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Learning Library Blog Let’s Embrace the Silver Linings to Reimagine Education 
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Let’s Embrace the Silver Linings to Reimagine Education 

By Rand Hansen, ISTE Board president 
January 1, 2021
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COVID hasn't gotten the best of us; we won't let it. While it can be hard to be optimistic these days, I try to look for silver linings, and I see many, especially when I think about ISTE. 

Our mission is to support educators is more important than ever. For more than 40 years, ISTE has been the “Home to a passionate community of global educators who believe in the power of technology to transform teaching and learning, accelerate innovation and solve tough problems in education.” I’m incredibly proud of how we fulfilled that mission in 2020.  

One of the biggest silver linings is how ISTE supported our community of global educators.  At a time when teachers needed us most, we provided access and opportunities. All of our professional development programs experienced a surge in interest, and ISTE responded by creating new opportunities and lowering the cost of membership and online courses to increase access. More than 17,000 educators attended the first-ever Summer Learning Academy and more than 10,000 more took one of our ISTE U courses. Numerous educators learned how to create media-rich environments from our Creative Constructor Lab, and the ISTE Standards videos have been viewed over 50,000 times.  

Sadly, we couldn’t come together for our annual conference, a cherished event filled with ISTE friends we may only see once a year, so we went virtual. I’m sure many of you were skeptical when you heard the conference would be virtual, but because we’re all about accelerating innovation, we raised the bar and set new expectations for what an online conference can be. ISTE20 Live brought together 13,000 participants and over 1,800 presenters for 2,600 engaging and interactive sessions to share ideas, best practices and a desire to transform teaching. It was a truly incredible event. Imagine the impact those educators will have in their classrooms, the untold number of students who will benefit.  

And we can’t forget the unsung heroes directly affected by district decisions to implement remote learning. Parents and caregivers found themselves redefining their roles as tutors, coaches and advocates. ISTE helped launch the COVID-19 Education Coalition, made up of over 80 educational organizations, and we developed the Learning Keeps Going site. Educators, parents and caregivers had access to high-quality resources and guides in both English and Spanish. ISTE partnered with the National Center for Learning Disabilities and other organizations to bring valuable resources, webinars and case studies to help support learners with special needs online. I was encouraged to see so many people come together with a common goal of support and community. 

It’s also important to remember that the “I” in ISTE stands for international. ISTE20 Live saw a record number of international attendees from 94 countries. The Creative Constructor lab, also a virtual event drew educators from 37 countries. Additionally, we worked with our certification providers to expand opportunities for teachers and leaders to earn ISTE Certification. For the first time, ISTE Certification could be completed fully online, and we had tremendous global interest. Educators from 37 countries participated in online certification training. Finally, in 2020 we launched a partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank to promote 21st century skills in Latin America and the Caribbean. We plan on leveraging those relationships to support educational policy change in these regions. 

ISTE cares deeply about its advocacy work and changing education policy. Tragic events led to deeper national and international conversations on race and equity. ISTE took a stand. We offered scholarships to educators from historically underrepresented backgrounds and under-resourced schools, and updated our conference selection process to ensure more diverse voices are highlighted on our event programming. I believe these conversations are also an opportunity to bring change to educational funding. 

Our most vulnerable students, English language learners and those with exceptional needs, were significantly impacted last year. ISTE worked with key Congressional leaders to endorse federal legislation that would provide educators with critical aid necessary to implement effective online learning. We advocated for funding that would allow school districts to purchase technology tools and provide access for underserved populations so they, too, could have access to a high-quality remote educational experience. 

Today, we’re at a crossroads in education and, yes, schools are opening again. At ISTE, the question is about how to do that safely and what role can we play. The optimist in me views this as an incredible opportunity for ISTE to rethink and reimagine what education could be and make that a reality. 

ISTE will continue fulfilling its mission by providing high-quality resources, guides, professional learning and a global community dedicated to top-notch educational opportunities for all. We need to embrace this opportunity to leverage these silver linings to rethink education. And as we have been for the past 40 years, ISTE and our partners will be there to lead the way.