I first started imagining attending EduCon over a year ago.
Sitting on my couch at home with a terrible cold, I watched the EduCon2.1 tweetstream scroll by and made a promise to myself to try to make the trip to Philly the following year.
I’ve tried at least once before to answer the question of why this conference stood out for me as the “must attend” event of 2009.
I’m better prepared to answer the question now.
From the beginning, EduCon stood out. The call for session proposals explicitly sets out a different set of criteria than most speakers have dealt with before – you have to be ready to describe how you will NOT be standing at the front of the room lecturing – so right from the get-go, the framing of the work ahead is less hierarchical, more collaborative.
Once you get there, EduCon stands out because of the “all hands on deck” feeling that infuses it. From the parents smilingly staffing the registration table to the labcoat-wearing students of Science Leadership Academy (SLA), the feeling of pride in a shared enterprise is powerful.
SLA stands out because of the intentionality and shared vision of the students and teachers. I spoke with several SLA students over the course of the weekend – Patrick, Hannah, Hector, and one other great guy in the library whose name I’m sorry to have forgotten! The perspectives they shared with me were simultaneously deeply individual and plugged in to a collective understanding, something akin to what we Quakers might call, “the sense of the Meeting.”
Because SLA is a charter school, students must apply to attend. The application process includes a review of the applicant’s academic records and an interview. Every student I spoke with talked about the interview, to which they were asked to bring a piece of work they were proud of, and in which a current SLA student asks most of the questions. Every student at SLA has an answer to the question, “Why are you here?” Several of the students also mentioned with gratitude the “be who you are” ethos of the learning community at SLA. It was a pleasure to connect with them.
I was also successful in meeting SLA’s college counselor, Karina Hirschfield, who at first I thought I might not be able to connect with because every time I swung by her office she was — surprise surprise — counseling students! Eventually the stars aligned and we were able to have a terrific conversation about the joys and challenges of helping students find their next academic home. I met SO many people who I’d previously only “met” online, including one who, when I made the distinction (“I don’t think we’ve every actually met in person!”), said, “I’m not sure I would have even thought of that.”
Folks like me with Twitter handles that don’t conform to their physical world name quickly discovered that adding our Twitter names to our name badges helped speed up the connections.As a former Philadelphian, I was able to crash with friends both nights rather than stay in hotels, which made me feel like I was living out the old Girl Scout song, “Make new friends, but keep the old…” 🙂
The official conference conversations (and most really were conversations, rather than simply presentations) at EduCon2.2 were wide-ranging and full of enthusiastic imaginings. David Jakes engaged a room full of educators on the question of what makes a space conducive to learning. Zoe Branigan-Pipe & Ben Hazzard had us all thinking about how to let big ideas infuse our lesson planning. Lisa Thumann & Liz Smith expertly mixed music and motion into a session in which we shared our thoughts on filtering and “Getting to the Good Stuff.” Christian Long‘s students from “The Alice Project” wowed everyone who heard them with their lucid and eye-opening first-person reporting on a high school English class “turned upside down.” Shelly Blake-Plock’s “ears open” session on the relationship between free improvisational music and networked learning was fun and fascinating. There were 76 conversation sessions in total, and they were all live-streamed via Elluminate. (Thank you, Steve Hargadon!)
This meant that the students of SLA took a leadership role in making sure that as much of the learning that happened at EduCon2.2 was archived as possible. Every session had a student moderator who was troubleshooting audio and video so that the conversation leaders could focus on their conversations. This extraordinary effort at archiving the shared work of the attendees went a long way to alleviating the frustration that inevitably bubbled up as I realized that every session block offered multiple sessions that were super-enticing to me. PLUS, it meant that my folks could check out my session from the comfort of their snowbird digs in Florida! 🙂
Ah, yes, my session. I never know what to say when people ask me how my session went, because I’m always so intensely “in the moment” that it all kind of seems like a dream afterwards. But I can say this… I had a “dream team” of people in the room with me. A current counselor, would-be counselors and administrators, a current high school student (hi, Mike!), a mom of a college student, high school teachers, and a University vice-provost were all gracious with a Prezi newbie and generous with their time and thoughts.
And I cleverly snuck a few pictures while they were busy working away:
For me, EduCon2.2 helped bring home the power of purposeful engagement, both because of the culture of engagement at SLA, and because of the deep level of engagement asked of and given by the participants.
I left with a new set of questions and a desire to enact change in the way we think about our work as educators.
And I confirmed something about myself: lifelong learners are most definitely “my tribe!”
I met and shared time with at EduCon2.2 —
hope I’ll see you again next year!)