Christopher Gardner's speech inspired an audience of ed-tech supporters.

Christopher Gardner's speech inspired an audience of ed-tech supporters.

Christopher Gardner, the man whose life experiences inspired The Pursuit of Happyness, his best-selling autobiography which later developed into a movie, welcomed attendees on the first day of the 30th annual Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) conference with two words of wisdom: “Life happens.”

Gardner detailed his ambition to create a meaningful life despite the obstacles thrown his way, and several themes emerged during his talk—themes that educators most certainly have in common with Gardner: determination, drive, and positive thinking.

“We have seen the creation of a whole new class of homeless people,” Gardner said. He calls that group “white collar homeless” and said that every day, countless professionals who have lost their homes as a result of the nation’s economic struggles go to work and do all they can to remain on their feet.

It’s estimated, he said, that 12 percent of all homeless people in the U.S. have jobs and go to work. Those figures are two years old and were collected before the economic downturn.

“We all know what’s happened since then,” he said.

Much like Gardner, who went to work each day with his toddler son in a stroller, duffel bags and diapers hanging from his arms, educators do the best they can with what little they might have in the classroom, hoping that their students will be able to thrive in an increasingly competitive global economy that pits students from Kansas against students from Japan and India.

Gardner said he was “homeless, but not hopeless.” Education technology advocates often have to fight for each penny in a school or district’s technology budget, he said, but ever dollar won is a victory.

And with stimulus funding nearing an end and the Enhancing Education Through Technology program facing an uncertain future as it is folded into a larger federal program, educators must focus more than ever on achieving a shared goal for adequate technology funding that gives students the opportunity to truly develop and nurture critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical skills.

Jennifer Bergland, chief technology officer with Bryan Independent School District (Texas) and TCEA advocacy chair, echoed Gardner’s sentiments in an afternoon session that focused on ed-tech funding advocacy.

Bergland encouraged session attendees to become familiar with the process whereby a proposed bill becomes a state law. While her session focused on Texas-specific resources, her advice is applicable to educators across the nation.

“You need to have a fundamental understanding of how [the bill process] works to interact with the system,” she said.

Educators and education technology advocates should make an effort to meet and develop relationships with their state representatives and senators. Going online to a state government web site should yield Frequently Asked Question pages and other resources that detail state processes on bills, amendments, bill tracking, and committee members.

Bergland said the more involved educators become, the more state lawmakers and their staff will realize how important educational issues are. Regularly voicing support, through written letters, eMails, or phone calls, establishes a relationship between educators and lawmakers’ staff members.

Signing up for RSS feeds and eMail notifications about certain bills’ statuses also is helpful, she said.

But educators should obtain their superintendent’s permission before speaking on behalf of a school district or using a school eMail address to communicate with lawmakers.

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TCEA