Where is the media?

I just returned from the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) annual conference — an international gathering of over 15,000 educators and leaders and representing more than 100,000 ISTE members who are highly involved in using technology in their schools. Many of the “best of the best” practitioners of instruction are there sharing with their colleagues, having serious conversations about issues in education.

And yet where was the media? When I run a Google search for ISTE 2012 and the New York Times, the only stories I find in the top page results are about new products from three vendors in the exhibit hall and one about the New York Times presenting a session on their new product. The Wall Street Journal carried those same story headlines about the same vendors, and the Washington Post and ISTE don’t appear in search results at all nor does the Los Angeles Times (though the conference was in California).

The same media who eagerly covers stories on test scores and union busting, reports on Arne Duncan’s speeches, reports failures of 1:1 laptop programs, covers new product releases, or exposes cases of cyberbullying missed the chance to hear the real conversations of educators who are on the ground in the trenches every day. Reporters who cover the president are immersed in the executive wing environment all the time, travel with the president, and attend presidential events. But reporters who cover education — where are they at conferences like this? How can they hope to have a firm grasp on a story if they don’t understand the issues, not just from the point of view of think tanks or summarized in simple sound bites, but really understand them? Would a Wall Street reporter try to cover stock market stories just based on their experience in high school economics classes? The media appears far more wired into conferences that are run by D.C. think tanks, by private industry and of course anything to do with standardized testing.

There are so many stories going on inside of our schools — stories that are fascinating and complicated. Stories about how 1:1 implementations are changing the dynamics of classrooms; stories of the complexities of the “flipping” the classroom movement; stories of how teachers who are at the cutting edge are blogging with 3rd graders, using iPads with kindergardeners, tweeting with 5th grade book reports, conducting global classrooms or book groups with elementary school students; stories of how teachers are learning on their own time from free evening webinars conducted by their colleagues around the world; stories of how tools like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogs, etc. are connecting teachers all over the world who used to be isolated in their individual schools.

These are all fascinating stories and fascinating conversations to be had with teacher-leaders who attend conferences like ISTE. These are the conversations in the hallways as we work out how to use some new technology, how to handle student problems related to it, how to teach better and how to overcome the obstacles we face.

But again, where was the mainstream media at this event outside of the commercial exhibit hall? And how do we get the stories of our schools more realistically represented in the media which seems captivated by stories about testing or about what isn’t working or vendor products issued in press releases? The dilemmas teachers are discussing here are critical to the success of our nation because they are critical to the children of our nation. How are we going to help our students cope with an increasingly technological world? What do we do about copyright, asked educator Kristin Hokanson? What do we do about helping students become more information literate? What are all the different methodologies schools are exploring for decreasing cyberbullying asked Utah administrator Darren Draper? What is personalized learning — is it learning from a computer or is it classrooms more tailored to individual student passions and interests, asked speaker Will Richardson? How can we help not only engage our students, but go further and empower our students, asked SLA’s Principal Chris Lehmann? Why are we trying to emulate Shanghai when Shanghai is trying to emulate us, asked keynote speaker Yong Zhao? All excellent questions that real educators who are working in schools are trying to grapple with. I’d love to read those stories in our nation’s papers and see them analyzed in meaningful ways on local broadcasts.

As educators we aren’t so great at telling our own stories. We don’t have our own personal P.R. departments (unless we blog). We go about the daily work of grappling with these issues and putting the solutions into practice, learning by trial and error sometimes, but always focusing on what works for our students. We have to take more personal responsibility for contacting the media or at least our district’s P.R. person and sharing the positive stories. We have to invite reporters into our schools and classrooms. We have to develop systems within each of our schools that helps communicate those issues that we are grappling with. We need to learn to take responsibility for highlighting our profession more so that the stories that our schools abound with get told well. Whether we do that one on one, by telling good stories, by posting positive news on Facebook, by blogging, by contacting the media — however we do it, we also have a responsibility for improving the tone of education stories.

But also, journalists have a responsibility here as well. And of course these are generalizations, but they have a responsibility to listen to teachers on the ground, not just the teachers sent to them. They have a responsibility when reporting the views of a think tank to do a gut check with teachers in the trenches. They have a responsibility to seek out and attend conferences where actual teachers are — not corporate conferences, but international conferences like ISTE, and teacher conferences like NCTE and the like, but also smaller creative conferences like Gary Stager’s Constructing Modern Knowledge(CMK), SocialEduCon at ISTE, or conferences like Building Learning Communities in Boston. As far as library conferences, how about attending not only ALA, but also AASL (American Association of School Librarians), Internet Librarian, PLA, and statewide conferences as well and seeing how librarians are also grappling with some of these same issues in a substantive way? And don’t just show up for ten minutes to interview someone in the hallway about an issue for a story — show up and spend a day at the conference just listening and talking, observing and absorbing. Find out who the thought leaders are, not just the presupposed ones, but the ones that educators are really listening to and discussing? Sit in on conversations at events like the one-day SocialEduCon or the Global Education Conference at ISTE and listen to educators hash out their concerns and help tell the real stories better.

And maybe together, we can even attempt to paint more realistic pictures of what is going on in education from the ground level — maybe together we can start telling the positive everyday stories that motivate those of us in schools to keep teaching, sometimes against the odds. Maybe we can disengage from the corporate “machinery” in education to talk about actual teaching and learning, because that is the really interesting story. At least we can try.

Thanks for David Warlick for leading a conversation on this subject at ISTE’s SocialEduCon and for all those who participated in the discussion.

Note:  This article is cross posted at Huffington Post.

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