EduCon 2.4 Reflections

Was it really just a week ago?

For the fifth time, SLA invited its personal learning network to come spend three days to come to our funky little school and learn with us. As conference co-chair, I’d grown to lament that I never seemed to spend as much time learning as I wanted to at the conference. It was always a great learning experience, but for me, I always spent a lot of necessary time running the conference and trying to be a good host.

This year, I was a lot less needed as the students and parents of SLA took care of everything. O.k. – it’s quite possible that the difference was I was able to let go more, too. They’re pretty amazing every year. But we’re all getting better at doing the logistics of the conference, so that seniors are teaching younger students, veteran parents are working with new parents, and teachers continue to give up time after classes, after grading to work on the conference. So this year, I actually spent five of the six sessions in facilitated conversation sessions that were really lovely. (O.k. – one was mine, but I thought it went well.)

So what are my take-aways? There are many:

1) I love my community – both my immediate SLA community and the larger EduCon community. The students and parents and teachers of SLA amaze me every day, but EduCon really does blow me away every year. Watching our student co-chairs, Alaya and Ryan, put the work in to manage an incredible staff of student volunteers, watching Jeff and the EduConcierge team take care of what seemed like every need of the conference attendees, watching the parents take such pride in their children’s school, and watch student after student give a tour, talk to adults, present their ideas and just generally take part in this amazing conversation about education just makes me proud beyond words.

2) I loved this year’s Friday night panel, but the quote that stands out the most for me was Dan Barcay citing Steven Johnson about innovation meaning being willing to "chase the adjacent possible." That phrase is going to marinate with me for a while, because I think there is a lot there for us in education.

3) It was really interesting to have a Philly politician give the welcoming remarks, instead of a district official. I thought Councilman Green gave a very different perspective on Philly education and how it needs to change than previous officials have. And I greatly appreciated that the councilman and his staff spent much of the conference in sessions as learners and participants. What if more of our elected officials took the time to just learn about education and how educators are innovating, rather than listening to more moneyed voices? Wouldn’t we be in a better place as a nation?

4) This year, we reached out more to educators of color to come to EduCon as it was a justified critique of the conference in years past that there were too few. And while we still have more to go on this front — especially recruiting more educators of color to present — this was the most racially diverse EduCon we’ve ever had. Folks like Kyra Gaunt and Chris Emdin spoke powerfully about race and innovation on the panels and as session facilitators, and we are better for it. And there were more educators of color speaking in sessions as participants and lending their ideas and wisdom. This is a trend we will work to see get better, and there’s no question that we will be a better conference for it.

5) David Jakes is doing some really profound work with his design thinking workshops. During his "What if" session, I found myself at a science table with Bill Fitzgerald, Michael Wacker, Darren Kuropatwa and others discussion our best "What if" ideas and building from there. The design thinking manta is so easy at its root, and yet so powerful, and David is a wonderful facilitator who gets people spinning ideas quickly and powerfully.

6) One reason I love the facilitated discussion model of session is that I think it creates a situation where everyone in the room is a learner (much like SLA classes.) Pia Martin and I ran a conversation called "What Happens When the Kids Run the School?" which was about what progressive discipline (and I still don’t like the word choice of ‘discipline’ there) and how we try to structure it at SLA. The conversation was really lively, and folks really were having some fantastic conversations in small and large group. As a result, the ideas and questions that were flowing were really great. Session participants were more than willing to push back on ideas and challenge each other and us. As a facilitator, that forces me to really listen deeply to what people were saying, both to help people hear each other but also to give thoughtful answers when I was directly asked questions. As a result, people got me to a place where I was framing some of my core beliefs in ways I had not before. For example, I was asked about whether or not showing kids empathy and care would be doing them a disservice because the real world isn’t as caring. I answered with two ideas that I don’t think I’d ever really framed that way before. One was, "The kids have the rest of their life to learn that people can be cruel, they don’t have to learn that from me," and two was, "we should create our schools so that they mirror the world, not as it is, but as we hope it could be." Both of those ideas are going to lead to longer blog posts, as they have given me a new lens to think through a core belief. I would not have gotten that lens were it not for the really wonderful folks in Room 208 who processed their ideas aloud with me.

7) There are many educators doing incredible work that the EduCon / ed-tech world are not aware of. We try to bring those voices to the Sunday morning panel every year. Pam Moran and Chris Walsh are known to many in the EduCon world, and they were amazing on the panel, but Karen Tal, Chris Emdin and Wyneshia Foxworth are largely unknown to the EduCon world. We – all of us – really have to keep working to find amazing folks who are doing great work and amplify their voices. Chris Emdin is doing some of the most incredible work in urban STEM education, and when he said, "The problem isn’t when transformative ideas get institutionalized, it is when they get co-opted," it was as if I had been hit with a 2 x 4. That was yet another lens that I’d been looking for.

"8-)" Dan Barcay is cool. I mean… he was great on the panel… his session was a ton of fun… and I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time talking to him… but he’s really cool because like Jeff Han before him, he had his most fun just talking to the SLA kids about math, computer science and life. And in doing so, he modeled joy of learning, humility, kindness and care in the most wonderful way. The kids in Room 521 in Friday… the kids who sat around the table in the SLA office with him on Sunday… they had an experience they will never forget. Maybe it shouldn’t be amazing when non-educator folks who don’t have to be kind to kids and take joy in their presence are, but Dan was tireless and we are a better school for it.

9) For me, meaning really is so often socially constructed. The conversations I had with folks in sessions, at lunch, at dinner, on Twitter were incredible. I love being alone with my own thoughts sometimes, but I also love making meaning by sharing ideas with others. I was in sessions facilitated by Kirsten Olson, Glenn Moses, Kyra Gault, Chad Sansing, Christina Cantrill, David Jakes, Glenn Moses and Michael Wacker and in every session, these incredible teachers created space for participants to take apart ideas together. I listened to a young woman in a private school tease out how she could be a better advocate for LBGT kids in her school. I listened to folks talk about moments when they were uncomfortable in their identity. I talked to teachers as they tried to figure out how they could get more teachers over their fear of change when it came to incorporating changes in pedagogy and more modern tools into their practice. Every session was filled with people making meaning together in practical and theoretical ways that I hope will have meaningful impact in their classrooms and schools.

And perhaps that should bring me to 10). I know I’m still learning. I don’t look for EduCon or any other conference to provide me with the epiphany that will cause some Copernican shift in my thinking. I think I’m still open to that, but I’m pretty well-read on education issues, and I’m surrounded by some pretty serious thinkers at SLA every day, so I have a pretty deep set of beliefs about what education can be. But EduCon still provides me with the opportunity to interact with over 500 really amazing educators who push my thinking, reframe ideas for me, deepen thoughts, push boundaries and generally allow me to think about "the adjacent possible." It’s up to me to make sense of it when it is over, and to figure out what the little ‘e’ epiphanies were and how they will impact my practice in the year to come.

Thanks to everyone who came this year and made me think. And thanks to everyone in our funky little school community who worked so hard to put the conference on.

See you at EduCon 2.5!

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