Jan 29

See Your Students

[This post has been rattling around in my head after EduCon and really had to be written after a truly wonderful conversation I had with a parent today.]

“The teachers here really know my child.”

I’ve heard many parents tell me some version of that. What is amazing is that parents take this as something rare or unique – and that always makes me sad. The reason all of us at SLA really are so adamant about saying “We teach kids <subject>” instead of “We teach <subject>” is that we never want us to lose sight of the child in front of us. Because when we lose sight of the humanity of our students, we lose the soul of what it means to be a teacher.

“Tell me about my child in your class.”

The answer to that question has to be more than a line in a gradebook or a purely academic answer. As a parent, I am certainly concerned with my children’s academic progress, but I also want to know that you see that Jakob is slyly funny and deeply kind or that Theo has a truly creative mind that comes out powerfully when he draws and that he loves to tell jokes, even when the punchline seems to make sense only to him.

When we see the kids we teach as only students in our classes, we can see what value our classes hold for each of them, rather than just assume that all kids will “need this some day.”

When we see the kids we teach as full people, we can help them develop passion, interests and strengths, rather than just seeing kids as data to be mined, deficits to be remediated, or vessels to be filled.

When we understand that our students have vital and vibrant lives outside of the moments we see them, we can understand that they have racial, gender, religious, economic and social identities that they bring with them to the classroom and that our students bring all that they are to the classroom every day – just like we do.

When we make the attempt to see our children for all that they are, we can listen to all that they say, and we can care for them, not just care about them.

And then, when their families ask us to tell them what we know, our hearts, our minds and our voices will overflow with all we cannot wait to share.

 

Jan 23

The Night Before

I’m going to bed as soon as I hit publish on this post.

I’m going to bed because in about 10 hours, hundreds of educators from all over the continent are going to be showing up at SLA for EduCon. EduCon is a special conference where educators from many different roles within the education world come together to dream big about what education can be. It is, as Ben Herold of EdWeek noted today a vendor-free space to talk about pedagogy.

It’s also a ton of work. EduCon is planned and run by SLA students, parents, teachers and me. The planning starts in August and ended tonight when we proof-read the program one… last… time. And this is our eighth year hosting the conference.

There are moments every year when I think to myself, “We can’t keep doing this.” But we do. And there are some really good reasons for it. So many attendees have told us that EduCon is one of their favorite professional learning of their year. And we at SLA learn a ton as well. It’s kind of wonderful to have an amazing PD experience with brilliant educators from all over the country right in your school. And yes, the conference raises important money for us every year that serves as the start of my fundraising every year as we try to stave off the Philadelphia budget cuts.

But the best reason for us to keep doing EduCon every year is watching the kids see themselves and their school as important voices in the national discussion about the future of education. This evening, as I was answering emails from attendees about the weather forecast, potential dinner spots, travel plans and what have you, dozens of SLA students were setting up classrooms, prepping coffee stations, running last-minute checks on the video feed and prepping their sessions. And I was listening as they talked about being proud of their school and the role it plays.

And that’s why we do it. Because our kids look at all of you who have come to learn with and from them and they realize that they really can help to change the world. EduCon is that moment for many of our students when they prove to themselves that they can be active, authentic agents in the world beyond their school.

As powerful as the learning all the educators will do over the next three days can be, for me, that lesson may be the powerful thing that any of us learn all weekend.

Thank you to all of the hundreds of students, teachers and parents who have worked tireless to prep for EduCon. Thank you to everyone who got in a car, train or plane to come learn with us this weekend. And thank you my co-chairs, Meenoo Rami, Amal Giknis, Julian Makarechi, Alisha Rothwell, Jasmin Gilliam and Zee Driggers for all the time you’ve spent. Thank you to the amazing Diana Laufenberg who came in this week and troubleshot everything so that the weekend would be awesome.

Welcome to EduCon everyone. Welcome to our school.

 

Mar 04

The Wisdom of the Room

This is related to EduCon, but it’s also just about pedagogy.

