Monday, January 31, 2011

My Educon Struggle

I've been really struggling to put together my thoughts on Educon this year. I think part of my problem is I had really high expectations. The first Educon in 2008 was so groundbreaking for me. I met so many people in my PLN for the first time. I got to know people I had previously only seen on stage. I experienced a conference as a series of conversations rather than presentations. I talked about ideas constantly with people who had similar passions. It was a heady, empowering, life changing event for me.

I know from reading Tweets, reading blog posts, and talking to people that for many this describes their Educon experience. While I did have a great time seeing people I only see once a year, meeting people face to face for the first time, and bringing a colleague from my school, I'm not sure what I learned. That is very difficult for me to write. I know I learn constantly and I certainly took back some good ideas. But many of the sessions, all of them well done, felt like things we have been talking about forever.

I'm tired. I'm tired of complaining about what schools aren't doing. I'm tired of lamenting what kids aren't learning. I'm tired of struggling to figure out effective professional development. I'm exhausted by the term 21st century skills.

I left Educon sadder than I arrived and I feel guilty about my sadness. I don't want to make anyone feel bad. The sessions were excellent. The SLA team of students and teachers and administrators did an incredible job organizing and putting this event together. I'm trying to figure myself out.

Does anyone else feel this way? Am I crazy? What do you think?

David Warlick's Wordle of Educon Tweets:
Owly Images


Clarence Fisher said...

Interesting that you should post this tonight. I've been out of the loop. I've been taking a break from blogging, twitter and the edtech world in general for a solid month plus. I felt guilty at first. But then realized that I needed the time off. Returning only in the last few days, I found, like missing some time from a soap opera, that I hadn't missed very much. While I missed some people, resources and links from twitter, when it comes to blog posts - I hadn't missed very much. Like you said, I am not being critical of the people who are blogging and working in all of their capacities, it is just what it is.

That being said, I am feeling more critical of the work we are doing and the "advancements" we are seeing. I feel that while the tools still continue to change (software coming and going), the models and changes to pedagogy are now advancing at a much slower rate. We have seen every permutation of collaborative project in all of their forms and representations in all of their forms (from video, to audio through photostory and voicethread). Are we as far as we are going to go? I hope not, but I'm having trouble these days seeing where our next steps might be.

Chris Lehmann said...

I'd view this as a positive. (I'll explain.)

I think big epiphanies are hard and rare and such. I think we have to be open to them at all times, but I don't think we can expect them or force them.

I don't think I look to EduCon or ISTE to bring them about for me, but in not expecting them anymore, I find myself much more open to the subtle realignments or changes or ideas that I might not have been as aware of before. I find that it forces me to look harder, think deeper, reflect more, and that's a good thing. (If often a pain in the neck, because it's harder.)

You have read so much, talked to so many, written so much, presented so much that you have a deeply defined pedagogy and the skill and experience to carry that out. You are in a different place than you were four years ago. It doesn't mean that you have stopped learning, but it might mean that your learning has changed.

Michael Wacker said...

I don't think what you feel is unique or anything you should feel guilty for. You know there's still value in the conference, evidenced by the many folks that left feeling the way you did your first time. It's just that now the conversations are played out, tired, and the perceived follow through just led us back to the same "taffy-pull" in some rooms.
Educon gives context and ideas to conversations that hopefully will play out with decision makers in schools or districts. Or better yet, glimpses into what it means to apply strategies, and inquiry into lessons. I know for me, it helped me frame what I wanted online pd to look like in my district a year ago, and now, we are that much closer. This year I hope that the reflections and conversations will help me to continue to push my vision and gain more traction where only a year ago there was NONE. My boss tells me often that my biggest problem is that I keep pushing, pushing, pushing and when I get knocked down I don't take the time to look at just how much I've achieved or gotten pushed through. Maybe a look in the rear view would be beneficial. What have you done with what you have learn BEFORE this year, then this will look more like a speed bump than a dead end.

Liz B Davis said...

Clarence, Chris and Mike - Thanks so much for taking the time to comment on my post. I have great respect for all three of you and I wouldn't know you (in real life) if it weren't for conferences like educon (and ISTE and BLC). That is something I definitely still take away from these experiences.

Chris - I was particularly nervous about posting this for fear of you feeling I was criticizing you or the conference. So I am very grateful for your words here. They mean a lot.

