An open letter to everyone headed to ISTE

The crazy-big expo hall at ISTE (source).

A number of people have written “How to Go to ISTE” articles recently, giving tips and advice about how to deal with the crowds, intensity and over-the-top nature of next week’s conference of the International Society for Technology in Education in San Antonio. This is my version of that article, but I’ve got a different take on it.

This isn’t advice. It’s a request.


I was at a vendor conference six years ago and heard Pat Bassett, the former head of the National Association of Independent Schools, make the following comment:

For schools, Outcome ÷ Price = Value. The question is, do parents want the same outcomes that schools do? Do both groups value the same things?

His point was that school leaders and parents are often not in agreement about what the most important outcomes for students are… and this leads to disagreement and dissatisfaction. I think there’s a lesson in that for all of us –vendors, presenters and attendees– who are headed to San Antonio for ISTE next week.


Everyone who goes to ISTE is shopping. Teachers and school leaders are shopping for new tools, techniques and ideas. Presenters are shopping for buy-in, believers and clients. Vendors are shopping for customers. Everyone wants something and nobody has time to waste. So here’s my request: let’s all be up-front about what we are shopping for… and maybe be careful to shop for what we really need.

Teachers: if you’re looking for more whiz-bangs and gizmos for your classroom, you’ll find someone selling them. There’s going to be someone showing the next Kahoot or drone or touchscreen or goggles or tablet or web filter or whatever. If you want to buy the next thing, someone will sell it to you. But your students don’t need something new… they need something effective at helping them learn.

Vendors: if you’re looking for a thousand new users for your product, you’ll find them. There are going to be lots of teachers willing to trade their email address and good will for a t-shirt or a sticker pack or a free trial or a squishy ball or whatever. But your product team doesn’t need a thousand email addresses… they need 75 thoughtful users who need your minimum viable product and will pay you with goodwill and feedback in exchange for helping their students learn.

Presenters: if you’re looking for a room packed full of smiling faces, raucous applause and future twitter followers, you’ll find it. There are going to be people willing to give you @mentions and high-fives in exchange for a list of the 10-best-tools-for-this or the-app-smashing-that or whatever. But you don’t really need applause or high-fives… you need a PLN full of like-minded educators who want to discuss effective methods of helping students learn.


There’s a recurring theme here. Everyone who comes to ISTE should value the same thing: helping students learn. That’s the common goal, the driving mission, the core of what we all do in our various jobs. So try to stay focused on doing that. If all keep our eye on that ball, we’re going to have a great time and our students are going to blow us all away in September.

See you in Texas!