How the Most Exalted Conference in EdTech Was Exactly What I Expected, But Not In The Way That You Think

Fifty-two of us from all over the continent converged on Austin for two days of … something. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect; the agenda (initially public) had been locked from view sometime that weekend, so we hoped that was a good thing.

My own district treated my acceptance to the academy (a month ago) with more excitement and reverence than I expected. My director, Kris, is likely to thank for that; there’s a very good chance she had conversations with cabinet members explaining why it’s a big deal.

Thanks, Kris.

Here’s why I went:

Screenshot 2014-12-04 at 10.33.15 AM

Thanks to Twitter and blogging, I know of a lot of outstanding teachers. Most of them–the ones equipping students with 21st-century skills–have a little badge on their website that says,

GCT badge

My role models (click here for a list) have this qualification, so I wanted it, too.

The application process (documented here) was stringent, but definitely worth it. I knew my cohort had worked as hard as I to apply.

Near and Far

GTAATX Location

You probably noticed what I did, so check this out:

GTAATX CA v TX v Everywhere else

This academy was in Texas, which likely contributes to the spike. Regardless, California was well-represented.

With one Canadian subbing.

With one Canadian subbing.

What Types of People

As you can see below, the average age of attendees was 37, and we stretched from 26 to 49.


Within a few hours of arriving, I was grouped with two teachers who were… veteran enough to have me as a student 20 years ago. Both showed and/or taught me something cool.

It was a fresh reminder that–as I often insist to my teachers–age does not necessarily correlate to tech ability.


Stevens pointed out that it’s likely people were reluctant to select “Stooge” as their job title.

GTAATX drinks

Stuck on a desert island with one beverage. One member wrote, “Choose between wine and coffee? This is the hardest decision all week.”

GTAATX Relationship status

The next question asked, “How stoked were you/your employer for GTAATX and these parts of it?”


What a bummer that 5.02/10 was the average excitement for districts and schools. Doesn’t match the group’s excitement at all.

I can’t relate; my district gave me the time off, covered expenses, and drafted a press release and an article in the paper. It’s a great place to work.

Fun Data

And, in the spirit of silly math, here are some interesting data:

Exactly What I Expected

Two attendees (separately) pulled me aside and asked if I was underwhelmed. As a lifelong optimist, my expectations rarely match reality, with its rough edges and imperfections. The last 30 years have seasoned me to adjust idealism (Twitter’s perception of GTA) with reality (52 game-changers from across the continent in one room).

I had some fantastic conversations, drank some great local beer, and bowled a 79. Teachers from Ontario to Missouri to Mexico challenged me to rethink my mindset, brainstormed solutions to my Moonshot problem, and encouraged me;  I hope some were encouraged by me, as well.

And some I’ll probably never contact again. That’s the thing about getting big personalities in one room; we’re gonna disagree.

In high school, I never studied. I showed up, napped, and got a B.

When I went to college, I had to work harder to keep my place in the upper quartile of academics.


Upper Quartile is not a defensive formation for the Steelers.

GTA was like EdTech College; many of us came from schools and districts (even counties) where we were the smartest kid in class. For two days, the big fish left their small ponds and dropped into a wading pool…

No, that’s not the analogy I want…

Tasty appetizers from several menus are spread on one table…

Eh, that’s closer…

A bunch of CEOs start a business. Working together and sharing ideas with each other, two days would be woefully insufficient to drink up all the great stories and experiences and knowledge in one room.

GTAATX Everybody

Drew addresses the temptation to coast after completing a big project, Rachel expresses thankfulness, and I make dopey charts by cramming math into inappropriate places.

… that sounds about right.

Here’s a list of all the books recommended by the GTAATX cohort. It seems selfish to keep that list to myself.

~Matt “Google Certified Teacher” Vaudrey