to Zoe.  I introduced myself, and with a big smile of recognition and warmth on her face, Zoe gave me a big hello type of hug.  We told Zoe that we were going to dinner.  Someone near us said the line to Ballroom for the keynote was getting long.  She looked at the time. She looked at us.  She looked at the time.  She looked at us. (Yes, this happened several times).  Zoe, coming out of deep contemplation, said, “I can watch the keynote on video, but how often can I get to spend time with an amazing group of women?” We “picked up” a few more women along the way including the extremely energetic and passionate Lisa Neale, @lisaneale, who had reached out and connected with me via Twitter and Facebook.  What resulted was a few hours spent with amazing, powerful women, who originally connected through social media, and who became even more connected and friends through our dinner together.  We did not get into the ballroom to see Ken Robinson but we did see his keynote from Blogger’s cafe.  The keynote is forgettable, our dinner together is not.

These events set the foundation for what I experienced and learned at this year’s ISTE conference.  It was quite a different experience than in the past.

Grab on to Opportunities When They Present Themselves.  This may mean letting go of the the best laid plans.  The Ken Robinson Keynote versus Personal Networking/Communicating became my theme for the conference.  With laptop open and the ISTE online conference planner accessible, I would head for that next session presentation.  More often than not, I would run into someone I knew or who knew me from Twitter.  That next session became a lengthy conversation with that person.  As a recommendation for attending ISTE12, I recommended via Twitter that folks should approach the conference like planning a lesson: To go in with a plan, but to let go of that plan when teachable moments afforded themselves. So with that in mind, laptop would close as these opportunities opened leading to the following  . . .

Be Present With Folks in the Moment. With a background in counseling, I often teach the art of active listening, and it is an art.  It does not come naturally.  True listening means clearing the mind and fully engaging in the speaker.  It becomes a state of flow, where the only thing that exists in time and space is the speaker and what he or she is saying.  In line with grabbing onto opportunities, I became intentional in my active listening.  I gave up the need to try to get to sessions, to look around to see what other were doing, to make my own point, or to think about what I was going to do next.  I faced the person who was talking to me and cleared my mind so I could listen and be fully present with her or him . . . hopefully a small gift to them, definitely a large gift to me.  I even received a gift from Rudy, the shuttle van driver back to the airport.  I became interested in his amazing energy, sense of humor, and zest of lift.  Being in the van for a length of time with him, I asked questions and listened to his philosophy of life. He said, “I have been depressed. I have been in the outs, but now live life fully.  Life don’t stop until the casket drop. I make a habit out of being happy.”

We All Have a Voice. One Person Can Make a Difference. I consider myself a professional Tweeter.  By this, I mean I use Twitter to tweet resources, blogs, articles, news about education in an effort to change education.  I use my blog for the same purposes.  I had a dream that started when I was 18 years old, and it is to change the education system so it honors and addresses all learners’ learning preferences, passions, geographical locations, cultures, income levels, and specific needs.  I now have a platform via social media to move this mission along.  So I tweet and I blog.  I get a few re-tweets, and likes and comments on my blog post. Nothing major but I am appreciative.  It is not a lot of feedback, but it is some.  I continue to tweet and blog even without any major acknowledgement and recognition because I have to do so.  It is like an artist who has to create art.  As many tweeters do, I put my Twitter name on my ISTE name tag.  This year at ISTE, I had quite a few people come up to me to say thanks for my tweets and blog posts. I felt affirmed.  I am unbelievably grateful for that these folks approached me and told me so.  I do not tweet and blog for affirmation nor recognition, but being human, it sure does feel good.  I often preach that social media provides us all with a voice and every person can make a difference.  In the isolation of virtual connections and communications, I sometimes have some doubts about my own impact.  My ISTE interactions gave me evidence that for a few folks I am.

