Legendary #LearnFestATX

I felt so lucky to be asked to be a featured speaker at LearnFestATX in January and didn’t know the impact the experience would have on me. Now I do and want to share the experience. I didn’t know what exactly I would be doing, and then I get the email. I was excited to open it, giddy for possibilities, and thrilled to be a part of the event. I started reading and see I am asked to lead two sessions, participate in a collaborative session, and be one of the keynote speakers. I was thrilled and honored. But wait… That says Dueling keynote. What is that? I hit up Carl Hooker and ask. Here is how that conversation went.

Matt: Hi Carl, thanks for trusting me to do this. I don’t understand how this will work?

Carl: You and another person will be on the stage at the same time.

Matt: Interesting, do we take turns?

Carl: Well, not really. You will both be speaking at the same time.

Matt: I don’t get it.

Carl: Well, all the audience will be wearing headphones. Austin Silent Disco will help us, and you will have headphones. People will listen through headphones and then can pick what person to listen to. (Click here to check out Austin Silent Disco – it’s cool)

Matt: Did you just say everyone will have headphones.

Carl: Yup

Matt: Um, wow. Not sure what to say.

Carl: Just don’t suck.

Matt: Alright then

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 4.15.50 PM

My first thought was who wears headphones at a meeting. Well… If the UN can do it, so can LearnFestATX.

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So off I go creating a Keynote what will “not suck” and will grab attention. Oh and do it with headphones. Dueling keynote was a big risk, so my focus was on Smart Risk Taking. I had to find a way to grab attention, so I decided to give my book away and throw some T-shirts in the audience to have them switch to Blue. I also started making promo videos to poke Ann, the other presenter. Click here to view one of them. Was a ton of fun and made a connection with Ann that I think will be a lasting bond.

** I also want to take a risk with this post. I wrote it on the plane after four days of presenting and …. let’s say collaborating over dinner. So I am tired and in the middle seat. BUT I want to model risk-taking, that was one of my points, and NOT edit this post. I will share it on Google Docs and leave it OPEN for comments. Click here and feel free to comment on grammar, spelling, or just missed the point. And I will edit when I see the comment. Kind of like a collaborative post.

And off we went to the big stage, with our headphones.

For my Keynote I highlighted two types of risk

  • Smart: clear, calculated, planned and rational (based on sound analysis and facts)
  • Reckless: blind, frivolous, undisciplined where you must rationalize the risk (justify the action, not based on facts)

I know success and growth will not fall in my lap — I must pursue it, work at it, and when you take a risk – make it a Smart Risk. Success is not LUCK – its effort and stepping out of your comfort zone.

How do you determine a Smart Risk?

  • Define The Risk
    • The last thing we want is educators or leaders to just take a risk for the “hell of it” and jeopardize student learning or educator confidence/growth. Talk it through
  • Identify Some Risk-Takers and Encourage Them
    • Risk taking is a behavior, not a process, so identify who your possible first risk takers and encourage them to take smart risks. The more people modeling smart risk-taking behavior, the quicker and easier it will be to create that culture.
  • Demonstrate Risk-Taking
    • Make the point that regardless of your current performance, you will never improve at that activity unless you are willing to push yourself to the point of making a mistake.
  • Be Willing to Fail
    • Leaders can’t just show staff what they are good at; they must be willing to try something at which they are not good at so your staff observes and celebrate your willingness to try.
  • Reward Smart Missteps (I don’t like the word failure in risk-taking since it is a success even to try)
    • Set up a structure that reviews missteps and celebrates the best attempts, as this will show that the school is serious about risk-taking. What gets rewarded gets repeated.
  • Model Risk-Taking Behavior
    • People learn from watching, and if they can understand our smart risk-taking approach, it can help them develop theirs.

So I modeled Risk-Taking a few ways.

  • Using a funny opening making fun of headphones
  • Made a slide telling participants if they wanted to win free SH*T to listen to my channel
  • Used the word Moist on stage. Yup used Crusty and Junk too.
  • The final minutes I sang a song to get the audience energized.

Click here to view Keynote. Not the same feel on paper, but you get the idea.

But the real power of #LearnFestATX was collaborating. I met so many amazing people who pushed each other to be great. I met Ann Kozma who was the other keynoter with me, and we joked, pushed each other, and made each of us better #BetterTogether.

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I met so many people I never met in person that did and continue to make me a better educator and leader. I sat in on so many amazing sessions and was inspired by the Poetry slam. So much talent in one place.

