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With a national climate full of blame, are educators still human?

humanity-education Sitting down for an impromptu meeting with one of the country’s largest education nonprofits, a small cluster of education reporters and leaders discussed how the upcoming education trend for 2014 won’t be some new tablet, but rather a focus on education’s lost humanity.

Walking through 30-degree weather, bundled against a cold that’s turned the country into one giant icicle, it was a warming experience meeting Brian Lewis, the International Society for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) CEO. “After this I’m hopping on the train to see my son,” Lewis said. “He’s a creative type and is going to perform some things from his YouTube channel tonight. He’s inspiring.”

Also inspiring was sitting down to a meeting that materialized into a conversation about how ISTE aims to refocus its mission and its branding to become a more “human” organization.

(Next page: The changing role of schools)

According to Lewis, ISTE, which was originally founded by a group of computer science educators from the University of Oregon, has three core components: the ISTE standards, the annual conference that draws tens of thousands of educators from around the world, and its community of what Lewis calls “energetic” members.

“Just like a lot of organizations and companies out there, we wanted to fix the lack of clarity about who we are and what we stand for,” he explained. “And we realized we’re not just an advocacy group, or a platform for information, we’re a community that supports educators. We want to have a lasting impact helping states, districts, schools, and individual educators across the spectrum.”

Lewis noted that it’s important to focus on the support ISTE offers interested educators, especially when the national climate focuses too much on placing blame on schools.

“In the last 50 years, the role schools have had to take on broadened exponentially,” he noted. “Schools are now in charge of everything, from practically raising a child to educating them for a constantly-changing future. Policy-wise and country support-wise, this shift hasn’t been recognized.”

He continued: “And though the community, parents, and the nation-at-large see schools as a machine to crank out certain results, it’s often forgotten that behind every school is a group of humans; a group of individuals who work every day, just like everyone else, and they need support.”

One way ISTE is offering support is by being an advocate for changes to the eRate, advocating for a timely response to the proposed changes that would increase the amount of broadband provided to schools.

ISTE also supports a number of bills in Congress that seek to provide schools and states with education technology funding.

Beyond advocacy, ISTE says it’s hearing from its members that the era of the “shiny new toy” is over, and effective implementation is going to be the focus of 2014.

According to Lewis, many of ISTE’s members are beginning to implement small pilots of different technologies or initiatives before buying or investing too heavily.

“There are so many gadgets and initiatives out there and educators are growing weary,” explained Lewis. “What ISTE can provide is a community where educators, tired of technology without meaning and tired of initiatives without planning, can come together and provide best practices to focus more on the planning and implementation stages of ed-tech. It’s a place to foster relationships for those who are looking ahead and care about their school, district, and state communities.”

(Next page: Professional development and the art of teaching)

Outside of providing a means of communication between forward-thinking educators from all levels of education, Lewis said ISTE will focus on providing professional development (PD) opportunities by partnering with other organizations that have great PD content.

“Right now we provide a lot of the innovative PD during our annual conference. But this needs to be expanded to sustainable year-round, cost-effective, PD with a focus on developing skills not just around one piece of tech, but really around the higher-order skills needed to manage a number of moving pieces in the constantly-changing atmosphere of schools today,” he explained.

ISTE will host a virtual conference full of webinars and PD in February 2014.

Even when it comes to ISTE’s notable standards, Lewis says they’ve been thinking of the human element.

“I had a mid-level educator come up to me during the conference this year and say she loved the standards but didn’t have the financial resources or staff to do much with them. We’re understanding that you can’t just throw on a set of standards and say ‘Here you go.’ You need to give helpful ideas on how to take this information from policy to action. And that’s what the community, and ISTE, can provide.”

One way ISTE is incorporating more of a focus on every member is through its recent hire of Wendy Drexler, chief innovation officer. Drexler, said Lewis, will help ISTE this upcoming year to provide more support to members, drum up community support, and try to help alleviate some of the anxiety educators are feeling.

“Everything from Common Core implementation to setting up adaptive testing, we’re here,” said Lewis. “We’re about the how-to’s and the advice, and the opportunities to share, create, and envision; to help educators get through the ‘initiative fatigue.’”

Lewis concluded the positive meeting on an interesting note, saying he had read practical advice books for schools and teachers written in the early 1900s. What was in those books was revealing, to say the least.

“There are many things in those books that we’re thankful have changed today–for example, the importance of the one-room school design,” he explained. “But there’s something wonderful in one of those books, too, that mentions what it calls the ‘science and art of teaching.’ What many of us forget is that teaching, or being an educator, is indeed a science and art. And it should be respected, revered, and supported.”

“Too often we focus on education in the future, but it’s so important to look back,” he concluded. “What would those respected educators, upheld by the community, who had so many hopes for what education would look like in the future, think of schools today? And of the way schools and educators are treated today? We are someone’s future. We should try and make those people proud.”

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