#SXSWEdu’s Missing Ingredient

sxswedupic copyI attended SXSWEdu this week in Austin, Texas.  It was a great celebration of business and education.  As an educator, I would have never had the opportunity to attend such an event if it wasn’t for my latest role as the Digital Curriculum Editor for KinderTown.  KinderTown is an app for parents to help them find the most valuable educational apps for their children.  I’m also currently a teacher at an independent private school in Baltimore.  These are the two roles I represented and shared with people, and with which I viewed the conference.

As a teacher, the only community of learners I have interacted with professionally is teachers.  My mother was a teacher, her mother was a teacher.  My mom’s friends were teachers, and I grew up in the conversation of education.  I knew what was happening in the day to day lives of teachers, since I was able to understand it.  People have told me I “ooze” teacher.  I’m happy to own it; I do ooze teacher.  Who else would carry a stuffed animal around SXSWEdu, but an elementary teacher?  Things like that help me stay in touch with my inner child, my inner teacher, and it helps that it’s also related to the KinderTown logo.

I wanted to connect this week with the business world surrounding education.  I did, and it’s different. I wrestled with the resulting feelings throughout the experience. I’ve been told I am a “people reader.” This is what I read:

There was a lot of talk about the divide between edTech and business, how to bridge the gap and what will ultimately transform education?  How do we transform education?  How do we move an antiquated system forward? How is technology a part of that? and How exactly do we get there?  I love these questions.  I loved being a part of the experience aimed at answering the questions.

In order to get to the heart of this matter though, we need to get to the hearts of teachers, the people in the trenches every day doing the hard work of teaching.  By tailoring the message to politicians, big thinkers, and business leaders, you’re missing a piece.  SXSWEdu, I think your missing Compassion with a capital C, in your equation, because compassion is what is at the heart of teaching and education.

Take for instance a typical conversation between two teachers at an educational conference, or just a social meeting. I met a teacher this past summer at the beach. Her son began playing with my son and we started talking.  We instantly spoke each other’s language. We talked about the work she did with students, what parts of her job kept her fulfilled, why she liked her job and why she was passionate about what she did.  I shared my story as well. There’s a lot of heart there.  This is my experience in conversations with teachers.  They have a lot of heart.

Now, let’s take a typical conversation with an edTech company.  My company….blah blah blah….We solve xyz problem.  We stand apart because we do xyz.  We are the best solution ever because ….xyz.  Don’t get me wrong. The person may be passionate about whatever xyz is, but not compassionate.  There wasn’t a lot of human soul in that spiel.  If there was, I missed it.  I found a few… Maybe they’ll be the successful ones. Take Scholastic for example. They were not even at the conference, but they sent out a tweet that said “Want to help us donate books? RT for TX! For every RT of this tweet, we’ll donate a book (up to 2,000) to an Austin-area school. #SXSWedu“.  There was compassion there, I think they know teachers. They donated 2,000 books to kids.  Take note, big time EdTech companies.

I know there was a great effort to include more teachers on panels, to have more teachers present, and to really get more Edu into SXSWEdu.  I think to get more Edu into SXSWEdu we need more compassion across the lines. Big EdTech companies, take the advice of my friend Ethan Demme, and sponsor a teacher to attend the event.  In fact, you could probably sponsor several teachers.  I challenge you to sponsor the most compassionate teacher you can find.  Get them to the conference.

Perhaps, in addition to talking to teachers, or spending time in their classrooms, or working with one child, maybe you need to understand and see why we do what we do.  We know our students personally, and we know when that child walks in on Monday morning whether he had a bad weekend.  We know when children need encouragement, and we know their potential.  We know which students feel different every day.  We know which children don’t eat breakfast and don’t have the right clothes.  We know which ones are loved and which ones are not. We provide a lot more than education every day.

We know that teaching is a matter of the heart or we wouldn’t be there.  We wouldn’t have entered into teaching. Most of us have a personal story that accompanies our teaching journey. What makes our day is the student who accomplished something they’ve been working really hard at, the student who discovered something new about themselves, or reconstructed knowledge in an inspiring way. That’s what makes the teachers in the trenches, whom are making the education world go around tick.

In addition, there seemed to be a measurable tension between the teachers that were there, and the other players.  Which side are you on?  Let’s throw some bombs back and forth.

You don’t get it.

You didn’t try hard enough with education.

You teachers aren’t doing it right.

Let’s back down from that and insert compassion.  There was a huge dose of compassion in Jeffery Tambor’s closing keynote, and he got a standing ovation from the entire room, not just one side.  With Compassion, we might solve the bigger problem or perhaps we might become more human.  Either would be nice.

Where do we start to bridge the edTech divide?

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