FETC 2023: Networking, Learning, and Celebrating Education

By Lisa Schmucki, Founder and CEO, edWeb.net

It was great to kick off conferences in 2023 by attending FETC in New Orleans. I was only there for two days, 1/24 – 1/25, but the time was jam-packed with networking, learning, and celebrating being together. The fun began on the plane ride down when I was seated across the aisle from Saki Dodelson, the founder and CEO of Beable and the founder of Achieve3000, where I had the pleasure of working as a member of her team and learning so much from her! I attended a session on Academic Engagement and Achievement Through Literacy and Career-Related Learning, presented by Ed Hidalgo, Chief Innovation and Engagement Officer, and Karen Minshew, Assistant Superintendent, from the Cajon Valley Union School District. They demonstrated how the RIASEC assessment and Beable’s life-ready literacy system boost student involvement in academic subjects and get high levels of engagement as students connect real-world learning to the classroom.

Chris Jenson, Senior Health Advisor with Diagnosing Education, LLC,  presented a MEGA session on Immediate Action Items for Staff Exhaustion and Career Burnout. Chris’s background as an ER doctor and a teacher has prompted him to look at commonalities in these issues in education and medicine. Both medical personnel and educators take care of vulnerable people who depend on them, and they’re responsible for their outcomes. Research shows that for both professions, the #1 cause of burnout is too many bureaucratic tasks. Chris stressed that self-care alone doesn’t solve the problems, and setting some limits before burning out is important. There are also examples by some major hospitals that show how burnout can be reduced by more job sharing of tasks.

edWeb.net and Stages Learning hosted a reception on Tuesday evening at the Marriott across from the Convention Center. We had a great crowd, and it was so fun to co-host with Kari Stubbs, Senior VP of Business Development at Stages Learning. Kari and I presented a session together on The Impact of the Teacher Shortage on Neurodiverse Students. We shared new edWeb research on this critical issue. If you missed the presentation, we’re presenting it again on edWeb, and you can view the presentation here. Our joint reception at FETC was a great opportunity to celebrate all the work we are doing together. Stages Learning is the sponsor of our edWeb community for Teaching Students with Autism.

FETC is a showcase of so many innovative solutions for education, and I had a chance to catch up with a number of organizations and colleagues doing amazing work. My first visit in the Exhibit Hall was with Michele Dick, Education Business Development with Wacom. Wacom is the global leader in the pen display and tablet market for creative users. They are dedicated to the K-12 space and help educators and students use their tools in the arts, gaming, CTE, and more. They provide a lot of support and consulting. “They don’t want the pieces in the closet.” edWeb has hosted many great edWebinars for Wacom. You can view their most recent presentation here, Leveraging Technology to Strengthen Relationships, Ease Anxiety, and Empower All Learners.

I stopped by the Presence booth to talk with Eric Bell, the National Director of Mental Health Solutions. Presence partners with schools and districts to provide a modern, online therapy platform and a network of expert clinicians to provide mental health support for students. They can provide 1:1 and group sessions. We all know mental health services are needed now more than ever, and there are not enough resources to meet these needs. It was great to talk with Eric about Presence’s work. Their HIPAA-compliant software platform is built by clinicians, for clinicians, to do more of what they love. From rural districts to urban schools, they are empowering providers to deliver best-in-class therapy experiences to every student, everywhere.


My next stop in the Exhibit Hall was with Chris Klein, the head of US Education with  ClassVR (Avantis). It was fascinating to see examples of how they are developing virtual reality platforms and content for schools, and learn about the challenges, too. Chris said, “We’re creating the EDUverse, not the metaverse.” It was a great opportunity to talk with Chris as a developer and learn about some of the issues they need to consider when creating content for K-12. ClassVR launched at The Bett Show in London in January 2017 and has become a highly awarded educational virtual reality solution. They have a great blog where you can learn about a variety of applications.


