Caitlin McLemore
A woman lying on a yoga mat while watching something on a laptop

With dozens of topics, sample schedules, featured speakers and multiple pathways to learning, ISTELive 21 is surely going to be a transformative experience for educators and educational professionals unlike any other. And because the popular annual conference is virtual again this year, participants will be able to:

  • Connect and engage with other educators, presenters and industry experts through asynchronous and live formats.
  • Experience a variety of learning opportunities including concurrent sessions, creation labs, posters, playgrounds, interactive lectures, the expo hall and featured speakers.
  • Access learning materials and recordings to support their learning journey for six months.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some advice: Don’t forget to breathe.

After attending and participating in ISTELive 21, you might be so excited you'll want to try everything that you learned right away. Stretching yourself is critical to growth, but it is also critical not to overstretch. As you integrate new ideas into your classroom, be sure to model mindfulness and balance for your students. 

What strategies can you employ to achieve both balance and growth? Here are my top five: 

1. Focus on learning goals.

First, ask yourself, what is it that you and your students want to accomplish and learn. Once you have learning goals and outcomes in mind, you can begin to think about how new activities, lesson plans, project ideas and tools help to meet these objectives. If they don’t, simply don’t do them! Even if an idea or tool seems cool or got rave reviews from others at the conference, you know yourself and your students best. Do what serves you and your students, and let go of all else.

Before you jump in with planning and implementation, take a deep breath, sit back and relax. Watch yourself from a distance and imagine the kind of educator that you want to be and imagine your ideal classroom. For help with this, use this mindfulness meditation created with educators (and this exercise) in mind. Whether you use this mindfulness meditation or one of your own, the goal is to determine what is essential and what furthers student learning goals and your mission as an educator.

2. Less is more.

Another way to avoid overstretching is to try just one new thing at a time. Then you can focus your efforts on successful implementation and not become overwhelmed with logistics. ISTELive 21 will be full of engaging opportunities to connect and learn from others, inspiring stories and innovative ideas. With a conference so packed with high-quality programming, where do you begin?

Try using the 25/5 rule made popular by American investor Warren Buffet. Begin by making a list of 25 things you want to accomplish in your classroom. Then eliminate all but the top five items from the list. Once you have narrowed it down, focus all your efforts on achieving those five things and ignore the rest. You might be tempted to do or try more, but focusing your efforts will ultimately contribute to your success.

Looking for a helpful analogy? Don’t try to boil the ocean; instead, start with a pot of water. Later, once you master the pot of water (or decide that the pot of water isn’t going to boil), you can try another. And another. (And so on.)

2. Use data and self-reflection.

How do you know if you are successful in meeting your goals? Data, data, data. By data, I don’t just mean grades or test scores. Use the information provided through formative and summative assessments, but also gain insight through learning analytics within software and web programs, student input and your own self-reflection. Incorporating multiple data points allows you to paint a comprehensive picture of implementation. Once you gain insight into what worked, you can begin to let all else go (without feeling guilty).

4. Take care of yourself.

Speaking of guilt, remember to take care of yourself. This means prioritizing your own mental health and well-being. It also means prioritizing your personal journey and valuing the uniqueness that is you, your classroom and your students. During ISTELive 21, you will meet lots of amazing educators and professionals. Connect with others, be inspired by their stories and learn from them, but try not to compare yourself to others. We are all on our own unique journey and path. It is not productive to try to be someone else. Strive for developing and staying true to your own authentic self.

If you do start to feel overwhelmed, pause. Take a breath and use mindfulness practices. such as this meditation for educators. Or think about what else you can do to relax and practice self-care. For some, this might be taking the time to read a book. For others, it might be a video chat with close friends. The point is to do something that centers and calms you.

5. Focus on the journey, not the destination.

Success takes time. Growth takes time. While you may be tempted to throw out your entire classroom curriculum after attending ISTELive 21, don’t! This will only make you feel overstretched and overwhelmed. Think first about your mission, your purpose. Then, choose a few goals to focus on that will help you achieve your mission or purpose. Enjoy daily challenges and reflect upon your journey so that you can keep only what is essential to your mission or purpose. Of course, success takes time, so take care of yourself along the way.

ISTE20 Reinventing Education Together graphic

A version of this post was original published on Caitlin McLemore's blog Blank Crayon on Nov. 13, 2020.  

Caitlin McLemore is the academic technology specialist at Harpeth Hall School, in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works to foster meaningful technology integration within classroom curriculum. She is co-author of the book, Stretch Yourself: A Personalized Journey to Deepen Your Teaching Practice. She was named an ISTE Emerging Leader in 2017 and an ISTE Outstanding Young Educator in 2018. She holds an M.Ed. in elementary education from the University of Florida and is a pursuing an Ed.D. with a specialization in technology integration in K-16 education at Johns Hopkins University.