I attended two back to back educational conferences this week. One was a vendor supported conference for invited administrators held in NYC, and the other was a teacher sponsored Unconference at Rutgers University. Both conferences expected an attendance of about 300 participants and neither saw that happen. I came away from both conferences with useful information, but only one offered more inspiration.
For those of you who are unaware of what an Unconference is, you are not alone. I reinforced this lack of awareness with every conversation I had with any administrator I conversed with at this first get together. Since I was headed to the second conference, or unconference at the conclusion of the first, it was a natural addition to any discussion I had. Most of the administrators were unaware as to what an unconference was, or that it even was a developing form of Professional Development. They had no idea that so many unconferences are cropping up all over the country.
At the Administrator conference I felt very disconnected. I knew some of the people from Long Island since I had spoken at some of their events. There were no other attendees that I had any connection with at all. The exceptions to that were Eric Sheninger and Pat Larkin, both of whom I am connected to in my PLN and both of whom were going to the same unconference that I was at the conclusion of the first. The last person that I was connected with on my PLN was the Keynote speaker Chris Lehman. The four of us found ourselves sitting together at lunch.
Chris was one of two Keynote speakers at the NYC conference. If you have never seen a Chris Lehmann speech, make it a point to do so. As a matter of fact here is a link that will get you to a video-taped speech to view after you have finished this post. Chris Lehmann Keynote NYSCATE 2009
There was a vendor floor where snacks were provided and people networked before the second Keynote. David Pogue, the NY Times Technology editor, was the second keynote. He did an entertaining speech about technology that had nothing to do with education. He was knowledgeable, affable and humorous, but his speech never made a connection with education.
I do not mean to be critical of either the NYC or NJ conference since I did come away with some food for thought from both, but I feel a need to record some observations and make some comparisons of both events. Now would be the time to interject the “apples and oranges” comparison. Yes, I understand that they were different types of educational events.
The administrator event started at 9:30 AM and ended with a box lunch at 12:30. I think the Box lunch at the end was intended to get everyone together to exchange ideas, but most were gone by the time that was to take place. I guess it was also an opportunity for administrators to get back to their districts to complete their work day.
An unconference is a direct result of Social Media. Educators who were connected virtually had a need to meet in a real world setting. The Unconference is set up by volunteers. It is usually free to attendees and it must be held on a weekend. The presenters could be any educator who has something to offer. No one is locked in to a workshop. People come and go during the course of a session. This particular unconference started at 7:30 AM and went to 5PM. This was my fifth unconference in the last year. One unique thing about these unconferences is the connection between the attendees. Many are virtually connected mainly through Twitter. Blog posts are another connection. Attendees know the views of other attendees through their Blogs. The whole unconference has a feeling of camaraderie experienced at no other type of educational conference. Those few attendees, who came unconnected, leave with an appreciation and need to virtually connect at the conclusion of the event. These unconferences are instilling, or in some cases re-igniting a love for learning. We are leading people down the path of lifelong learning again.
This is where my mind plays its little game. I had thoughts of those leaders in the Middle East who led their countries the same way for generations. They were, if not uncaring, at the very least unaware of the needs of the people. The ruling class failed to keep up with the influence of Social Media affecting change on the population. The ruling class continued in the same old way as their people changed predictable habits. The ruling class was unaware until the end. My concern is what will fill the void? Being as old as I am I can vividly recall the time we invoked some sayings of the 60’s. “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem”. “If you can’t move forward, move out of the way”. No, I am not saying Administrators are Tyrannical leaders. I am saying that as leaders, if they are not relevant, they are not effective leaders. Additionally, this is not an age issue it’s a relevance issue.
As always comments are welcomed.