ASCD Conference Highlights: Day 1
What a busy day! There are 10,400 participants in this conference, hundreds of sessions, in a facility that seems like a whole campus. Lots here to write about in greater depth, but here are my highlights from Day 1.
Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III was the keynote speaker this morning. His speech offered some inspirational examples of what’s possible when children have the support, expectations, structures, and nurturing that they need. Sometimes the tone of such speakers can seem like a challenge: if you cared more and worked harder, you’d be able to save more kids from bad outcomes. Hrabowski wasn’t suggesting that, but rather, trying to inspire the audience to believe that relationships make a difference. The most interesting take-away for me was the idea of having students involved in conversations about school improvement. I think that happens sometimes, but I expect there are opportunities to turn even more to our children for their perspectives and insights.
The morning’s general session also included the presentation of ASCD’s Outstanding Young Educator Awards. I had a chance later in the day to chat with Josh Garcia, Deputy Superintendent of Tacoma Schools. There’s more that I would like to write about Garcia in the future, but for now, I would just say that I found his candor refreshing. Too often we hear district level administrators who communicate in “eduspeak” and give the party line to avoid controversy. Garcia spoke with passion about the necessity of addressing racism and elitism built into our school systems; he also noted that while Common Core standards might have their place, the assessments are fraught with risk of misuse for sorting and punishing students and schools.
I attended Mike Fisher and Janet Hale‘s session on redesigning our curricular units – one at a time. Their practical understanding of the challenges of the classroom informed their advice about how to make incremental changes at a reasonable pace. I took particular note of the idea that schoolwide change would be evident to students, in secondary schools especially, if we could get most teachers to make small changes. It’s kind of like a matching pledge, the feeling that your contribution will go farther and have a greater impact when you aren’t the only one.
One of the conference’s invited speakers was Kevin Kumashiro of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and also the director of the Center for Anti-Oppressive Education (CAOE). He delivered a relatively quick and clear indictment of the Bad Teacher! narrative in American public policy discussions and debates. I tweeted quite a bit from his talk, but in a nutshell, he questioned why the education reform prescriptions for “bad” schools make them less and less like “good” schools. Why do bad schools get saddled with more test prep, more testing, narrower curriculum, less autonomy? Wouldn’t it be logical to try to improve “bad” schools by giving them the resources and flexibility and other conditions found in “good” schools? As long as education reformers propose changes for other people’s children that they wouldn’t endorse for their own children, we risk perpetuating an inequitable system.
Wil Parker and Lynda Wood presented the development of a teacher leadership model implemented in Southfield Schools in Michigan. I was encouraged to see yet another example of how a district is improving teaching and learning by cultivating teacher leaders. In this case, the model makes use of standards and processes of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which I think has great potential to give educators a common language and frame to make teacher leadership an effective strategy for more schools and districts.
And finally, hats off to the intrepid crew who organized #edcamprogue this afternoon. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of EdCamp I would recommend you check it out. The basic idea is to get motivated teachers together for a relatively informal “unconference” where people show up ready to learn, teach, share, collaborate. The sessions are determined by the people who show up. Participants go where they want, wander or stay according to their interests and needs. Now, the ASCD Conference is in some ways that antithesis of edcamp. The organizers of this “rogue” edcamp were reacting to a comment in the morning keynote, when Dr. Hrabowski said that the lecture format for teaching needed to be replaced – as he was delivering a talk (and a very good one, I thought), and right before sending us all out to sessions that would involve predominantly lecture. So, in the spirit of EdCamp, in the age of social media and a flattened learning hierarchy, these people organized a miniature “rogue” EdCamp right in the lobby of the ASCD Conference – with the blessing of ASCD. Just that it happened – that’s my highlight. But again, hope to take up the topic again soon.
Phew! Just one day at ASCD, two more to go.
Disclosure: I’m attending the ASCD Conference as media.
All photos by the author.