So many I can’t list them all, but a few I will

  • Carl Hooker (@mrhooker) is the glue that holds all together, and his creativity and vision is one I admire. He has been pushing me for years to be better.
  • Steve Dembo’s (@teach42) creativity, intelligence, and wit is unmatched
  • Kristina Ishmael’s (@kmishmael) poem and then on the spot creativity during the improve part of the poetry slam was so impressive. Then having time to talk after and hearing her view on education was refreshing.
  • Brett Salakas (@MRsalakas) from down under came to Texas and left his mark. He is all things fun, smart, creative, and a big teddy bear. Til next time mate!!
  • Ann Kozma (@annkozma723) as mentioned above brings the passion and energy to make all situations GREAT.
  • Adam A. Phyall, III Ed.D (@AskAdam3) is so clever and witty that his words and message often gets missed (aka poetry slam ISTE and ATX) because it is so creative and next level. Even just talking with Adam, pay attention because he is always on his A game.
  • Tamara Samaripa (@tcsamaripa) is a leader at the Austin School for the deaf. She attended two of my sessions and to witness her passion and drive to be an even better leader was inspiring.
  • Andrew Arevalo (@Gameboydrew) he is leading the “next wave” of Ed Tech leaders. Pay attention and learn.
  • Don Goble (@dgoble2001) the courage to get up on stage and pour your heart out models vulnerability and courage. That will last with me!
  • Kristen Brooks (@KristenBrooks77) your skills for EdTech Karaoke bring fun and creativity into learning.

And finally, the champ is here Brian Romero Smith (@BrianRSmithS) talent was on full display at the poetry slam.

I believe collaboration is a mitigating condition for educators to grow in the profession and to accept and implement change effectively. Seeking opportunities to collaborate and grow (i.e., dueling keynote) will provide educators with a #PLN that allow them to develop individual potential while pushing themselves to be the best they can be. I was so impressed with so many individuals at LearFestATX, but as individuals, they were strong presenters. As an event – it was “Legionary,” And that was the last phrase Carl said to me when I left Andy’s Tubing Sat.

Poetry Slam
The EdTech Poetry Slam combined talents and courage of so many. Yes, there was one winner – Brian Romero Smith (@BrianRSmithS) – but WE the observers were the real winners. Seeing talent and creativity unfold right in front of your eyes is inspirational. We heard, funny poems, serious messages, from the heart stories, and singing. The final four had to then compete in an improv exercise. Boy did the talents just kept raising the bar. Writing about it does not do it justice. That goes back to #BetterTogether. Being present and feeling the expertise unfold made me better, and I know, I do not speak for myself.

I had two other sessions.

Come and knock on my door

The POWER of Us talking about collaboration. Well, since the event had an 80’s theme, I named it “Come and knock on my door” in the spirit of 3’s company. The highlights are below and click here for the session slide deck.

  • P: Purposeful: If the purpose of the collaboration is not clearly communicated, understood, and collectively owned, collaboration may be off on the wrong foot before it starts. Having a purpose builds buy-in with staff and community.
  • O: Opportunity: Any staff member or student can demonstrate leadership to enhance learning as long as she is given the opportunity.
  • W: Win-Win: Visit possible solutions and believe there is a solution. Put aside “winning” the win-win situation
  • E: Everyday: Collaboration is not calendared, it must be practiced everyday
  • R: Risk taking: Don’t risk everything–taking a risk is for growth. Know what you want and ask/plan for it then execute the collaborative initiative.

Insert shameless plug: You can buy the book Power of Us by clicking here

Active Learning

Our job as educators is to make the classroom as dynamic as the world around us. Innovative teachers not only “think” differently, but they “act” differently. Now is the time to act and put innovation into lessons. While I am a huge advocate for the purposeful integration of technology in schools, we must resist the temptation to think that this is the solution to solve all the ills in our current education system.

I believe:

  • Ed Tech – learning is often secondary.
  • Using technology just for the sake of “using it” equates to a huge waste of instructional time
  • Most students know how to use technology. BUT do they know how to use technology to support their learning?

When designing lessons, we have to ask ourselves:

  • Who are the learners?
  • Does the plan match the learning goals?
  • What is the impact of what we are learning?
  • What does success look like?
  • What resources exist to support learners?

Finally, we looked at tools to create active learning environments: http://bit.ly/actlearntools

Thank you to my housemates, we had a blast: Andy Wallace, Steve Dembo, Brett Salakas , Adam A. Phyall, Mike Washburn, Phil Hintz

What an experience! So as I close this and get ready to land in Boston, I know I am a better person, leader, and innovator because of my time at Learn Fest!! We owe it to each other to keep pushing ourselves every day. Thanks for the comments on this post (click here to comment) and thanks for an experience that will have a lasting impact.


Then for the post #LearnFestATX – Let’s just say, the boys had some “guy time” and bonding.

#LearnFestATX 2019 is OUT!!!

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