Friends, it has been a month since I returned from Philadelphia and the 2015 ISTE Convention. With this being my first ever ISTE, I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. While I have attended other technology conferences around the country, this was by far the biggest and most well-known conference I have ever been a part of.
Here are my key takeaways from the conference:
1. Planning is Crucial
It is literally impossible for you to do and see all the sessions you want, talk to all the vendors you would like to, and even connect with all the folks you said you would. For weeks leading up to ISTE, my mailbox was inundated with postcards plying me with free cocktails and appetizers to hear their sales pitches. Promises of free swag were attempts to lure me to various booths in the Expo Hall. Without prioritizing the places and events I really felt would be beneficial for me and my role, I would have been pulled in far too many directions. The same goes for attending sessions. While it is always nice to have someone you know sitting next to you at sessions so you can bounce ideas off of one another, it isn’t always the most strategic way to attend a large conference. My colleagues and I attempted to “divide and conquer”, but it isn’t always easy. A tip that an ISTE veteran shared with me was to not make such a big deal of attending the “featured sessions” as those are often recorded. Generally they fill up the fastest, too, so you might schlep your stuff from one end of the convention site to the other, just to realize that the session is full. The ISTE app was really easy to use and allowed you to “favorite” sessions. You could also filter by day, time, and type, so that made finding a relevant session much easier than flipping through the 100+ page booklet.
2. Get out of your comfort zone
Sometimes I have a tendency to become a bit introverted in big settings. I alluded to this idea before when I mentioned that I didn’t really feel like I had enough “street cred” to really contribute to the conversation. Having seen the power of networking and connecting (especially via Twitter), I have come to realize that I DO have significant contributions to add that furthers the conversation. Still, sometimes those old insecurities come creeping back. It’s important to break out of your comfort zone. For me, that is speaking up in a large crowd to answer a question, share a point of view, push back on something the speaker has said, or contribute an idea. In smaller group settings, I am totally fine with sharing. Somehow when I’m at a conference I feel like I don’t belong with the rest of “those really smart people.” When I did put myself out there and got a little uncomfortable, I found that I made some great connections with folks – a shared experience or a lesson to takeaway. It’s important to remember what that feels like every once in awhile. After all, we ask our students to get out of their comfort zones on a daily basis.
3. Find Ways to Connect Beyond the Convention Site
As a runner and avid traveler, I love nothing more than the opportunity to pound out a few miles in an unfamiliar place. For me, there is no better way to see what a place is all about than by running the city streets and waving hello to the other morning walkers and runners. At ISTE, Josh Stumpenhorst organized an informal run. It was a great way to meet up with fellow educators and start the morning off on an active note. We met at the Philadelphia Art Museum – yes, the one with the famous Rocky steps – and headed along the Schuylkill River trail. I ran from my hotel to the Art Museum, which was about a half a mile away, did the 5k with the group and ran back to the hotel. Four and a half miles in before 8:00 a.m.; not a bad way to start the day! And, because both runners and educators on the whole are a kind and generous people, I not only found some running buddies, but a couple of them were extra welcoming. There was a lovely man who teaches at an International School in Africa whom I met in the elevator. He had the pleasure of running with me as I tripped and fell in the middle of the street, completely destroying my knee! Once I reached the fountain, another guy saw my Team Playmakers shirt (and my bloodied legs) and came to check on me and make sure I was okay. I sure appreciated those guys reaching out and making sure I was good to go. For the record, road rash HURTS – and takes FOREVER to heal!
4. Set Goals and Follow Through On Them
It’s easy to be inspired at a conference. You’re surrounded by thousands and thousands of educators who are passionate about a lot of the same things you are. You sit in sessions with leaders in the educational world – teachers, coaches, administrators, consultants, innovation leaders. No wonder we leave a session ready to set the world on fire! (metaphorically speaking, of course). But as it often happens with conferences, we quickly forget about the ideas, the energy, the excitement, and we come back to our districts and feel disillusioned by another set of mandates or testing schedule. At the closing Keynote, Josh Stumpenhorst challenged all of the attendees to use Future Me to send an email to ourselves with one goal from ISTE. The email should come to us one month from the end of ISTE – July 1. I should be receiving my email in the next couple days. It think goal setting – and making a plan to follow through on them – is crucial to implementing what you learn at a conference. It can’t just be about the new tools you saw in the Expo Hall. Education is SO MUCH more than the shiniest, newest “game changer.” As my friend George Couros reminds us:
— George Couros (@gcouros) March 21, 2015
5. Seek Out Time to Explore
Being in a city is always so energizing for me. I grew up in a really small town; graduated with 30 kids. While I attended a large university (Go Green!), Lansing itself is not all that big in comparison to larger cities like Chicago or Philadelphia. So when I have the chance to explore a “big city”, I usually jump at the chance. It’s also fun to spend time with your colleagues outside of the school environment. While we were in Philly, a few of us decided to get together and take in a Phillies baseball game. We got some tickets for the cheap seats, grabbed a hot dog, and enjoyed the night!
I also spent some time exploring the history of City Hall, Philadelphia, the LOVE Statue, and the oldest tavern in Philly! The Ale House has been operational since 1860, the year Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated. it was pretty cool.
Philadelphia was a great venue for ISTE and I had so much fun, learned a LOT, and made some great connections. It’s so fun to meet folks that you’ve only ever interacted with on Twitter!