I’ve spent the last 4 days at ISTE surrounded by 21,000 incredibly passionate educators. I’ve learned more about makerspaces, genius hour, flipped learning, STEM, STEAM, BYOD, PLCs, project-based learning, game-based learning, differentiated learning, personalized learning, and approximately 4,752 different apps and web tools to make it all possible.

And when I reflect back on big themes and takeaways amongst all the craziness that is the world’s largest ed tech conference, I realize that every single one of these practices hinge upon a single word.


Do we choose to trust our students to take ownership of their own learning? Do we trust them enough to create classrooms where they’re not dependent on us in order to learn?

Do we choose to trust ourselves? To believe that our instincts as educators have value, that we know how to meet our students’ needs despite what policymakers demand? Do we choose to trust our ability to tune into our own needs and take care of ourselves, to listen to that small voice that tells us when to rest, to breathe, to take some time to nurture other aspects of our lives?

Do we choose to trust one another in our schools? Do we trust our teachers to exercise autonomy and professional expertise? Do we have faith that deep down, every educator wants to do great things for kids even when that vision has been trampled on and nearly lost?

Do we choose to trust each other in the education community as a whole? Do we choose to include and learn from people who don’t look like us? Do we believe that conversations with people who think differently than we do are opportunities for growth and gaining fresh perspective?

As I think back on the last few days, I’ve realized that trust is the essential ingredient in making every worthwhile vision in education become a reality. We need trust when we put technology in the hands of kids and teachers. We need trust to create a positive school culture; to empower students; to move away from test prep and embrace real learning. We need trust to accomplish the big and small tasks ahead of us as we work to transform our schools into places where teachers and kids love to be.

One word that every idea from #ISTE2015 depends on

So what do we do when the trust isn’t there?

1) We start by leading the change and being trustworthy ourselves.

Rather than wasting energy in complaining that students or parents or colleagues or admin create obstacles in our work, we can choose to lead by example, and be the unshakeable presence that others know they can rely on.

2) We start by trusting ourselves to take risks in our teaching.

When we see that the sky doesn’t fall after a less-than-perfect lesson, we can trust ourselves to practice reflecting, learning, and getting back out there again. Our ideas are worth trying, and they’re worth sharing. We just have to have enough faith in ourselves to do it.

3) We start by building a community of trust with our students.

We can tell our kids that we want them to have choice in how they learn and demonstrate their learning, that we want them to explore the topics they’re passionate about…and that we want to give them the opportunity to earn our trust so they can blaze new trails in the classroom. It can be really scary to think about students directing their own learning, and with some kids, it’s a downright terrifying proposition. But we can teach our students to be trustworthy. We can slowly give them more ownership of the classroom, guiding them through increased levels of responsibility, and helping them get back on track when they mess up. We can trust that they will rise to our expectations when they understand that we’re all in this together, when they know that their teacher and peers are there to support and encourage.

A great teacher IS the silver bullet in education. We have the power. @stumpteacher #iste2015 Click To Tweet

In his closing keynote, Josh Stumpenhorst said that we’re all “waiting for superman”, but she or he is already sitting in our classrooms. We are the change the we’ve been waiting for. It starts with us, in our schools and our classrooms.

Whatever your takeaway from ISTE (or any other professional learning you’ve done), you can be certain it’s going to require trust in order to implement your vision fully. So will you take the next step? Will you challenge yourself not just to learn, but to take action?

You can innovate. You can create change. You can do what’s best for kids.

And it all starts with trust.




  1. Steve Dunham

    Terrific piece!

    • Angela Watson

      Thank you! I appreciate the time you took to comment.

  2. Nancy

    Angela, I wish I had the gift of words to really express how this article touched me, but no “silver dollar” words come to mind. So all I can say with deep emotion & from the depths of my heart, “Thank you!” This article is exactly what I needed right now to forge ahead and start the new school year with the renewed enthusiasm needed to face what this profession lays in front of us. How funny that we are always looking for that “silver bullet” and all we need to do is look in the mirror. The quote is going to be printed and placed in a place where I will see it daily. For 30 years my philosophy has been rooted in doing what is best for kids & that will not waver. Let each and everyone of us be the “superman” that Mr. Stumpenhurst referred to in our classrooms, in our buildings, in our districts.

    • Angela Watson

      I’m so glad to hear that, Nancy! Josh’s keynote was really inspiring to me, too. All the best to you in the new school year. You ARE the change!

  3. Denise Kegley

    The TRUST is a great take-away! We are the change. Thanks for your piece. I was watching ISTE from the outside #notatiste2015. Thank you for all you do, Angela.

    • Angela Watson

      Hi, Denise! I appreciate your kind words.

      Trust was definitely my big take-away this year. It really does all come back to that.

  4. Rodney

    Once again, a solid piece of writing and rationale that is convicting and logical.
    You are trusted to share your heart and passion.
    What suggestions do you have to develop trust?

    • Angela Watson

      Thanks, Rodney! And I appreciate your trust. 🙂

      My suggestions for developing trust…I think it starts with open and honest conversations. Vulnerability is key. Sharing not only successes but the journey is super important. Letting others know about all the learning that came along the way to where we are now gives others the courage to take risks and breaks down barriers. Kids appreciate hearing about mistakes and the process of rebounding, and so do we as adults. Those stories and weaknesses are often more inspiring than the successes.

  5. Susan Walters

    It`s unreal to build a sane relationship between the teacher and student without trust. The only way to achieve this is to stop putting pressure on kids and give them a choice. I never thought about trust before, I`m sure many things will change now.

    • Angela Watson

      Choice goes hand in hand with trust, doesn’t it? Thanks for sharing your reflections.

  6. Lisa G

    Hi Angela,

    Why do you think so many teachers have difficulty trusting their colleagues? And do you have any ideas about how we could begin to change this sorry situation?
    Lisa G.

    • Angela Watson

      Great question, Lisa. Unfortunately, there is not much of a collaborative school culture in many places. Sometimes colleagues can be threatened by those who are innovating because they feel it makes them look bad. One way to address this is to celebrate the small successes of all teachers so that those who aren’t taking on massive projects still feel like their contributions and baby step changes to instructional practices are valued.

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