Love and Hospitality at #ISTE2016

Today is my last day at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Conference. Home beckons. My 8 year old is finishing up his school year and our family’s summer plans can officially get underway. My stay here in Denver has been outstanding in so many ways. I will be leaving with a lot of gratitude in my heart for the wonderful friendships I have had affirmed and broadened.

I’ve never been a fan of the selfie and of the broadcast culture that it implies. And now after ISTE I will wonder if I have changed my stance because throughout my days here I have become a willing participant and in some cases instigator of a group or partner selfie. What shifted?

The numerous pictures that I have gladly shared in my Twitter timeline are expressions of joy in friendship, community, and presence. To be able to see myself in person alongside people who have welcomed me into this space with such encouragement and warmth means much more than I ever imagined. In those pictures I can identify love and that’s clearly the source of the shift.

I woke up thinking about hospitality because a great deal of my well being over these last few days has been dependent upon the quality of hospitality that I have experienced. I used AirBnB and my host has been over-the-top generous and kind. He even loaned me a bike and helmet to travel between home and the convention center. (His name is Bob and I’ll gladly share his info if you contact me!) This has given me a great opportunity to get to know a small part of the city, to get in a little exercise, to feel autonomous in my arrival and departure decision making and generally look pretty cool for toting around a helmet all day (like I might be a local! ;-))

Then there’s this other layer of hospitality going on. Think about it: I am at this ginormous convention essentially on my own. But I only felt that way for a hot minute which I uncharacteristically shared on Twitter.

And guess what happened! My Twitter pals in the UK and South Africa chimed in and sent me virtual hugs! Then, as if they had been summoned, (which I suppose they had been) two members of my tribe community appeared directly in my path and we touched base. It was really just a moment of clarifying directions and intentions for the next couple of hours but it was exactly what I needed: confirmation that I belong, that I have buddies, allies, friends in this sea of individuals. Think, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

After that I was able to carry on with confidence and seek out learning opportunities which nourished my need to feel connected to others. My afternoon choices turned out to be perfect: a demoslam put on by a group of Colorado educators followed by the life- and work-affirming session on digital equity.

When I walk through the convention center alone and find myself wondering if or how I will ever find my tribe community members again, I notice how many people, although sitting in close proximity to each other, are engaged with their devices and not with the people around them. I observe this and wonder: What is isolation? What is alienation? What is Fear of Missing Out? What is relaxation? What is regeneration? Who are we with our devices and who are we without?

I have no answers. I do realize, however, in my own case, that my overall conference experience has everything to do with the very real, more-than-a-series-of-clever-emojis-can-express love and hospitality. Love and hospitality. Love and hospitality.

So as I take in my final day onsite, I want to think about how I invite those two abstractions into being for others. How do I show hospitality in a conference setting of over 16000 people? How do I enact love in the midst of strangers?

This is the conference for the International Society for Technology in Education where we’re big on tools and leverage and achievement. Sure, those terms ring the necessary bells. Yet we know that in our classrooms and communities, positive transformation derives from other sources. We cannot build community without love. We cannot move from stranger to friend without extending some hospitality. Love and hospitality. We can make these happen: here at the ISTE conference, in the corridors, into our online spaces, all the way back home.

Who We Are Is Often What We Teach

While perusing my Twitter feed for info and inspiration I came across this post by Debbie Donsky: The Mantras of School Principals and Shaming Helicopter Parents. She talks about being a principal dealing with angry parents and how she consistently reminds herself that their behavior is coming from a place of love. That even as those parents may be threatening and intimidating, they are in that moment very likely also feeling powerless – to protect, help or cope with their child’s behavior or situation. This struck a chord with me on many levels: as a teacher who has been the bearer of bad news to parents, as a parent who has been told that their child is lacking and requires a dramatic intervention, and also as an aspiring school leader.

I was so moved, that I wrote this in response:

Thank you for this wonderfully insightful piece. It highlights the core of what I think makes teaching so very challenging, humbling and also rewarding: who we are is often what we teach. Implicitly and explicitly. Intentionally and unwittingly. Today, tomorrow, yesterday, again and again.

Every time that I recognize a situation as a problem, I go on a hunt. And I have choices in what to hunt for and how I will go about it. I can be on the lookout for someone or something to blame. I can also try looking at the situation itself, not only from my perspective but from the perspective of the others involved. The latter is a decidedly more complex, time and labor intensive kind of hunt. It’s hard and the results are not always readily visible or apparent. What you describe in your piece is an attempt to take a chance on the second kind of hunt. You encourage us to look not only at the other in judgment but to also look in the mirror.

What I continue to find at once troubling and affirming in my teaching is there is so much work I have to do on myself — on being, on becoming and also changing myself. This is the work that is never ending. It is precisely the work which also allows us to grow with and alongside our students. It is the work which allows us to partner meaningfully with parents and colleagues. This is the work for which there are no certificates or degrees and the criteria for success keep shifting case by case.

For this reason I feel utterly uplifted by your post in which you describe what this work can look like and where it can lead us — to a place of understanding and cooperation; exactly in the face of turmoil when it certainly feels a lot safer to lay blame and run up the high road. And of all things, LOVE! Who dares talk about love in our day-to-day educational interactions, especially in connection with parents? Remembering and centering love as a source and motor for a whole range of behaviors is not necessarily the professional practice we are taught to employ. Yet we need this capacity to see, witness, understand and also work with evidence of love in so many aspects of our lives in schools. Thank you so much for the rich reminder of the tools we have at our disposal to learn, understand, empathize and therefore also educate.

I had been off my writing rhythm for a while and was certainly feeling it. Donsky’s thought- and emotion-provoking piece brought me back to life, in a manner of speaking. When a message resonates deeply, I almost have no alternative than to write what is on my mind and heart. I want to think more about where love fits into the curriculum of who I am whenever and and wherever I may be teaching (or not).