Sunday, October 3, 2010

Reform is Happening

On a crisp, sunny Saturday morning in October, approximately 400 passionate educators congregated at New Milford High School for the Tri-State Educational Technology Conference (TSETC).  The brainchild of Schoology and myself, we set out in mid-August to plan an unprecedented free conference that would provide educators of varying experience with practical strategies to successfully integrate technology in the classroom.  We didn’t know what to expect, but were committed to planning and delivering an event that would have a positive impact on all who attended.  Little did we know that by the end of the day, after countless hours of planning, that the conference would not only be a success, but would greatly exceed our expectations.

Around 9:10 AM I walked into my auditorium to kick off TSETC.  This was an incredibly emotional moment for me as I became so humbled to see the NMHS auditorium at capacity.  Particularly gratifying for me was to see so many stakeholders from my District present on a Saturday including teachers, administrators, central office personnel, parents, and Board of Education members.  During my brief statements I explained that the main objective of the conference was for participants to leave inspired and motivated to pursue innovative practices while becoming agents of change (thanks for capturing this in a quote Lisa).  The keynote then began and the conference was officially underway.

I didn’t see many sessions as I was running around like a lunatic.  Between popping into sessions I was setting up AVA equipment, moving extra chairs into rooms, printing out PD certificates, and exchanging business cards.  What I did hear though from educator after educator was how phenomenal the conference was. Conversations were taking place all over my school - in the hallways, Blogger’s Cafe, and in the cafeteria during lunch. The common theme of all of these informal discussions was the cultivation of student-centered learning opportunities.  Anyone that was following the #TSETC hashtag could feel the outside of the box thinking that was taking place in a little NJ town. Just check out these thoughts from Meg Wilson.

Here are just a few of the highlights:
  • Adam Bellow electrified the crowd with his presentation 10 Webtools to make your classroom rock!  I learned at TSETC that Adam runs a 100% free website called eduTecher that reviews and catalogs over 1,100 free web tools as well as offering short videos explaining how to use them in the classroom.  In the near future he will have free iPhone and Droid apps.  From now until November 25th, Adam is running a social media charity drive and when anyone clicks on this link he will donate a penny to charity.  Right after Thanksgiving he will donate all the money to the charity that his website audience (Twitter-folk, and Facebook friends) vote on. The idea is to show students (and everyone else too) that small things do make a difference and that by doing something small we can "Change the World".
  • New Milford High School alumnus Erica Hartman covered over 20 free tools that any teacher could easily use in the classroom.  As a Google Certified teacher, she appropriately organized her presentation by superbly using Google Sites. 
  • Karen Blumberg took fabulous notes on many of the presentations, which you can find here.  Additionally she facilitated a session on grassroots PD. Any highlights I missed can be found here.
  • Matt Ray provided updates on the conference and posted them to his blog.
  • Mary Beth Hertz facilitated a session where the attendees created their own presentation describing 21st Century learners.
  • Shelly Terrell Skyped in from Germany and dazzled educators on how to effectively extend learning beyond classroom walls. My students that were volunteering made it clear after her presentation that NMHS has to Skype more often.
  • EdSocialMedia and William Stites did a fabulous job running the the Blogger’s Cafe.  You can check out his session here. The Blogger's Cafe was definitely the place to be during the extended lunch break.
  • Mark Moran not only presented a comprehensive session on conducting better web research, but went out of his way to speak with educators the entire day to share his knowledge and expertise. The book marks were also a nice touch. 
  • I had met George Bengel at the NYSCATE Leadership Symposium this summer and personally reached out to him about presenting at TSETC.  He provided educators with a great deal of food for thought on using mobile technology for student-centered learning. 
  • Lisa Nielsen was absolutely fabulous.  I was fortunate to meet Lisa this past April at the 140 Characters Conference in NYC.  During her keynote she emphasized the need to take risks in the classroom and shared examples detailing the trials and tribulations of her journey to effectively integrate technology.  Read her post conference thoughts and discover how to think outside the ban.
  • The Virtual Learning Lab provided an engaging experience for all attendees as well as my students who volunteered to help out with the conference (they were awesome). They were blown away by the interactive learning experience shown off by Tequipment and wanted to "Glog" in class thanks to Glogster. Teachers from my District were really intrigued by the Schoology platform. The fact that Glogster and Dell traveled from MA and TX respectively to be a part of this experience was so exciting.
  • The Record did this story, which appeared in the paper today.
  • Google Doc of resources from TSETC courtesy of Chuck Poole.
  • Listen to my entire session on Leading With Social Media here.
We are currently experiencing a critical time in the field of education. First there were the budget cuts followed by what now seems like relentless attacks on teachers and administrators. The accountability movement being heralded by so-called reformers is being embraced by more and more stakeholders across the country. Throwing gasoline on the fire has been the documentary "Waiting for Superman" and the sham called Education Nation (which, by the way, had no respected educators present at the Summit because they were not invited). The systems that they are proposing, such as those based on merit or performance pay, will ultimately create schools that are stagnant, teach to the test, and crush any desire for innovative practices.

Reform is happening. It is happening at free conferences like TSETC where passionate educators come together on a Saturday for a full day of learning about practical strategies and sharing ideas to engage all learners in order to improve achievement. It is happening virtually in the form of Personal Learning Networks through discussion, resource sharing, and collaboration through social networking sites like Twitter and The Educator's PLN. What I learned on Saturday in my conversations with educators from many different districts is that we need to work together, learn from each other, and cultivate learning environments that are innovative, supportive, embrace risk-taking, and, most importantly, put the students first. This is the kind of real reform of which I want to be a part.


  1. Thanks for the mention, Eric, and thanks for organizing this phenomenal day. I and many others are looking forward to next year!

  2. Brilliant! Congrats and what a great line up! You are truly an educator who makes a difference!

  3. Eric, I wish I could have been there! That sounds like a wonderful time!

  4. Eric,
    Congratulations on an excellent conference. Working and learning together is powerful! Thanks for sharing the highlights of your day.

  5. Eric,

    TSETC was a truly great event and I was so glad to be a part of it. Everyone I spoke to thought the conference (both the logistics and the presenters/conversations) was top notch! I am looking forward to being a part of this event for years to come. Keep Making a Difference!

  6. Eric,
    TSETC had many highlights for all who attended. Please see my 10-2 blogpost about the conference,

  7. This was such a great opportunity to get teachers, admins, students, and community together to talk about the important issues in education today. It's imperative to continue this movement nationally. I am stoked to continue this conversation in my community...

  8. TSECTC was a very worthwhile and wonderful conference. I learned a lot and had fun doing so! All the workshops that I attended were very informative and were applicable to my everyday teaching. The presenters were all very enthusiastic and top notch. The door prizes, catered food and giveaways were a great added perk. Many thanks to all who helped make this event such a success. I will definitely attend next year.

  9. Eric,

    Thank you for this post and for the wealth of links included. The model of the development of a PLN that you are leading is one that gives great inspiration to educators everywhere (including Australia!).

  10. Incredibly enriching experience. I learned so much and this definitely inspired me to use resources to engage the students in the classroom. I am excited to use social media to interact with other teachers. I will be looking forward to the one next year.