This summer, thousands of educators and education service providers descended on New Orleans and braved 110% humidity for the first “Back to Normal” conference of the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE. After two virtual conferences, people were excited to be back in person, and despite continued COVID protocols, friends and colleagues reunited on the show floor and during sessions at the New Orleans Convention Center.
My conference experience began at A library ready for the future The Collaboration Summit, where 150 librarians from across the country—and even from abroad—gathered to discuss ways to better collaborate with teachers, principals, district leaders, and each other. I had the opportunity to welcome the group and felt compelled to talk about one of my previous visits to New Orleans in 2005, about a week after Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Then I was working as a television journalist in Oklahoma City. I traveled with the Army to New Orleans to cover search, rescue and recovery missions. While there, we slept in the parking lot of a Walmart in the Ninth Ward. I had to wear a mask (years before masks were the norm) and put Vicks VapoRub under my nose to combat the smell of flood water and waste. My videographer was smoking cigarettes at the time and I ended up next to him because the cigarettes smelled better than the air (and I’ve never smoked in my life)!
While surveying the neighborhood, we found many houses that had been successfully evacuated. Unfortunately, we found several houses in which the residents did not get out. But I will never forget when we knocked on the door of the house and Paulette answered. She waded through the water in her living room. She explained that she didn’t want to evacuate because her friend Sylvia brought her food every two weeks and she didn’t know how she would survive without Sylvia’s delivery. Paulette did not understand that Sylvia would not bring her food. We convinced her to come with us to the Superdome, from where she would be transferred to one of the five cities receiving evacuees.
I never forgot Paulette. I have no idea what happened to her, but I can only hope she ended up in a city with the support services she needed.
I shared Paulette’s story with the Future Ready group at ISTE that day because she couldn’t control the hurricane heading toward her home; she could not control the next delivery of her products; and she had no control over where the army moved her to the next house. Not having control is scary.
And here is my point. Today, education faces many esoteric challenges. Librarians can’t control a pandemic… or parents arguing about masks or vaccines or books. But librarians can control how and when they collaborate.