I was sitting in a session at SXSWedu where a panel of educators were talking about how they had achieved a new initiative for their school. It was an hour-long session, and really, after about ten or fifteen minutes, it was clear what they had done — it was cool — but after that, the panel quickly got into the weeds about some very specific details about their implementation. I was sitting next to a friend, and we were quietly challenging each other about how this idea could work in our schools. And I realized that what I wanted was the chance to sit and talk about that idea with a few folks around me – in short, I wanted a more “EduCon-y” session.

I wanted this group to challenge the folks in the room to think about how the idea would work in their worlds. I wanted to be able to consider the stumbling blocks to the idea. I wanted to be able to collaborate.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t ever a place for panel discussions – there is. If you follow my twitter stream, you’ll know that I was in seventh heaven watching Randi Weingarten, Peter Cunningham and Valerie Strauss debate assessment and accountability. But when you have an idea about how to make schools better, letting people have the discussion and debate and engage fully in the idea will greatly enhance the probability that those ideas will stay with the folks in the room… and even better… you greatly increase the probability that some really novel ways to think about the idea will come out.

When it comes to playing with ideas, we need to remember that the wisdom of the room is something that needs to be respected. And when it comes to our classrooms, we need to remember that honoring the wisdom of the room also — and importantly — is a powerful way to ensure that students will more willingly engage in the idea itself.

Aug 31

EduCon 2.6 – Register and Call for Proposals!

The seventh annual EduCon conference will be held at Science Leadership Academy from January 24th through January 26th, 2014! We are gearing up for a the conference again this year, and everyone at SLA is excited to make the experience a memorable one! Tickets are on sale and you can purchase them at http://educonphilly.org/register.

EduCon is a special kind of conference where the pedagogy of the conference is a mirror of the pedagogy we hope to see in our schools. As such, the conference is built around the following ideas:

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate, and collaborate.
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

This year’s panel themes are centered around the concept of Openness – and we will be announcing some really wonderful panelists very soon!

And, as always, EduCon is only as good as the community makes it. We are calling for proposals for conversations. EduCon sessions should be interactive and conversational – facilitations rather than presentations. Proposals are due November 1st, and you can submit your proposal at http://educonphilly.org/propose.

We hope to see you at EduCon 2.6!

Jan 31

EduCon 2.5: Creating the Conditions for Structured Inquiry

Some thoughts from others about the session I ran on Sunday morning – Beyond Googling: Structuring Inquiry

Inquiry Breaks Down Rigidity – by Kristen Swanson

Why Inquiry Learning is Worth the Trouble by Ian Quillen of KQED

So my Sunday morning session at EduCon was entitled Beyond Googling: Building the Conditions for Structured Inquiry. The slide-deck is at the bottom of post. It was an evolution of a workshop I’ve done before, but my whole goal was to really think about the session on both the real and the meta-session level. (Yeah, I just made up a word.)

The goal was to create an environment where some real tough questions around what this word “inquiry” really can mean in the classroom, followed by more problem-solving around how to do that well. In a workshop like this, there isn’t much research going on (although, given that almost any group of teachers at EduCon will have at least one internet enabled decide, if not five to ten of them – so that’s a challenge for next time, I suppose.)

I enjoyed doing the session, especially as session participants really engaged deeply in the questions we were asking. One thing that came out organically from many folks was something I was hoping would — inquiry isn’t just question and answer, it is very much a process…. and that the word can represent the idea of a deep dive into learning through questioning and seeking.

The 90 minutes went by really quickly, so much so that we were way over time before we all realized it was time to go. That’s what inquiry is supposed to do – it’s supposed to get people talking, researching, questioning and learning so much that time really does just fly by. So the session ended up being a pretty good model for what I hope folks can then do in their own classrooms, I think.

But what did I learn by facilitating the session?

It was a chance for me to keep exploring the idea that inquiry really requires people — students and teachers — to live in the uncomfortable places, and that’s hard. Inquiry requires that we all develop a nimbleness of mind so that we do not give in to the orthodoxy of our own ideas. That’s important for students and teachers (and principals) so that we can start to really hone our skill of deep thinking.

