No More Rock Stars

My brain is still basking in the afterglow of so many great conversations and connections from ISTE13 in San Antonio. I love that we can continue them via blogs, Twitter, and other social media. The post I’m writing today is one that I’ve tried to finish for more than 6 months.


cc photo by Rev Stan

When I first started meeting face-to-face those people that I had admired, respected, and learned from in virtual spaces, I will admit that I was a little in awe.  After meeting more and more really incredible educators, I realized that I was putting them up on pedestals… but they had never asked me to do that. It was awkward for them. I may have called some of them “rocks stars” at some point even.

That term has been bandied about quite often in our education circles lately – in blogs and comments, as well as on Twitter. Do we really want to identify some people as “edu-rock-stars?” I’m not certain I want to associate with anyone who considers him/herself as a rock star.

If you think about the term “rock star,” these are things that come to mind (or through a quick search):

  • untouchable/unattainable to the common everyday person
  • elitist/exclusive mindset
  • traveling with an entourage, including bodyguards
  • riders on their contracts for performance venues – think “insisting no one make eye contact with you, everything in the dressing room must be white, Cristal on ice at all times, drinking water at exactly 65 degrees F,” etc. (ever read the Smoking Gun Backstage page? You can’t make this stuff up!)
  • VIP treatment – immediate seating in restaurants, special perks or rewards wherever they stay, closed boutiques for private shopping, private dining away from the little people, etc.
  • bad boy/girl behavior- trashing hotels, punching the paparazzi, etc.
  • arriving obscenely late, regardless of what time you’re expected to perform/appear


I know those are extreme examples, but do we really want any of those types of behaviors, even in the smallest degree, from people who are supposed to have the best interests of children in mind?

Here’s the thing: great people share their stories and learn WITH others who are also sharing their stories. They do not expect adoration, special treatment, or even celebrity status. That’s why they’re great educators… what they do comes from their hearts, not their egos.

So please pardon me when I take offense to hearing someone referring to a person in their educational network as a rock star. I know it’s meant as a compliment, but is it really?

Here’s how it has played out, most recently at ISTE13. These are statements that I overheard more than once throughout the conference:

  • “I almost didn’t introduce myself to you. You’re such a rock star, and I was nervous to say hello.”
  • “Oh, So And So is such a rock star. He couldn’t possibly learn anything from me. I’m just an unknown teacher.”

I know it’s human nature to want to rank and sort ourselves… sadly. I think, however, that most people are uncomfortable being given rock star status. Why can’t we walk up to a person and tell her that she is someone we admire, or that we really enjoyed his session or blog post?  That starts a conversation. Learning from each other should be about the conversations we can have, not about stroking egos.

On the other hand, if someone you interact with actually welcomes rock star status, he/she probably isn’t worth your time. Learning isn’t going to be a two-way street with rock stars.

Just something to think about. It’s not about how many followers you have on Twitter, how many people know your name, or how many people want to meet you.

  • Are you sharing what you do?
  • Are you including your stories?
  • Are you lifting up and sharing the successes of the people around you?
  • Are you reflecting on what you have learned?

If you can answer yes to any of those questions, then you are worth someone’s time. I want to meet YOU, not a rock star.


My ISTE Wish

I’m sitting in San Antonio, Texas right now ready to attend ISTE 2013. This is my 7th year to attend this conference, and I have to credit ISTE with providing opportunities to learn and think differently about myself as an educator.

This is the place where I meet (quite literally) hundreds of new people. Considering ISTE brings in tens of thousands of attendees, that’s still a mind-boggling concept for me. Some of these people I meet will become part of my learning network. Some of them will become (and have been, as time has proven) some of my closest and dearest friends. I’ll admit… I geek out a little and may even scare a few poor souls when it comes to my excitement for learning from someone new. Where else can an educator go and have this type of environment to meet and learn with 15,000 or more of your “closest”  friends?

Someone once said, and I wish I remembered who, that the ISTE conference has become the premier education conference (not just ed tech) in the world. I don’t know if I agree with that statement, but it did get me thinking. When I first started attending ISTE/NECC, the focus was most definitely on integrating technology into classrooms, helping educators learn best practices in using technology, and creating some technology standards for students, teachers, and administrators. At the time, that was definitely needed, and kudos to ISTE for leading that charge.

I wonder now, though… no, I don’t wonder. I fully believe that the conversations and the focus need to evolve. I don’t think there are too many educators, parents, or communities who would argue against the need for technology to be included in education. It’s simply a part of our world… and yes… I know there are still those holdouts that cling tightly to their pride in being blissfully anti-tech.

So where does that leave ISTE?

My ISTE wish is that the organization and, subsequently, its conference, would move forward into a heavier emphasis on educational progress with the technology and the tools taking a supporting role. As a former coordinator of technology professional development, our first step was to help our educators begin using the tools. After a short time, I understood the need for a significant change. The tools were taking a starring role – we used technology simply for the sake of using technology. We needed to help educators focus on the learning. The tools were simply that… tools.

If you look at the ISTE program this year, you’ll see a very common theme. Session descriptions include names of specific tools, products, or technology emphasis. I get it. The “T” in ISTE is “technology.” Even in my own group’s presentation/workshop, we’re sharing some web tools that can be used in the classroom. The focus is still on the tools, and that’s not how I operate. I would much rather be sharing with interested educators how inquiry can help lead students to deeper learning, and “Oh, by the way… here are some tools that can help you do x, y, or z.” In my own classroom, I rarely ask the kids to use ONE specific tool. They have options and choice to use the tool that best works for them to demonstrate their learning.