My visit with Sylvia Stein, the founder of StickTogether, was a giant leap from the digital world to the tactile world and equally captivating. Sylvia was doing product development for Fortune 500 companies when she came up with the idea for StickTogether. She was attending Maker Faire NY in 2015 and needed to come up with a project. Her first concept was the idea of a poster that students can “reveal” by affixing small color-coded stickers. It reminded me of Chuck Close’s work, the artist who made large-scale portraits out of tiny, individual images. During COVID, Sylvia created a digital version as well. You can learn more about StickTogether here—it’s a great story!

It was great to catch up with Anne Brown, the President and CEO of the Cook Center for Human Connection, in the FETC Press Room.  The center was founded by Julie and Greg Cook, and their mission is to bring together the best organizations, programs, and products to prevent suicide, provide mental health support, and enhance human connections. The need for these services is greater than ever, and Anne and I talked about some current issues like providing resources for families. Parents often don’t know when to intervene to get help for a child, and when they do reach out, they often can’t get help in time and end up in the ER. The Cook Center helps schools help parents so they can help their kids. The Cook Center provides a variety of grants to schools, programs for parents, and global resources to bring greater awareness to the support needed for those affected by suicide. They are currently partnering with almost 1,000 schools.


I had a chance to talk with Jason Innes, the Director of Curriculum, Training, and Product Management for KinderLab Robotics. KinderLab Robotics is dedicated to universal STEAM literacy. They provide research-based robot kits to young children, introducing a playful way that gets even the youngest learners excited about STEAM learning. We also talked about how this can help with social-emotional learning, too, especially after the pandemic. edWeb hosted an edWebinar for KinderLab Robotics that demonstrated how teaching coding, computational thinking, and robotics develops socio-emotional learning, cultivates character, and fosters a moral compass along with crucial technical knowledge and STEM skills. You can view the presentation here, Integrate SEL and Human Values with Coding and Robotics in PreK-3 Classrooms.

I learned a lot from talking with Mary Inman and Straley Owen, literacy coaches with the Marion School District in Arkansas. They are coaching educators on the shift to the Science of Reading methodology for teaching reading and are using the Reading Horizons solution.  Arkansas has passed a mandate that all educators involved in content in K-12 must be certified in the Science of Reading to renew their licenses. This is a huge lift. I asked Mary and Straley how teachers were reacting to the need for so many additional hours in professional learning to meet the new requirements. They said they are seeing their students make unprecedented gains in reading with Reading Horizons, so they are very motivated to learn the new methodology. edWeb hosted a recent edWebinar for Reading Horizons. You can view it here, Foundational Literacy for Grades 4+: Catching Up. Keeping Up. Moving Ahead.

GZM ClassroomIt was a treat to meet Ben Strouse, the CEO and Co-Founder of Gen-Z Media. Gen-Z Media creates innovative, award-winning audio programming for young people and families and produces the biggest middle-grade and family podcast mysteries and adventures. Their programs have been downloaded millions of times. You can check out their programs here. Before co-founding GZM, Ben practiced intellectual property and entertainment law in New York City. He is the author of The New York Times Best-of-the-Year children’s book Hey, Boy (Simon & Schuster), as well as the writer/composer of the Off-Broadway musical Whatever Man.

The last stop on my FETC trip was a wonderful 25th-anniversary celebration for the MindShare Learning CanAm Reception. Robert Martellacci, the Founder and President, always hosts the most welcoming gathering of educators to connect and share ideas to improve education in North America and the world. It was a great chance to catch up with so many friends and colleagues. I especially enjoyed having a chance to chat with Tom Whitby, the social media guru, blogger, and founder of #Edchat on Twitter, and much more! I always enjoy reading Tom’s posts on his blog, My Island View. Check out his recent post on ChatGPT: Kill It, or Use It? 


Full disclosure! I did not use ChatGPT to write this article, and it took me half a day, but it was well worth it to think back on all the friends, colleagues, connections, and things I learned at FETC this year.

Reach out to me at [email protected] if you want to chat about any of it.