I gave the closing keynote at ISTE on Wednesday, and it was a really wonderful experience. It’s an amazing thing to get up in front of 5,000 plus people and talk about what you deeply believe. It was particularly hard for two reasons – one, the ISTE community is as close to a “home-base” outside of SLA that I have in the world of education. There are so many people – too numerous to mention here – who have been friends, co-learners, mentors, sounding boards over the past six years that to speak in front of all of them in one place was both exhilarating and a little intimidating… and many of them had heard me speak at other events, so finding something new for that segment of the audience was a real challenge.
But the real reason it was so hard to craft this speech was because I was preceded by my students.
The SLA Slam Poets did a three-part poem about education that was simply breath-taking. The movement from what is wrong to what could be to Sinnea’s vision of herself as a teacher was simply magical. And I knew I had to be worthy of their words. And I knew that I couldn’t just come out and say what I usually say in the way I usually say it, because what I said had to build on their vision… had to honor it… had to, simply, be worthy of it.
And then there was the not-so-insignificant challenge of just being able to speak at all after their words, because I, like many others in the audience, was just absolutely moved by their words.
In the end, I had to really rethink much of the way I move through a keynote. I knew I had to talk about what those kids had just done and what that meant first. That led me to the idea that I had to lead with helping students develop agency. And I knew that Sinnea’s amazing ending had given me an ending that I felt deeply was important for all of us who have been feeling less than beautiful, given all we have been up against lately. But I was struggling with what else had to build from there.
Staring at old slides wasn’t working for me, so Christian Long and I spent a day reworking everything about the way I talk about this stuff. It started with me just talking about what I believe… an off-the-cuff keynote in my kitchen, with Christian writing down key words and phrases on post-it notes, and then we stuck them on the table… grouping ideas, getting rid of redundancies and looking for patterns. After that, I started separating key ideas that could be a slide with phrases or concepts that I wanted to mention as part of the speech, but were often explanations or sub-ideas of a larger idea. Finally, we found a through-line or two that I could come back to, and that proved powerful. Post-It notes made it up to the wall, and after the better part of a day, a keynote began to take shape.
The response has been humbling and gratifying and just amazing. I don’t quite have a handle on why it seems to have resonated so deeply with people, other than I think we all are at a point where we need to feel like we have a chance to be the best versions of ourselves for the kids and for ourselves. It’s been a long year for many, many educators, and as Marchella and Mecca pointed out in their poem, we have so many issues facing us.
But if we can come together… if we can heal a little bit… if we can work to find common ground and common goals… I believe we can build healthy, wonderful places of learning for all of us – students and teachers (and principals) alike.