Eric Juli said...

I think the idea that we have to walk away from a conference or event with an "Aha!" moment every time is a false construct. Sometimes meetings, conferences, and discussions just serve to reinforce the notion that we're on the right track. It seems to me that learning, thinking and action happen on a continuum. Think about the first year teacher in our Educon Design session. Everything any of us said to him was brand new. For him, every idea was a new idea. But for most of us in that group, our ideas were simply what we already do.

Perhaps your experience this weekend serves as confirmation that you want to continue your current work. Sticking with what you already do, and trying to stay on message and do it better, is often harder than coming back to school and saying you have a new idea to try out.

A principal once told me to be boring about the things I care about. If the people I work with can't finish some of my sentences regarding my passions, I'm not being clear enough. So be a little boring. If you want to shake things up at the next event, show up to sessions 10 minutes early instead of 15 or show up right on time, it's game changing.

Unknown said...

You put to words exactly how I come away from so many conferences now. So much that I've begun to refer to myself as "the wrong audience" and this is possibly true - as you say the presentations are excellent, they are just no longer appropriate for us. But there must be something for us so I'll keep looking.

woodenmask said...

I feel much the same way.

Normally, I feel energized by being surrounded by so many people, so much smarter than me, but this time I was left with mixed feelings. I think your "tired" comments are pretty much on the money - I'm feeling emotionally and professionally exhausted and this weekend didn't re-ignite me the way I was hoping it would. I think the constant focus on what ISN'T working in Education today was part of it.

I, too am tired.

It was such a privilege to meet with the best people in my profession. I was hoping to come away with a stronger sense of dedication and focus.

And yet, I'm more tired than I was when I went.

I don't know. I'm still trying to wrap my head around it. Thank you for articulating my ambivalence so well.

- John

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think we're scared to write how we feel, for fear we will be ostracised from the people we respect. I felt like you do now last year when I attended Educon. There was such build up, and for me, I wasn't hearing anything groundbreaking. That's what it's like for all of us who network the way we do. We're on top of the latest ideas, we listen to one another in Twitter and through blog posts, we go to conferences and listen to speakers tell us what we already know. Where are the new ideas? Probably in places outside of the education sphere. Maybe we need to find those conferences where they are talking about the next stage of web development, and we will find the bounce off ideas that we can apply to education. I suspect SirChriss felt he was the 'wrong audience' for a presentation I delivered last year where he was an audience member. We are the 'wrong audience', but 90% of the people sitting there listening are the right audience. We have to remember that, and actively encourage those who are hearing the message for the first time and are as enthusiastic and optimistic about change as we were when we started off. People like you Liz, are inspiring others to make change happen, and if that means we can help our students learn differently, and not copy notes from the board or answer questions that Google can provide for them in a nanosecond, then that's a good thing. What I gained from Educon last year was the chance to meet peers I respect for the first time, and forge friendships that extend beyond the printed word. I missed those peers last weekend, as I sat in hot humid conditions in Australia, and you lot weathered the cold of Philadelphia.
I agree with Chris' sentiments. I think I'm more thoughtful, less likely to jump on the latest tech tool as the next big thing. I'm looking for sustainable change and finding ways to make it happen. I think we all are.
There's my sermon from the mount!! Should I post this comment, or erase it for all time? I'll verify that word and push that button. : )

Unknown said...

Great post. Just a word, or a thought, that someone told me when I was no longer feeling stimulated. It's the time between when you may feel bored, restless, that you've heard and done it all. That is the time when creativity happens. And who knows where it will go? Just in this posting, you have been creative, have taken risks, have said what others were too fearful to post and you have been heard, received positively. I'm so proud of you! Your Mom

JeanTower said...

What you describe happens to me sometimes, too. One year BLC was jaw-dropping, the next I felt oddly out of place, out of step and tired. I think what we get depends so much on where we are, what are expectations and needs are at any given moment, and how energized we are (that day/week/month) for the journey.

Andrea said...

I've been hearing echos of this struggle, frustration, etc. from different corners.
Are our expectations of Educon too high? Maybe, like Clarence said, it's a problem with our expectations of ourselves? I've also heard stories of disappointment in the shallowness of the connections- the small talk that didn't "measure up" (expectations of other people).

