Two themes are emerging in what I’m learning here at ISTE 2010. These aren’t new ideas by any stretch, even to me. It’s just that they are being driven home in very powerful and deep ways.

The world is small and flat. Not precisely in the sense that Thomas Friedman meant in his book, but in the sense of connections and relationships. As I said yesterday, I can hardly turn around anywhere without seeing someone I know, or meeting someone I’ve conversed with on Twitter. Today I met Jeff Agamenoni and Sue Waters, from Montana and Australia respectively, and with whom I have chatted many times over the last couple of years. (Sue, of course, reminded me almost immediately that I forgot to bring her the chocolate I promised her. And then I took her seat in the Blogger’s Cafe. Great way to treat someone I’ve just met.)

When our students leave our schools, they are going to land in a world where they need to relate not just with people who live and work near them, but with people around the world. It’s not optional any more. Everyone is your neighbor. Distance is now measured not in miles but by your ability to connect with different channels. The more communication tools you know, the closer you are. Kids are going to have to be able to find people and be found, to build their own digital homes and tell their own digital stories.

Which is the second theme I’m seeing over and over:

Design is an essential skill. Garr Reynolds in his book and blog, Presentation Zen, talks about how often people treat design as an afterthought, as though it’s decoration to be painted on after making the content. But design is much deeper. It is ultimately about effective communication and facilitating connection. If a valuable message is obscured by poor design, the message will lose power, or the recipient will give up before it gets through.

Just as kids have to learn how to connect with the world and manage those connections, they have to learn how to effectively use the principles and tools of design to enhance their communication. The only way we will ever be able to teach those skills is to use them ourselves.

So my first takeaway from the day is that all educators, not just the ones who like that “technology stuff,” have to become connected and become designers. It’s not optional anymore, because we will be putting our kids at a disadvantage if we don’t get there.