NCCE Conference Part 1: Overview of Education Change

One week ago I was flying home from Seattle. I had a red eye flight where I could not sleep. My head was spinning. I had so many thoughts to process that it has taken me over a week to finally be able to process all that I gathered.

To make sure I keep a focus I will be breaking this reflection down into three parts.

Part 1: Overview of Learning

Part 2: Makerspace Summit

Part 3: Workshops and Sessions

For this first part I want to provide a general overview of some thoughts. In the next two posts I will focus specifically on what I learned through my work and the work of others.

To begin, I have never attended NCCE before, but I will tell you that I sure hope I get the chance to attend in the future. This is one well executed conference that provides high quality learning and sessions that really forces the attendees to not only learn, but to actually get started.

I was able to fly in Tuesday, the day before the conference started. After a super long day of travel I was able to connect with some awesome Microsoft Educators and Rockstars (Todd Beard and Robyn Hrivnatz) for dinner and explore the Pike Market. This would be the only real time to actually be outside, explore, and see a bit of Seattle.



I only share this because it was great to talk with them about education and things that are taking shape across the nation. Additionally, I was able to track down the original Starbucks which is a necessity for Coffeechug!


Skipping Wednesday of the Makerspace Summit(that is part 2) and really most of the sessions(part 3) I had the most powerful learning experiences of any conference I have attended. Once again, I have come to the conclusion that conferences are really designed to interact and hold conversations with people and not material. If you can do this with people who will challenge your thoughts, push back, and question your ideas, then you will walk away a better person and educator.

I was very lucky to be pushed to the brink of my mental stamina.

The first keynote, Kevin Honeycutt, provided one of the best keynotes I have been part of in a long time. This man has a way to craft a story, challenge the audience without them realizing it by mixing in a dose of humor, tears, and music to mask how powerful of a message he is delivering.

My biggest takeaway from his speech was that the world can no longer afford to have “secret geniuses”. This has been something I have been working on for quite some time, but he said it way better than I ever have. This mindset and challenge has come in quite handy in the week following as I spoke to high school students and teachers. He also had some real zingers mixed in that I had to write down to process

“Do we bend schools to meet the kids instead of bending kids to meet the needs of schools?”

“We are killing kids by the process of lamination”

Two very strong ideas. It is time to challenge our teaching. Can we toss our file cabinets and create new to meet the needs of our current generation of students?

As I watched this keynote I was really impressed and after being at several conferences it is tough to be impressive. Afterwards I sat with Ginger Lewman who is one of the best thinkers and doers in education. She has incredible intelligence, provides so many deep thoughts to process, and knows how to push buttons in a way that just makes you a better person. I owe a great deal to her for helping me find my niche and voice over the years. I sat with her and we chatted about the keynote, ideas, education, and more. It was here that things started to shift for me. It was here that I knew I had to really think about who am I?

Later, I would have dinner with her and Kevin and over the course of those few hours I have never been so transformed. I walked away with more questions than answers and realized that I indeed had some things to process. I wish there was a mic that night so I could go back and capture all the incredible insights, but I know that from this moment I would never be the same. I called my wife the next day and told her that coming to Seattle was the best choice I could have made. I told her we had lots to discuss and I needed her to help me find the path to find answers.

It is these moments that conferences are worth more than any registration fee. I often worry that many attendees don’t experience this. Not that you have to be super lucky as I was to connect with a keynote and rockstar, but how many people reach out to people they cannot access on a regular basis and sit over coffee or food and just push ideas back and forth across the table? This is the best luxury of attending conferences.

I had this experience time and time again. Talking with members of NCCE, engaging with Microsoft Educators, chatting with people who attended my sessions, and more. You must put yourself out there to make it happen.

Additionally,  the second keynote was Cheryl Strayed who everyone was pumped for. I was losing ground with her until she dropped a few powerful words and suddenly I was hooked. She was good. I connected with her when she stated, “I didn’t wait(to write her book, Wild). I wrote the book when it was time to be written. Art takes something else. It takes something from us.” I really connected with this as I have struggled for about 4 years to write a book. I realized right then and there that indeed I was not ready. I did not have something that was worthy to be written. As I have stressed time and time again, I finally realized that perhaps it was not time. However, I do believe that after NCCE and a recent event my AHA moment has struck and my story is ready to be told.

Finally, the power of NCCE was that I was able to finally meet so many great people in person. Social media allows us to connect with so many people, but there is something special about talking in person. I spent more time talking with some fellow MIE’s in person as well as a few other educators who I connected with due to this person or that event, but because we know our stories and platforms we picked up like we were long lost friends.

During this conference I pushed my own boundaries. I had my first keynote. I had my first full day workshop(thanks to an amazing team that pretty much did 90% of it), ran a two hour workshop, and few sessions. I forced myself to talk to people at random. I forced myself to be engaged in the moment and not on my phone. I forced myself to not sit in my hotel room and write blog posts and work, but to get out and explore, talk, and engage(amazingly the world moved on when I did not respond to every single email and request).

Because of these things I learned more about myself as a person. I did little things that seem silly, but were big moments like ride my first public train to a hotel, use Uber, walk without GPS, and study how people spoke and presented to become better. I basically was in student mode most of the time so I could walk away a better learner and person.


To the committee that put this together I say thank you. It was as great few days and I cannot wait to experience this learning environment again next year. To everyone I met in person, thank you for connecting and being awesome. To everyone who pushed my thinking you get an extra high five. To everyone that has continued to reach and ask more questions, keep pushing forward!


Part 2 I will go over in detail our Makerspace Summit and the amazing learning that took place.



What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (1)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • Boring (0)
  • Sucks (0)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

3 thoughts on “NCCE Conference Part 1: Overview of Education Change

  1. Thank you, Aaron, for saying “yes” to NCCE, for being such an articulate spokesman for learners, and for putting yourself out there! I’ll be the first in line for that book!

  2. We met a few mornings on the elevator as we were headed to the conference. I really enjoyed your presentations and am trying to get myself organized and prepped for my first Mystery Skype. Did you by chance post the video of the one we did with the classroom in Kansas? I thought that would be fun to share with my class as we discuss and see what is possible.

    I had the same reactions to the two keynotes as you did. I had never heard of Kevin Honeycutt, but his keynote made the biggest impression on me.

    • Hello Janice, thanks for reaching out. I did share the video of Skype call. It is in the OneNote resource for that session. If you go to my page from the conference and access the OneNote there is a NCCE tab that has the video from the day.

      NCCE was great. I loved it and love connecting and networking with people like you. Let me know if you need help.