I have had two excellent conversations in the last 45 minutes.
The first was with Matt Miller, who sat next to me (and helped a lot) during the PHP workshop. After comparing Philadelphia’s current swelter with the similar (and to me, familiar) humidity of Atlanta and the dry warmth of his native eastern Washington state, we got to talking about what we do. Matt works for Mead School District outside Spokane, and does almost everything, from what he says. What’s remarkable is the degree of cooperation they share and the commitment to the faculty and students. He and his one-member staff support county, school, and individual teacher websites, laptops, media and more. They regularly meet with other staff – network support people, others – to do all they can to make it work for those teachers. They’ve spent the last few years showcasing (and learning) new technologies: blogs, RSS, digital video, and more, and they’ve been so successful at showing what these tools can do that now the teachers are asking to learn it and implement it themselves. So, being successful, Matt and his team have an enormous amount of work to do to get all the tools and programs they’ve been asked for ready in time for fall. It sounds to me that Matt and the people running his district have what it takes: a commitment to learning, a commitment to shared goals, and a willingness to listen to the people they work for: the teachers and their students.
Too often technology is for its own sake – and it is “cool” – but when it gets out of the way, when it becomes transparent, people can see their work and their goals more clearly. When you’re trying to learn to drive, there’s an overwhelming amount of information to pay attention to. When you’re used to it, the car kind of disappears and you can concentrate on where you’re trying to go. All technology, and training for technology, needs to have that transparency in mind for the people who will use it. Get the tool – a car, a computer – out of the way so you can work consciously toward your goal.
Matt and his colleagues seem to have the sweet spot right now: a cooperative group who meet regularly to assess and work to meet the needs of the people who depend on them. No battles over turf, or permissions; effort to make things better. Must be nice.
It’s always more than the technology, as Matt knows. That leads me to the second conversation, from a chance meeting in the convention center with David Weksler.
David is from Tenafly New Jersey, and remembered me from somewhere – another NECC maybe; neither of us could remember where. He told me a series stories of educators that made a difference: the late Clark Kerr of California, who eased university admssion for a tearful despairing young woman he met on an airplane, and whose parents visited his office 25 years later, out of the blue, to give him their daughter’s newly published book and thank him for changing her life; Andy Carvin of the Digital Divide Network, whom I know from his regular posts at EdTech, has turned a love of helping people and a gift for teaching into a position to travel the world and live the difference, not just talk about it. There were others he mentioned, but my mind just ran over.
I love this conference. I love the chance to run into people I don’t know and find out I do know them. I know their desire to use these fantastic tools to smooth the way, to help that light go off over the heads of others: “A-HAH! Now I see!” Oh man, that’s why I teach. It’s so great to meet with so many other teachers.