When I get overwhelmed, I stare at the grains of sand rather than the beach. It’s much easier for me to psychologically digest one week in California than it is to manage eight-ten speaking engagements, a bunch of trips, four long flights, and four drives of four hours or more. This is an accounting of all. that. sand.
I plan on expanding each bullet into a full post between September and October, but I wanted to provide an overview of my craziest season. If you’re interested in education consulting or speaking, I think this is a pretty accurate representation of an active summer.
Some schools/districts and developers have asked not to be named, so I will be as vague as necessary.
- Cupertino, CA. Visiting the mothership was amazing, and while I can’t say a whole lot about why I was there or what we were doing, I can say that it’s a worthwhile trip for any fanboy. I was fortunate enough to meet members of Apple’s incredible Education team as well as the leadership, and I remain impressed by the folks running the show there. As a small stakeholder, I feel like we are in good hands.
Also, I got an awesome hoodie.
- New York. I spoke to teachers and leaders from a Brooklyn schools conglomerate and elicited a spirited response, much of which centered on my insistence that teaching penmanship is a waste of time. While there were some very receptive participants, the experience reminded me how difficult it can be to get educators to reconsider their values.
TL;dr Let me know when one of your students gets a penmanship scholarship.
I did not receive a hoodie of any kind.
- Austin, TX. I’m glad I’ve visited Austin before, because the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and it left little time for sightseeing or other frivolity. My saving grace was having a good friend in the area who picked me up every night around 10pm and deposited me on the steps a few hours later. ADE 2013 was better than I could have hoped, and that includes the high-five line and other stuff that freaked me out. I spent a week being photographed by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Bill Frakes, listening to Nancy Duarte speak about effective storytelling, and working with the most talented educators I’ve ever met. If you ever get a chance to hire an ADE, do it. I feel proud to have hung around some of the best educators in the world.
No hoodie was provided, but I did get a nice t-shirt and an ADE polo I can wear to work like a boss.
- San Mateo, CA. I landed at JFK, dropped my bags home, and drove myself to LaGuardia for my flight to California and EdmodoCon 2013. Aside from the travel (which was booked for me and resulted in nearly 22 total hours of travel time for a round trip that takes about 13 under normal circumstances), it was also a fantastic experience. There were 25,000 educators signed up for EdmodoCon, and while you’re probably not speaking to all of them at once, it’s fair to assume several thousand people are watching you as you present your content. I thought that might be intimidating, but it turned out to be kind of nice. And it helped me concretize my ideas for Mission 1:1, which you’ll soon be hearing more about. The best part of the experience was the people. Edmodo’s braintrust is filled with smart, motivated people, and I really enjoyed spending time with my co-presenters. One question: WHERE WERE THE OTHER GUYS? I was the only male presenter! On the one hand, I liked the fact that I stood out; on the other, I felt like my gender was woefully underrepresented. SEND IN BETTER SUBMISSIONS NEXT YEAR, FELLAS.
A hoodie was involved, along with two t-shirts. This was a real boon for my wardrobe, though my wife quickly absconded with the hooded sweatshirt.
- Upstate NY. Work disguised as vacation. My wife and I rented a little house near the town center and I spent a day working with a group of local educators on potential non-iPad 1:1 deployments. After the first twenty minutes (“Are you SURE you don’t want to use iPads? Totally sure? 100%? I mean, let’s not be rash!”), I switched tacks and began exploring the potential for their Chromebook initiative. I’m happy to report that I get it. I get how obnoxious it is to be told by outsiders that THERE IS ONLY ONE WAY to go 1:1. I understand that lecturing people about how I did it isn’t always as helpful as finding a way for them to do it. Not every school has $490 per student to pony up, and some barely have the money to cover a few new routers. I think web-based OSes are recipes for disaster for a number of reasons, but it’s hard to dissuade people from buying them. There’s no denying that Chromebooks are a great value, but I would argue that they work as one small element of a tech-progressive environment, not as central components. Does that mean that a school with a limited budget shouldn’t consider them for a one-to-one deployment? Of course not. I just wonder how things will go in economically disadvantaged districts where home wifi isn’t common.
And battery life is going to be an issue.
No hoodie was also an issue.
– Rhode Island. Can’t say much other than I was at the most beautiful campus I’ve ever seen. Holy cow. Just amazing.
Hoodie status will remain unconfirmed.
- Bethlehem, PA. One of the most energizing experiences of my summer was working with a charter school in Bethlehem. I enjoyed my time with the tech director and principal so much that I hope to continue working with them in some capacity, and not just because it required a short drive rather than an eight hour flight. Any time I work with visionary educators and administrators, I feel simultaneously invigorated and grateful. Meeting the team and becoming acquainted with their goals made me feel like a teammate rather than consultant. And I liked what I got to see of the area. It turns out I judge every city on how much it reminds me of Brooklyn, so parts of PA do really well on that admittedly limited scale.
No hoodie. I didn’t see any hoodies available though, to be fair.
- Burlington, VT. What a great city! I worked with a great school and learned a lot about how the city and state education systems work. I was most impressed by the diversity of local schools compared to some of the surrounding areas. I worked with people I immediately liked, and the team assembled by the tech director was talented beyond my expectations. I especially enjoyed that I got to spend time with the IT staff and the Instructional Tech staff because it reflected the strengths of their model.
Let’s face it: great results are to be expected when you have one or two hundred kids and devices to deal with. Scaling up and dealing with one or two THOUSAND students is exponentially more difficult and requires more prep and a larger staff. A good starting point is hiring instructional tech and information tech staff members who can work together towards common goals. Several schools in Vermont have done just that, and to great effect.
No hoodie, but other local goodies.
This is what I learned over the course of the summer: our schools are in excellent hands. All we ever hear about are the screw-ups and the slimeballs, but the truth is, the quality of teachers and administrators has never been better. We’re more educated, standards for hiring are more stringent than ever, and school boards and even elected officials are embracing the importance of technology even if they aren’t totally sure WHY they’re doing so quite yet. Whether those things are good or bad is up to individual interpretation, but I can affirm that there are some incredibly smart, talented people working in our schools. The teams I worked with were all working incredibly hard towards admirable goals. And while I didn’t agree with everything every developer, school, or organization I worked with did, I do appreciate the processes that led to their decisions. I encountered no super-villians, no cackling menaces to sound education policy. There will always be a few misguided souls out there, but they come around because they have to, and we embrace them because it’s our duty. And they are in the minority. So while things here are far from perfect, rest assured that there are good people working towards the best possible outcomes for our kids (and some pretty nice hoodies for us).