Professional Development is Everywhere All the Time. For the first time in the six ISTE conferences I attended, I did not learn any specific new technology integration strategies, technology tools, nor classroom activities.  It wasn’t only because I attended less sessions, I realized, it was because I participate in 24/7 professional development.  Twitter provides me with links to resources, blogs, news pieces, webinars, and conference live streams.  I actively engage in professional development every day.  As such, I do not need to go to face-to-face conferences to learn and keep up with the current trends and best practices in education.

Being an introvert, I had some meaningful connections during past conferences, ISTE and others, but not many.  So when I read pre-conference advice about using conference time for connecting and networking, I said, kind of like an acquiescing kid, “Yea, yea, right.”  This year was different.  I learned that it really is about coming out of the isolation of the silos that many, especially innovative, educators experience (thanks to Sheryl Beach-Nussembaum for the metaphor) to connect with like-minded folks to build a tribe.  I used to think that there was no hope for public education.  I am finding that previously isolated innovative educators are coming out of their isolation and connecting via social media.  These connections become deeper in conference face-to-face communications.  I now have hope as we band together, virtually and face-to-face, that this growing group of educators will make a difference in the world of education.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Jackie,
    What a deep and beautiful reflection of the time spent at ISTE. There were so many fabulous moments of connection, and I am grateful for the memories we now share. I am still processing all of the lessons I learned; your post highlights many of them. Thank you.

    • . . . and thank you, my friend (I do not use the word “friend” lightly).

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      June 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm

  2. Wow! What a great post. Truth be told, I sometimes shy away from going up to introduce myself to people from my online world when I have the chance at conferences. I’m am so glad that I was “picked up” along the way with you, Zoe, Joan and Lisa. Sitting on the bench was certainly serendipitious for me. It is all about timing. I am so glad our time had come to meet F2F. I agree with you 100% that PD happens online – twitter, links, blogs, webinars and more! F2F is all about the relationship and the power of connecting and sharing with our eyes on each other. It was so energizing and inspirational to share our challenges, hopes and passions with “eyes on”. Friends for life now, we are and the beauty of it all is that we will continue even stronger until we are F2F again. Final words: Thank you, Jackie, my friend.

    Lisa Neale

    June 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    • Agree! Yes, friends for life due to our F2F connection. I do not use the word friend lightly, and there are only one or two folks that I call friend who I only know through online connections. Love serendipity!

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      June 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm

  3. Jackie, i feel like you have summed up my #ISTE12 experience perfectly. I got home feeling a little guilty that I did not spend more time attending sessions, but then I too realized that I do so much PD each week sitting in isolation at my home in New Orleans. My ISTE experience was about celebrating the connections I’ve been developing online since 2009. I felt it was much more important to have deep face-to-face conversations with the folks I usually only have 140 characters to dialogue with. Thank you for being one of those people that I got to know even better this year at ISTE. I will continue to use social media to do my own PD from the comfort of my home, as I cherish the deeper friendships I forged this year in San Diego.


    July 2, 2012 at 1:28 am

    • Thanks, Paula – no guilt needed as we are engaging in 24/7 PD. To tell you the truth, it was a joy watching how easily and authentically you connected with those award you. In the big picture, it will be those bands of people who join together to change the system.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      July 2, 2012 at 1:32 am

  4. “Grab on to Opportunities When They Present Themselves. This may mean letting go of the the best laid plans.”
    Excellent. That just about captures my theme for ISTE this year. In fact, I tried to be intentional in NOT over scheduling and over committing myself so I could take advantage of these opportunities – whether it’s a kayak trip to to the La Jolla sea caves, or a serendipitous conversation at one of the lounges in the atrium. If I was worried about filling my schedule with presentations and workshops I would have missed amazing conversations and I never would have had a chance to finally meet you face to face. Thanks for your thoughts and I hope to continue the conversations online and, hopefully, face to face next year in San Antonio.

    • Thanks for the comment and the ISTE conversation, Dennis. You were one of those people to whom I was referring when I stated that I selected the 1:1 conversation rather than the session I had planned to go to. Our conversation was much more engaging and fun than any session could have been.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      July 3, 2012 at 8:51 pm

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