It was a chance for me to hear folks bring up empathy over and over again, as inquiry means deep listening and deep understanding of others – other texts, other people, other ideas. Inquiry should help all of us develop our ability to question to learn, not just argue to win.

It was a chance for me to think about — and talk about — how inquiry cannot just live in the classroom or as a stand-alone pedagogy of the stated curriculum. Inquiry allows students to access the hidden curriculum, as they will question grading structures. They will question discipline policies. They will question how teachers and students interact. And while, on one level, kids have been doing that for years, if students are taught the true spirit of inquiry, this will be far more than the traditional “Why do we have to do [x] this way?” Kids can question, problem solve, and most importantly, they can understand the complexity of school and of learning in ways that help them grow up well.

Perhaps my take-away, more than anything else, is how the longer we go on this journey at SLA, the more of a seeker I have become. Doing this workshop was a chance for me to step back and really look at how I have come to believe deeply that the inquiry process doesn’t just teach us a way to teach and learn, it gives us a powerful lens through which we can live our lives.

Jan 23

EduCon 2.5 Eve

The badges are made, the presenter bags are packed up, Ryan and Tsion have sent the email with all the student jobs, the parents met tonight to go over all the different roles they play. Tomorrow, all the Advisories will straighten up the rooms one more time, and then this Friday, Saturday and Sunday approximately 600 educators will come to our little corner of the world for the sixth iteration of EduCon. It never fails to amaze me that we pull it off every year.

And today at our faculty meeting, we took a few minutes after going over all the last details to step back and think about what this conference means to us as a community. EduCon is not just about SLA, not by a long shot. The community of educators who come together every year to discuss the intersection of progressive education and modern tools is made up of incredible teachers who amaze me with their insights and ideas. And EduCon is as much about every attendee and facilitator as it is about SLA. But for those of us who make SLA our educational home, EduCon is truly a twin moment of both humility and pride.

We are – I am – amazed at how our little corner of the educational world has been able to serve as host for a conversation about the ideas we most hold dear. For our students, they get to understand the power of their own ideas and hard work and voice as they see themselves as vital participants in an international conversation about how we can make schools better for students and adults worldwide. For our parents, it is an opportunity for them to see their children in a powerful light, and it is an opportunity for them to give back to the school that educates their children. For our teachers, it is a moment to step outside the day-to-day where we struggle and sweat and work toward the impossibly unachievable ideal of our best ideas and realize that other educators can see that we get closer to that ideal that we often give ourselves credit for.

And, of course, it is for us an incredible learning weekend where we can tease out ideas with like-minded educators and push our own thinking. EduCon is, for me, the most profound three days of learning every year because it is the time where so many of the people I learn from virtually all year long show up to our school with an open heart and an open mind, ready to teach and learn.

So for those folks en route – welcome and thank you for coming to Philly. Our apologies in advance about the weather. For folks who can’t make the trip, feel free to join in virtually – we’re streaming the entire conference again this year. And thank you to Ms. Rami, Ms. Laufenberg, Ms. Hull, Mr. Herman, Ms. Pahomov, Ms. Dunda, Mr. Best, Tsion, Ryan, Nikki, Jeff, Dr. Heller and all the other EduCon planners. Thank you to all the SLA teachers and parents and students who make EduCon happen. Thank you to all the facilitators who take so much time to craft thoughtful, meaningful, progressive sessions. Thank you to everyone who comes into EduCon ready to learn. This conference is about the conversations – and that means it is about everyone who shows up and co-creates its meaning.

Welcome to SLA. Welcome to EduCon 2.5.

Aug 17

EduCon 2.5 Registration is Open!

It’s that time of  year again… EduCon 2.5 is alive!

Once again, the teachers, students and parents of Science Leadership Academy will be hosting EduCon. This year it will be on January 25-27, 2013 at (as always) the Science Leadership Academy. We will be opening up our session submission forms very soon, but tickets are already on sale, and we are looking forward to another year of learning and growing with everyone.

The guiding principles behind Educon

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating – together with our students – the 21st Century Citizen
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  5. Learning can – and must – be networked

We hope you join us.