The lights dim…the music fades out…and a joyful golden retriever excitedly bounds out to center stage and looks at the audience. He’s wearing an brown collar with a light bulb and stares at the audience for a moment. Then suddenly, the collar’s red light flickers on and off in sync with a booming and jovial voice announces “Hi there. My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love you!” Dug goes on to welcome attendees to the event and explain that today’s keynote speaker “…made me this collar. She is a good and smart speaker and made me this collar so that I may speak.…..Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome your keynote speaker…SQUIRREL!” He ends by introducing the speaker and bounding offstage as he had entered moments before, and the Pixar legend walks out on the stage and begins their talk.
This keynote introduction has been on my mind for the last decade or so — soon after the movie “Up!” was released. I haven’t pulled it off yet, but I hope to see it happen.
You see, I once had the honor of serving as the executive director of an educational nonprofit that would produce a large annual conference (and dozens of other professional learning events) for innovative educators. During my dozen plus years leading it, the organization grew to such an extent that we were fortunate enough to engage, train and inspire thousands of educators onsite in Palm Springs as well as a large remote audience. We hosted Khan Academy founder Sal Khan, legendary author and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (see above), What Teachers Make poet Taylor Mali, Math researcher Jo Boaler, Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi, Australian educator Cathy Hunt, TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra, and actor, director and producer (and cultural phenomenon) LeVar Burton!
These speakers (and many more) shared their expertise, wisdom and inspiring tales for the gathered educators, preparing the way for the additional learning and growth to be experienced during the conference. They set the stage for us, challenged our thinking, encouraged diverse perspectives and expanded our thinking beyond the four walls of the classroom.
In this season where all learning has transitioned to online, and all conferences have been either cancelled or gone virtual, I’ve been thinking about those keynotes that I’d still LOVE to see someday.
Kari Byron, author and Mythbuster on science and curiosity.
Neil Degrasse Tyson, physicist, author and host on the lessons learned by approaching live with the curiosity of a child and discipline of a scientist.
Kimberly Bryant, Scientist, Founder and CEO of Black Girls CODE about the importance of equity in teaching STEM and STEAM subjects.
A conference bookended by twin co-keynoters: Jane & Kelly McGonigal to kick things off with how gameplay in education unlocks the mind and Peter & Paul Reynolds to speak about cultivating creativity in all children.
And of course, I would close it all out with an innovative and inspiring storyteller from the creative minds at Pixar or Disney introduced by Dug.
He’s such a good dog after all.