In San Diego, site of this year’s ISTE conference, they probably don’t know a lot about seasons. Their climate is pretty much spring year round. But here in the upper Midwest we’re used to cycles where things bloom and die, then bloom and die again. Sometimes that happens several times in one week, during what we call spring.
The unsung hero of Midwestern spring is the crocus – a small, hardy, optimistic flower. It’s usually first to poke its head up after winter, looking around with a somewhat furtive expression, like a geek at a biker bar. Often the outcome is similar and the crocus gets clobbered by the next snowstorm. But crocuses keep popping back, and sooner or later their confidence is rewarded: spring really comes, and a thousand flowers bloom.
The national education conferences I’ve attended this year have all felt like a Midwestern spring. Exhibitor attendance is down, or at least downsized – not so much fewer booths as smaller. But educator attendance is up. Science teachers in Indianapolis (NSTA), math teachers in Philadelphia (NCTM), reading teachers in Chicago (IRA), game developers in Madison last week (GLS) – all healthy crowds, all larger than the year before. That makes this the first year without year-on-year decreases since the Great Recession hit.
It will be interesting to see how ISTE compares to these trends. ISTE has been the one conference the past few years that’s growing, not declining, with attendance numbers last year pushing 15,000. Just guessing, I don’t expect numbers like that this year, if only because southern California is always a “down” location due to travel distance and cost. But if ISTE even holds its own, it will be another indication that winter is winding down.
Don’t get me wrong. In many parts of the ed market the ground is still frozen. Layoffs are still happening even at well-managed firms. Districts are delaying purchases, making do with old stuff or just doing without whatever they can do without. State funding is still down and not going up soon (and the latest report on state pension liabilities doesn’t augur well).
But like the crocus, educators are starting to look up and say, “You know, it will be spring eventually. And we have growing minds to tend in the coming year, and the year after that and the year after that. Let’s start putting out some shoots and see what’s out there to help us.”
And the patient educational program provider needs to be right there with the seeds, bulbs, fertilizer, tools, and gardening advice. Your customers may only plant a little cold frame to start with, but if that works out they’ll be putting your stuff all over the back 40 when the growing season really starts.
Just think of yourself as a crocus.
Sophia Consulting LLC