As we all rush to change the world, and as we hear more and more about a sense of urgency to change our schools, let us remember that what we don’t know… about our kids, about learning, about what lies ahead of us… vastly outweighs that which know. And let us always be humbled by the enormity of the task in front of us. It is that humility that allows us to hear the smallest voices around us, be it the voice of the quiet student too afraid to voice her confusion or our own voice — the voice of doubt in the back of our mind that forces us to question even our most core beliefs over and over again.
Let us be passionate, but never blind.
(This is what happens when I listen to folk music late at night.)
I admit, I’ve been discouraged by Obama’s early forays into education policy, but yesterday’s visit by President Obama and the First Lady to Capital City Public Charter School suggests that we may have reason to hope that our new president will be supportive of progressive education.
CCPCS is a Coalition of Essential Schools school. CES is the organization founded by Ted Sizer and Deborah Meier, two outspoken critics of NCLB. CES is perhaps the most esteemed organization that advocates progressive education, small schools and project-based learning.
So my question to President Obama is this — if CCPCS is an example of "How all our schools should be," what are the policy initiatives you are willing to support to give more schools a chance to get there?
(Thanks to Tom for calling me out to write about this.)
It’s taken me a week to try to write anything that could sum up everything I feel about EduCon. Obviously, I’m really incredibly pleased with how it went. I, like Sylvia, had some real concerns about the sophomore slump this year. I knew that we were so much more organized than we were last year, partially because we learned some lessons, partially because so many SLA-ers made it part of their life this fall and winter. But I was worried that we would not be able to recreate the good will that so many people showed up with last year. Would people treat EduCon more like "just a conference" than whatever we were… some sort of homegrown learning thing. I was worried that growing by 150 people would strain the conversational feel of the conference.
And, for me, the biggest worry wasn’t the weekend, but rather, it was the Friday of the conference. That’s the day dozens of people show up to SLA and just hang out. What impressions would people walk away with? Would they see what we see? Would the kids’ work and love of the school come through? Or would we seem like just another school? And would anyone be able to notice anything about the school if there were an extra 150 adults walking around the building? That was the day that, more than anything else about the conference, had me nervous.
But, at least from the feedback we’ve gotten (including this wonderful post by Tom Kim), the school community held together again. And for that, the kids and teachers deserve all the credit. Many, many people (adults and students alike) would not be able to focus with that kind of scrutiny, but the SLA folks did it with what, to my eyes, appeared to be relative ease. Time and again, I saw teachers and students take time to talk to people about the school. And time and again, I saw students working in classes, despite people they didn’t know looking over their shoulders. Our kids, our teachers… they amaze me every day.
And that’s as good a way to frame the entire weekend for me. There’s no question I learned a ton. There’s no question that sitting in sessions with people like Alec Couros and Jeff Kim and Jon Becker and listening to Friday night panel and taking part in the Sunday morning panel were incredible learning experiences for me. But for the moment, that’s not what I want to write about… for me, this was about what this does for our community at SLA.
I admit, there were moments — especially the week leading up to EduCon — that I was very concerned about how much energy it was taking to put this on. One teacher came in to my office to ask a question and started with, "I know you’re busy with EduCon, but…" and that just can’t happen. I worried that this was asking too much of students and teachers to put this one, especially as the complexity and expectations of the conference were rising. And there were the three hour after-school planning meetings where we all looked at each other by the end with that look of, "Can we just get ON with it please?" So I really went into this weekend thinking that for us to keep doing it, it had to be worth it for SLA.
Well, we’re going to do it again next year.
The biggest take-away I have from the weekend is what an incredible thing it is for our school. There were so many moments when the community just blew me away. It was amazing enough to see the entire school rise to the occasion on Friday, but watching how many teachers and students and parents not only chipped in but took on major pieces of the conference and made it their own was just amazing. If you didn’t stop into our 2nd floor conference room and see it transformed into a video control room, with students checking the feeds on Mogulus to make sure that every channel was playing, monitoring chat rooms and providing drop-in tech support, you missed seeing a group of kids running Tech Center better than what you would see at major conferences. Students like Greg and Jeff and Ty and Laura and Lucas and Jerome (and… and… and…) just spent the entire weekend making sure that the technology, from broadcasting to printing boarding passes just worked.
Parents and students ran the food and coffee so that the lines were short and the coffee was hot. And that’s easier said than done. I had this funny moment on Saturday afternoon when I was prepared to make sure all the food was laid out and ready to go, but by the time I got down to the cafe, everything was well on its way to being done, so I just got out of the way.
And then there’s Jas. All she did was play a major part in pulling off the conference. She organized all the students who worked the conference. She worked with her colleagues to plan their session. She worked with Mr. Latimer to set the Friday school visit up. She showed up early and left late, and she worked as hard as anyone to pull the conference off. And I don’t think a single teacher minded on Monday when one of her teachers gave her the keys to the teachers lounge so she could sleep through a class because she was so wiped out.
Those are the individual stories. And there are dozens more of them. We had teachers who made connections to people they never thought they’d meet. We had students look at their school in ways they never had before. We had teachers give their first presentations at a conference and get incredible feedback. Most importantly, we had student after student see themselves as powerful voices in the world. They saw the best vision of themselves reflected in the eyes of so many conference goers. They saw how a small group of committed people can, indeed, change the world. And that’s priceless. And that makes the entire conference worthwhile, and that’s why it’s well worth all the hours we put into it. Because in the end, we get so much more out of the conference than we put in.
See everyone next year, and thank you for the gift you gave our school.