I guess I'm having a good moment right now (this too shall pass!) because I felt good about EduCon and noticeably un-frustrated about education in general. Is that crazy? I do know that, while I was very much looking forward to educon, I didn't have huge expectations.

I will try to explain why I felt happy about educon. You are part of my example. Last year, although I don't think we spoke, you mentioned the Sudbury Valley School in one of the sessions. That completely intrigued me, and I spent a good deal of time reading, thinking and talking about that model of a school. You planted a seed in my mind, and this year, I got to tell you that and to get your perspective. Other seeds were planted in my mind at Educon last year, too. Little seeds. Some of them have grown, some haven't.

I think I am coming to terms with the fact that this is how it is. Seeds are planted. They don't grow overnight. I look at what's happening in my school now. Lots of things have changed, and lots of things haven't. One of the hardest things for me is when people and situations don't meet my expectations (which happens all the time). I'm trying to consciously stop having expectations (haha!!) and just be open. It may take several months or until next year's conference to see what seeds were planted.

That said, I do think that we "outgrow" certain situations that no longer stimulate our thinking.

Jenna Baxter said...

This is Jenna again from EDM310. I will be commenting on this blog as well and will have my summary posted by February 6. My blog address is, and you can find me on Twitter @jennabaxter1988.

While I may only be an Elementary Education student, I was quite interested in this blog. After reading it I was interested in finding out what Educon was, so I did a little research. This seems like a great conference where you get to discuss a lot of great topics, especially the importance of technology in education. I understand how depressing it must be to feel like you discuss the same things every year, but maybe some good can come out of it. By discussing the same topics every year you hope to get new insight from teachers who may not have been at previous conferences. Also if the same topics are still being discussed then that means there must still be problems that need to be solved. While you may feel like you can do nothing to solve the problems, talking always helps. Maybe if we all continue to work together we can improve our education system and give our students the future they deserve. Thank you for letting me comment on your blog, it has truly been educational!

Liz B Davis said...

Thanks everyone for your words of support and encouragement. In some ways, feeling like I didn't learn a lot has ultimately led me to some new learning. In this time between there have definitely been some seeds planted for me. I just started a book on Appreciative Inquiry that is giving me a lot of food for thought. Ironically, I don't think I would have picked it up if I hadn't gone to Educon. I'm working on a post about it now. Stay tuned.

Joe Bires said...

I think there is a lot of truth in what you are saying Liz because I am not sure that the dialogue on edtech and ed reform is progressing but rather spiraling on itself in circles of something less than progression.

I attended several sessions and got some new information (Jon Becker’s session on research was excellent). I also met people who I only knew in the online space which is always interesting. Finally I got value out of the unplanned conversations.
As Chris likes to say; “Take time to marinate” educon2.3 rather than immediately ask what you got out of it.

Joe Bires said...

I think there is a lot of truth in what you are saying Liz because I am not sure that the dialogue on edtech and ed reform is progressing but rather spiraling on itself in circles of something less than progression.

I attended several sessions and got some new information (Jon Becker’s session on research was excellent). I also met people who I only knew in the online space which is always interesting. Finally I got value out of the unplanned conversations.
As Chris likes to say; “Take time to marinate” educon2.3 rather than immediately ask what you got out of it.

Beth Knittle said...


I too have this odd, elusive feeling leaving EduCon. Seems more intense this year then in the past. I am not sure if it is frustration, annoyance, or what. I just know I leave unsettled. I have always thought that unsettled feeling helps drive learning and change.

loonyhiker said...

I think it is important to keep the conversation going. As long as it is a problem and we keep working at it, it won't be swept under the carpet and ignored. I think scientists looking for a cure for diseases feel the same way. They keep hacking away at the disease, little by little. As long as someone keeps working at it, eventually some day, someone will find a cure. Change doesn't always happen right away. You are right that it seems like the same conversations are going on, but maybe that is what needs to happen in order for change to occur. I hope those that do, continue because at different points in my life, I am inspired and motivated to continue the fight to move forward.

sylvia martinez said...

You might like this reflection I wrote a while back about this journey we are all on together, yet separately.

Circle of Life for Tech Using Educators

Liz B Davis said...

Sylvia - Thanks for sharing that post. Scary you wrote it in 2008. Boy am I late to the party ;-) Seriously, you really nailed it. That describes so much of my experience and you make a great point that it isn't a linear path. I know I am circling back all the time.