four conference attendees on a video call greet each other

When it comes to sending educators to the ISTE Conference & Expo, some school districts like to take a team approach. Davenport Schools in Iowa sent more than 80 educators to ISTE19 in Philadelphia. The team from Lakota Local School District in Ohio numbered about a dozen.

These districts go big with the aim of embedding the learning at a deep and sustainable level. Sending a large contingent also creates momentum for digital initiatives and fosters a tech-friendly culture.

Jen Van Fleet is her district’s lead support teacher in its teacher leadership initiative, which aims to improve instruction practices and student achievement. In Van Fleet’s first conference in 2015, the district sent only technology specialists and teachers whose subjects specifically aligned with technology. But that soon changed.

“We quickly realized that this shouldn’t be some siloed experience,” she said. “This is really something for every grade level, every content area, every experience level, every comfort level. There is something for everyone. So, we really kind of opened it up.”

Sharing digital learning with others

Each year, Van Fleet aims to send 10 percent of the district’s teachers, which number between 1,200 and 1,400. For in-person events, the district charters a bus to transport its contingent from Davenport to the convention sites.
That 10 percent goal, Van Fleet said, provides “a good exposure rate and access.”

“Between all of us, we’re able to spread out and really get through a lot of the conference and bring that back,” she said.

Davenport educators follow their own interests at the conference.

“We don’t want to tell people what to go and learn,” Van Fleet said. “We gave everyone an idea of the different formats they would see, but other than that, we just said, ‘Go and get as much as you can.’”

After the conference, participants shared their experiences and the resources they found on a shared document. They also made suggestions about how the district could help them in implementing what they’d learned.

After the first year of sending a big contingent in 2016, the district saw a huge jump in the use of new apps in the classroom, she said.

The ISTE Conference & Expo has also informed training within the district. Teachers who serve a district technology innovators have access to attendees’ notes and are able to tailor coaching to particular needs.

The district also puts on its own annual technology boot camp for teachers led by other teachers. The ISTE conference gives more teachers the expertise and confidence to be presenters at the boot camp, Van Fleet said.

“We’ve now sent people to four ISTEs,” she said. “And everyone knows we’re going to bring back awesome things every year.”

ISTE20 Reinventing Education Together graphic

From classroom teachers to district superintendents

In the Lakota district, the ISTE conference is part of professional development for its We Are Empowered initiative, a student-centered approach that focuses on innovative instruction, education technology and modern learning spaces, said Todd Wesley, the district’s chief technology officer.

“With the ISTE Standards and ISTE Essential Conditions being a key resource in this initiative, the ISTE annual conference has been a natural fit for targeted staff,” he said. That staff has included the superintendent, principals, district administrators, innovation specialists and teachers.

“The goal of our team is to discover, learn, grow and bring back new approaches, ideas, tools, etc.,” he said.

Attendees align their conference schedule with their areas of interest and their role in moving the initiative forward. They all contribute to a shared document where they describe what they’ve learned and they meet daily to discuss sessions, tools, approaches and how they can apply them to serve students.

“The long-term benefit of the conference is seeing ideas or learning opportunities come to life the following school year as our innovation specialists incorporate their learning into staff PD, administrators integrate their conference experience into their leading and teachers apply these concepts to fuel student-centered learning,” he said.

Wesley and Van Fleet both cited the camaraderie created by the gathering of 20,000 like-minded people as one the conference’s big appeals. However, this year’s virtual conference has its own advantages.

Virtual event more accessible to more educators

“I applaud ISTE for rolling with the punches of 2020,” Wesley said. “The conference is the premier annual event for education technology and student empowerment. Pivoting to a virtual conference expands access and dramatically lowers the cost of attending.”

With reduced costs, the Lakota district is increasing its number of participants with a focus on the new learning environments brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Van Fleet said the Davenport district’s tech boot camp went online this year, and it was a big success. Its unlimited capacity and flexible format increased participation.

“We had insane feedback from people who were just so thankful that there were flexible accommodations for every single person,” she said. “That’s huge. We preach about this with kids, giving them choices on path, place, timing and pace with blended learning. Adults need that too. So, I'm excited to see what happens this year with ISTE.”

Want to make ISTE20 Live a true catalyst for change in your school or district? Here are a few tips for collaborating with your team to get the most out of the conference.

1. Know your goal. 

With a clear goal in mind, you can make sure each member of your team gets exactly what he or she needs out of the conference. Whether your objective is to embark on a major technology initiative, find new ways to support your existing program or get examples for addressing the ISTE Standards, you’ll get more out of the conference if you work as a team toward a common goal.

2. Play to your strengths. 

Choose which sessions each person will attend based on his or her knowledge and skill level. Participants with prior knowledge or interest in a topic will typically get the most out of a session, and they can bring the most useful information back to the group.

3. Attend live when possible.

Every attendee will have access to all sessions for six months after the conference. That allows everyone to go back and watch sessions they missed or want to watch again. But don't miss the chance to see as many sessions live as your schedule allows. Attending in real time offers opportunities to ask questions and engage with other participants. 

ISTE20 Reinventing Education Together graphic