I often see this question in Twitter chats, in keynotes, or when it’s asked of esteemed panelists: “How do we create real, systemic change in education?”.
While I’ve never thought there was one clear answer to this question; one particular action or formula that could solve all the problems in education, I do believe that people (as in you and I and every other education stakeholder) have all the power to make the changes that need to be made for our students. The power lies with us. We should never underestimate the power of a group of people who are well-informed about the possibilities available to our students.
Think about it this way. What if every person that attended a conference, went to an edcamp, participated in a Twitter chat, etc. committed to sharing 1 new idea with just 1 person? Then the 1 person they told commits to sharing with 1 person, and so on and so on. While your school or district likely sees the value in participating in professional learning opportunities, do they see (and hold teachers accountable to) the value of sharing out what has been learned? Not just creating reflection around how it will help me as a teacher, but looking deeper at how it will help me help others.
Just like we should be personalizing and differentiating learning for students, I wholeheartedly believe teachers should get the same in their professional learning. While I’m sure there’s more work to do in that specific area, I think a lot of systems are seeing the value and starting to provide a wider variety of options, particularly self-directed ones. However, we must make a more concerted plan of how our learning is not only going to affect our teaching and learning but how it could affect all teaching and learning. We need to lean more on our own people and empower them to spread their genius to all stakeholders.
Last week I had the pleasure to attend FETC in Orlando. I mean, who doesn’t love going to Florida in January right? However, Orlando is not the word in that first sentence that I want to focus on here. The imperative word in that first sentence is attend. I did not present once at the conference, which I discovered was a big surprise to many of my colleagues when I answered, “Zero.” or, “I’m not.” to their question, “How many times/What are you presenting?”.
It’s not that I didn’t want to present; I love getting to present to teachers and teacher leaders. FETC is an awesome place to present. This happened to be a trip that my district sent me on and I chose to be 100% an attendee. It was fantastic not having to worry about getting slides ready, making last minute tweaks and changes, and just the general stress that comes with presenting at a conference. It was a refreshing change of pace (no pun intended).
The more this came up in conversation as I visited with friends, the more I thought that I really don’t do this enough for myself. Then it made me think that more presenters (especially the well-known ones that present a lot) should make time for themselves to just be an attendee. So many of us speak about being lifelong learners and having a growth mindset, but do we really walk the talk as much as we should? I know an in-person conference isn’t the only way to learn. We have blogs, books, YouTube, etc. to help us “sharpen the saw” too. For me, though, there’s still high value in an in-person event and just attending. I feel like I will not only be a better tech coach (the sessions were awesome and I learned a lot) but a better presenter because of it. It’s a choice I would encourage presenters to make more often. It’s re-energizing!
I am attending FETC in Orlando this week. If you have never been I’d encourage you to give it a go if your school/district can send you. Bring a team if you can. Get your district leadership to attend. There’s lots of great learning and many great people to connect with. However, this post isn’t just about why you should attend a conference.
From now all the way through summer is when the in-person conference opportunities really ramp up. We’re hearing more and more about personalizing learning, creating innovative learning opportunities, devices, coding, 3d printing, makerspaces, and the list can certainly go on and on. Many of you will be at these events. My question is, however, “Are the right people attending?”.
When anyone attends an event like FETC, ISTE, etc., there’s going to be an over-abundance of information coming at you. What’s important to do though, even before sitting through one session, is to identify one particular area that you want to begin with to change teaching and learning in your classroom or school. If you intake all this information (don’t get me wrong these events give you lots of great information) without a plan of what you’re going to do after the event is over, you’re not only doing yourself a disservice, but you’re doing kids a disservice too. Create your plan of where to start before the learning even begins.