Ten years ago, I attended the now defunct Midwest Internet Institute in Lincoln, Nebraska, and David Warlick was the keynote speaker. He shared a lesson idea with us about how technology could transform a traditional lesson from a textbook. Mashups were still fairly new at the time, and definitely new to me. David shared a map and then created an overlay with video (I don’t remember all the specifics), but we were somewhat in awe of what we had just seen. The key point I remember from that day was that David didn’t have us gushing over the technology. It was the way he talked about what KIDS could do to learn differently – gain a deeper understanding, share their ideas differently, etc.  – that made the biggest impact on me. I jokingly call David Warlick my “Educational Philosophy Godfather,” because it was that day when I started to realize that education had to change. My philosophy about teaching and learning shifted, and that impacts me greatly yet today. As my Anastasis students always say, “That’s an epiphany moment, Mrs. B!”

This is what I want to see at ISTE. I know that the vendors are great supporters of ISTE and a necessary piece of the puzzle, but I think they drive what happens at the conference with too great an influence. I’m not a fan of financial supporters who say, “Sure, I’ll give you a lot of money, but I want to direct some /all of what you do.” Let’s be done with that. (I know, I know… but let me dream here.)

I want the opportunity for educators who have not had their own education epiphanies to come away from ISTE completely inspired by an educational idea… not how much free stuff and t-shirts they accumulated. Don’t even get me started on the Surface tablet giveaways.

For me, I want the opportunity to have rich conversations with the brilliant people around me- to learn with them and to be able to take back some great new ideas to our school. If tools are mentioned in those conversations, great. I know, however, those tools won’t be the focus. When I think about education, I bring every new idea back to one simple thing: how will this impact a student’s learning? Plain and simple.

If you’re here in San Antonio, I hope you have a fantastic conference. If you feel like sharing something you learned this week in the comments, I would be most grateful.


NECC 2009- Part I

NECC is always such a whirlwind for me. I plan to blog it all, get too ambitious, and then never follow through. I think what I need to do is think in bullet points, post, and then go back and reflect after the fact.

EdubloggerCon 2009- Saturday, June27

  • learning through conversations is one of my favorite ways to learn, and EBC is all about this. Small groups, one or two people agree to moderate, and the discussion carries us all.  People share their opinions, agree/disagree, and we’re engaged.

Volunteering for ISTE- Sunday, June 28

  • this was my 2nd year volunteering for ISTE, and I really love the opportunity to a) give back to ISTE, b) meet new people, and c) learn more about the conference during my shift. Met two new dinner friends, too… thanks for the conversation, Pam and Fern!

Malcolm Gladwell, Keynote- Sunday, June 28

  • I think I may need to reserve the right to a follow-up post on this one, and there are also several others posting their thoughts. Will have to link them as well.
  • Points he made I liked: 1) when we think of success stories, we need to remember that many of those successes came after years of hard work and little to no success–effort counts; 2) some people who become successful do so in spite of obstacles- they compensate in other ways; and 3) to be successful, one needs the opportunity to fail.

The best thing, in my opinion, about conferences like NECC is meeting new people and carrying on conversations outside the conference sessions. Dinners and tours can be just as meaningful- sometimes more- than the ‘working’ sessions. Thanks for the dinner discussion tonight, Ryan, Deven, and Donnelle!

The only bad thing for me about conferences like NECC – when should I sleep?

NECC 2008- My 10 Goals

On Sunday morning, I’m flying to San Antonio to attend NECC 2008. This will be my third conference, and as always, I’m really excited to attend.

Some other Ed Tech folks have been posting their goals for NECC, and I thought that was a great idea. When I was a NECC newbie, I was very overwhelmed with all the available sessions. Even though I used the conference planner in San Diego (even downloaded to my PDA while I was there), I was really never certain about which session to attend… when to hit F2F networking opportunities, etc. Last year in Atlanta, I was even more overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention hall. I had mapped out every session and workshop, and I wanted to visit more vendors/exhibitors. I probably made it through 1/100 of the exhibitors. That might have been due to the fact that their was an ice cream vendor in the same place each day in the Exhibitor Hall, so I tended to go back to the same area every day. haha

SO… for San Antonio, these are my goals this year. Some of them are already checked off–

1. Mark all sessions I want to attend in the conference planner. (CHECK)

2. Volunteer for ISTE. (CHECK– am scheduled to volunteer Monday afternoon)

3. Stop by the Bloggers Cafe.

4. Go to the Second Life playground.

5. Gather more ideas (especially those with any research-based themes) about digital learning and using Web 2.0 in our schools.

6. Search for more evidence that blocking too much on the internet does a disservice to students and faculty (I already believe this, which you know if you read my posts at all).

7. Look for ties between goals #5 and #6 that support our district initiatives.

8. Attend more sessions and workshops than I ever have before at NECC. Yes, I’m optimistic.

9. Catch up with fellow Ed Tech-ers that I don’t get to see very often.

10. Go to the Alamo. I didn’t sign up for the NECC-sponsored tour, so maybe I will find some friends who want to “wing it” with me. ??

If you’re attending NECC 2008, leave a comment or shoot me a link or trackback to your own blog posting of NECC goals. If you’re not able to attend in San Antonio, did you know you can be a virtual conference-goer?