New Rule: Hold all education conferences at schools. And invite students.
I’ve spent the last three days at the 2013 Deeper Learning Conference hosted by the Hewlett Foundation and High Tech High, at the High Tech High campus in San Diego, which includes two high schools, two middle schools, and an elementary school in close proximity.
The Deeper Learning conference brought together a diverse set of educators interested in preparing students for the complexities of our time, from organizations like High Tech High, the New Tech Network, the Asia Society, Facing History and Ourselves, Envision Schools, Expeditionary Learning, the Buck Institute of Education, and many others. These institutions are leading thinkers in problem-based learning, in thoughtful technology integration, and in preparing students for an innovation economy.
Hosting a conference at a school has all kinds of wonderful side effects.
First, if you put teachers in charge, then they make sure that, well, that people learn something. The conference had three explicit learning goals:
By the end of the conference, our goal is that you will say: I have made several new connections and have deepened my relationship with several old connections. I have new ideas for how to better support deeper learning in my organization/ school/classroom. As an adult, I will experience deeper learning myself, which will help me to bring deeper learning principles back to my own work.
Actually articulating a set of goals is a far cry from most conferences, which are primarily a random assemblage of presentations.
Second, at a school like High Tech High, you are surrounded by artifacts of student work. There are physics demonstrations built into the window frames, posters and projects on every surface, and whiteboards still covered with tomorrow’s homework and major due dates this week. We were also deeply fortunately to be surrounded by students, who asked the best questions, offered the most astute observations, and generally participated like the adults did, but with a greater sense of urgency and joy. When you are working together with educators trying to envision a better future for schools and young people, being in those schools and with those young people makes it easier to stay grounded and focused. It’s impossible to lose track of the point.
Finally, even when most of the youth have left the building, their spirit remains and rubs off on the adults. You can call it played out if you want to, but there is still 30 seconds in my life to watch teachers do the Harlem Shake. Creative Commons Board Vice Chair and Palo Alto teacher Esther Wojcicki apparently has some sweet moves.
One of the signature features of education reform policy is how divorced it has been from classroom practice. So much effort has been placed on standards, governance, tenure, testing, and a whole host of features that have made very little impact on how teachers teach and how students learn. We’ve tried to change the fundamental dynamics inside classrooms by changing all kinds of things peripheral to the fundamental dynamics inside classrooms.
One way to avoid that is to have more discussions of policy, management, leadership and pedagogy that take place inside classrooms. Many thanks to High Tech High and the Hewlett Foundation Deeper Learning initiative for putting together a great event.
(A few pertinent disclosures: the Hewlett Foundation funded my doctoral research, and Larry Rosenstock officiated the wedding of his nephew, who married my wife’s best friend from college. Larry has also taken my wife to Sea World, though he doesn’t remember the trip.)
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