As the holiday season is now upon us, many are planning for the new year. Before we embrace all that 2017 has to offer, let’s take another look back at the experience that still has my head spinning. A first-timer’s sneak peak into the motherboard of #ISTE16.

I had done my research. I was combing through ISTE details since #iste14, #notatiste14, and #notatiste15. I had always wanted to attend this conference. As a veteran—yet lifelong-learning, forever-emergingconnected educator, I knew that our passion centers around—and stems from—student learning. It’s all about the learning. First. And then technology may enhance learning experiences as appropriate.  

But… C’mon. Seriously! This is different. After all, this is ISTE! This is the International Society for Technology in Education! Just the potential that several educator rockstars would attend, and interact, and that my friends and I may have even the slightest opportunity to meet them face-to-face after following them on twitter for years, was enough to excitedly alter my deep-down conference expectations. Yep. I was so sure of it: I was going to be “wowed” with super tech gadgets by the best in the business! And I couldn’t wait for my very first ISTE ride.

“Wow. That session had nothing to do with technology!” Proclaimed my friend and fellow ISTE first-timer. But the fact was that technology was addressed—just not in the manner in which we had predicted. Perhaps, this was just part of the introduction. But then it happened again in the next session. Was I missing something? Where are all the tech toys with which we’re going to change the world—I mean beg our schools to purchase and teach our students to love? (Note sarcasm). And then, it really hit home when ASCD Emerging Leader and TEDx speaker Kerry Gallagher sparked our curiosity to reimagine learning. If there ever was one shining moment that fully embodied my entire #ISTE16 experience, this inspiring #isteignite presentation was IT

No rebooting needed here. I immediately went to the blue screen of death. My mental hard drive was defragging. Learning really was the focal point. Some tech enthusiasts and ISTE-goers may be product-driven, but my opinion was not only substituted, augmented, and modified—It was redefined–for real. Learning is a process. My ISTE first impressions:

  1. Student learning comes first. Seriously.
  2. Learning is largely process-driven, and not always easy. Start with why and how.
  3. Technology is a tool that can help students learn.

“Was ISTE worth the time and money?” Some have asked. Well, that depends on perspective. While I’m happy to see so many fellow educators learning and growing, part of me cringes when I see the term “ambassador” endeared into twitter bios. By definition, an ambassador is so proud of his or country or cause, that he or she is willing to die for it. So… When making professional judgments about how to craft the best learning experiences for our students, will educator ambassadors serve a (potential) personal conflict of interest, or will they side on what’s best for each student? Will they always push their products to achieve a result to earn ambassador recognition (and maybe third-party money or gifts) at the expense of their students, or will they prioritize and embrace the processes of effective teaching and learning according to student needs? The answer is foundational. And it matters. And sometimes that means that the best technology for a learning experience is NO technology.

Be cautious when discerning motives to enhance student learning while in your classroom, at mega conferences, with your professional learning network, and even in conversations with your neighbor next door. Continually question: Is this what’s BEST for my students?

I knew the fundamental foundations of teaching and learning. But I did not know that ISTE would so boldly craft its brand as the cornerstone, and graft its roots into the very essence of education.

ISTE got it right.

On principle alone, I encourage every educator to be ISTE-minded along their professional learning journey. #ISTE16 was not what I thought—It was so much better than I could have ever imagined. Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and reimagine learning once in awhile, you could miss it.