Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Courage and Determination: My ISTE Story

Jennie Magiera, author of Courageous Edventures: Navigating Obstacles to Discover Classroom Innovation, is the Chief Innovation Officer at DesPlaines Public Schools in Chicago. Her book feels like a personal conversation over coffee with a wise and cherished colleague. She shares the successes and failures of her journey to innovate in the classroom, including many realistic suggestions on things to try right now and strategies to overcome obstacles to change. The book includes QR codes you can scan to go right to her suggested resources, and has a companion website with links to all the tools she suggests. Even more powerful are the anecdotes about her experiences using the tools, including first-time fails along with eventual successes. She underlines the ISTE , International Society for Technology in Education, theme that a failure is just a first try, and that it may take many tries to reach a goal, something we as teachers should certainly be modeling for our students. Her keynote speech was Tuesday morning at ISTE.
I have been to a lot of teacher conventions in my career, but ISTE is different. Like most teachers, I attend conferences thinking that if I get one or two things out of the sessions that I can use in class next year, it is worth it. But this conference is not about one cool lesson or a better way to make a rubric, ISTE is about changing instruction entirely. This is both empowering and terrifying; to think that I could help a colleague become a more effective instructor is so exciting, but to think that it is my job to help all the teachers in my district innovate seems overwhelming and near impossible. But Tuesday’s keynote from author and educator Jennie Magiera was a powerful dose of courage and determination.

We all struggle when we see the stories of phenomenal teachers doing amazing things, and in the back of our minds dismiss their impressive accomplishments by thinking they must have made enormous personal sacrifices to achieve such success. She reminded us that the story we tell the world is usually quite different from the real, untold story, which is always more real and far more compelling. We wept at the Chicago fifth graders empowered to tell their story in This Isn’t Chiraq.

We laughed at her story of pushing out the wrong video to her student’s iPads, and we celebrated the story of Jennie’s fourth grade teacher’s gift of a blue glass bird and the encouragement to “be you.” These are the real stories of teaching: helping our students find their voice, making the best of our human mistakes, and finding our own style of teaching amidst a blizzard of conflicting requirements and advice. I will head home from ISTE brimming with ideas to try next year. (My plan is to get them all organized in OneNote on the plane ride home, but the untold story is that I will probably sleep. Well, now it is not untold, oops!) But I also have an app full of contacts from all over the country who are working on the same things I am, PLN buddies who are now real people and not just Twitter friends, and the certainty that the work of innovation in education is worthwhile and possible. I also have the highlighted passages from Jennie’s encouraging book – the ones that spoke to me and will give me a dose of courage and determination when I need it.

Nancy P. Nelson
Instructional Coach for Technology
Puyallup School District
Washington State

Get the book today!


  1. I am not someone that you would call tech savvy, so I am nervous about bringing change into my classroom. This article really made me excited to try new things. I already bought the book and can't wait to get it! Thanks Nancy for introducing me to this.

    1. So great to hear Teresa Hockman! Be sure to connect with @MsMagiera on Twitter!