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Forty two million new web pages were created last year and educational technology expert Adam Bellow recommended in a session at ISTE (Interational Symposium on Tech Education) trying just one. Perhaps small is the new huge.
Thinking small, or rather thinking focused, is an initially counterintuitive insight to have taken from a conference of the massive scope of ISTE. I went to San Diego, guided by numerous blog posts on how to avoid being overwhelmed by the immensity of the event: plan “must dos” in advance, leave time for serendipitous conversations, and wear comfortable shoes so as to be able to cover as much ground as possible at least literally if not figuratively.
Taking the advice seriously, I planned my ISTE strategy, making the deliberate decision to veer away from the “big names” of ed tech (although I couldn’t resist learning at sessions with several ed tech leaders whose writings have guided me). Instead, I sought to connect mostly with by no means “small names” but with important voices not necessarily acclaimed; in the trenches teachers striving to make a positive difference in their schools by integrating technology to improve the quality of learning for their students. I was profoundly inspired by the array of talent among presenting teachers who are engaging students in blogging, electronic portfolios, collaborative writing, multimedia presentations, and global collaborations. I was similarly impressed by the tremendous ability and accomplishment of participants at the conference learning together. I found guidance and wisdom in areas of great interest to me.
I returned home and reflected, intending to make some initial decisions on how I might bring my learning at ISTE back to my school, wondering whether I as a principal might potentially teach courses in which students create and collaborate through blogging and electronic portfolios. Instead of rushing forward with plans, I gave myself permission to slow down and with the more relaxed pace of summer, allow learnings at ISTE to unfold and take shape in my mind without deadline. As the days and weeks passed, and the blog posts I intended to write about my experiences at ISTE swam in my head without making their way quickly into writing, I kept hearing the conversation beneath the conversation at ISTE – the passion of teachers, the gratitude toward principals who nurture and support teachers’ passions, and the frustration with principals who do not nurture and support teachers’ passions as effectively as they might.
I had come to ISTE with the essential question “how can I as a principal more effectively support teachers in my school to improve learning?” I wondered whether in answer to that essential question, the greatest insights might come not from the content of sessions, but rather from the emotions and longings teachers expressed quietly between the lines and beneath the content of sessions. I imagined what teachers at my school might present at a conference like ISTE and recognized a plethora of possibilities: using interactive white boards interactively in kindergarten and first grade, ipads as assistive technology for special education students, social media with training wheels: edmodo as a tool to introduce elementary school students to on-line creative collaboration, engaging families and students in learning through engaging teacher web pages, from voice threads to voki: giving voice to student voice, and flipping the classroom for the tech tentative teacher. The potential for creating a platform for teachers to share and to shine was sounding more and more compelling.
Paradoxically, perhaps the greatest gift I received at the ISTE mega conference was a new set of lenses through which to look at professional learning; focusing on small as the new huge. Forty two million new web pages were created last year. Even the most tech tentative among us can try just one. Perhaps that humble beginning will make a potent difference. Perhaps, just perhaps, small is the new huge.