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The breathless weeks of summer are winding down, the weeks when every ed tech person on the planet rushes from conference to conference, manically tweeting their presence, hellos to fellow attendees, and the gist of every profundity uttered by every guru standing in front of an audience, conspicuously not wearing a tie (or, for the women, not dressed like Nancy Reagan).


The proliferation of conferences that promise to explore new frontiers in technology-mediated learning, to blow the lid off school as we know it, and to bring equity and justice to America’s classrooms and peace to the world through the Web is positively bedazzling. If I were an IT person or a teacher with a serious social media jones, I wouldn’t even know how to choose. If I were a guru, I wouldn’t own enough mock turtlenecks to get me through July, despite all the frequent flyer miles I could pile up.


And since, if you’re reading this, you are probably one of those—an IT boffin, a cutting-edge teacher, or a guru—you are already inclined to write me off as a grumpy old cynic,.


But I’ll tell you right now that, no, it’s actually sour grapes—I’m jealous.


Not that I don’t enjoy spending July looking at a lake and some mountains and waiting for webpages to load; the “slow internet” movement could be headquartered where we go. But I am jealous that at last, when I’m no longer up to my eyeballs in academic administration, the world of professional development seems to have exploded, and that there is a deep, voracious hunger for new ideas among people in our biz. ’Twas not always so.


If I were running my own classroom or in the business of cajoling colleagues in strategic directions, I’d be piling up those frequent flyer miles, but in my current life I can’t quite justify the expense. Instead, I live vicariously through social media, imagining myself as @pgow, listening and feverishly jotting Evernotes on bold keynote addresses into my iPad, surreptitiously texting wry greetings to friends across the hall, and enjoying tweet-ups at restaurants vetted through Yelp. Heck, I might even get to be mayor of a hip saloon filled with roistering technophiles. But if I can’t be there, social media are the next best thing.


Sometimes, I have to say, it’s all a bit overwhelming. Hundreds and hundreds of tweets pass before my eyes each day, and I can’t mine them all for the substance I know they contain. I am beginning to find myself uttering #grrrr every time I see a new conference hashtag; as if we need more ephemeral alphabet soup in our lives. (Maybe we can start recycling old conference tags as passwords—will my bank accept #naisac10 as a password? Probably not, with that pound sign, alas. But it seems so ecological.)


I’d like to pass on a few more questions and observations to the People Who Conference who read this blog, if I may:

  • Lots of teachers and IT folks, yes, but do you see many school administrators—heads, assistant heads, deans, department chairs—at these events? I hope so, but I wonder.
  • I do confess actually to being a bit tired of having every dire pronouncement made by every keynote tweeted. I know that schools and kids and teachers are in a pickle, and I’m glad that people are talking about it and finding new ways to express their concerns. But, sometimes we just need to acknowledge the problem and starting fixing it rather than finding more lurid ways of describing it.
  • And okay, hashtags are a clever solution to a problem, but could somebody maybe put together a running glossary: what, where, when? I understand that the idea is that if you are someone who’s supposed to know it, then you do know it, but I don’t. I’d be excited to learn that #dyvcl11 is actually taking place in Buffalo this year—maybe I could even recommend a good hot-dog stand.
  • I sometimes wonder if our Twitter circles and PLNs are maybe a kind of weak substitute—but the only game in town—for the kinds of rich collaborative professional relationships we yearn to have in our own schools. How many of you manic conference-goers and conference-tweeters feel like prophets without honor in your own lands when school starts up again? Or, conversely, how many of you go back and get to be the change you wish to see in your school? (Lucky you, if the latter.)

But on the whole, it is just very exciting for someone who has spent a long time exhorting people in the direction of professional development—it seems as if the word is finally out, lots of individuals are listening, and that at least a critical mass of school people have taken up the cause.


I do hope that you People Who Conference have the ear of your schools’ highest leadership; I hear that schools and kids and teachers are in a pickle, and I think you guys are having and hearing and sharing the ideas that are going to be key to solving the problems.

Peter Gow

Peter Gow

Associate Director at Independent Curriculum Group

Peter Gow has been an independent school teacher and administrator for a very long time. He is the author of THE INTENTIONAL TEACHER (Avocus, 2009), AN ADMIRABLE FACULTY (NAIS, 2005), and the forthcoming WHAT IS A SCHOOL? (PublishGreen, in press). He is also coauthor (with Helen Cheney) of NAIS's MESSAGING AND BRANDING: A HOW-TO GUIDE (2010). He currently works at Beaver Country Day School in Massachusetts, and he blogs at He did once work, incidentally, at his father's school.