Teaching Opinion

Being in the Smartest Room—ASCD Style

By Starr Sackstein — March 29, 2018 3 min read
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#Empower18 was just that, empowering. Being around so many smart people, learning; it was an incredible professional and personal opportunity to grow and be inspired.

There is nothing stranger than going to an ASCD author’s dinner and being around so many smart people, just acting like I’m not starstruck. It has taken me a while to see myself as one of them, always just a humble teacher.

Traveling from one amazing learning experience to another, chatting it up with respected friends and colleagues. Whether in a session or in the ASCD Center or at the Hack Learning Booth, each pitstop was a chance to learn from people. As a matter of fact, it was a reminder of why we have to let students talk to each other when they learn. The collaborative process hinges on how well we communicate.

And then it was Sunday and I knew it would be time for me to present soon. At first, I thought I’d go up against a keynote, but it wasn’t so. Then, I secretly prayed for a modest crowd that I could engage with personally, as this is when I’m at my best.

Some of you may know that I struggle with anxiety from time to time so when I walked into my session 30 minutes early and the room looked like this (see picture), I thought someone else was still presenting and perhaps I had hoped that was the case.

The woman at the door said they were waiting for me and so I vomited in my mouth a little, (but I guess in a good way).

Earlier that same day, I watched Michael Matera present on gamification and he did a great job. So well, I’d say that I actually felt intimidated about presenting myself. He was engaging and funny and his powerpoint was absolutely beautiful. How could I top that or even come close?

And we were in the same room!

So the next crazy thing that happened was when they closed the door 25 minutes before the session started because the room was full. My phone started buzzing because friends were telling me they were locked out. Twitter started blowing up because people wanted to come in. ASCD even asked me if I would be willing to move into a bigger room, but I was thrilled that I had tables in my room and didn’t want to sacrifice the setting for more people. Plus it wouldn’t have been fair!

So I started early and used some humor to break the ice. I find that putting my discomfort out there keeps it light, it’s honest but I can make fun of myself about it.

Knowing what I know about conferences likes these is that there is a fair amount of talent in a space this size and although some folks may be there to see me, we can learn so much more if we are all sharing. Plus, I refuse to be the kind of person who speaks through an hour-long session... that’s just not good teaching or sharing.

Between a few turn and talks, a couple of short jotting assignments and the suggestion of a shared Google doc with the ideas shared, the session went so fast, even with the extra 15 minutes. Luckily there were all kinds of teachers and school leaders ranging in what content and age they taught. So many good ideas were shared and what was best is that they didn’t come from me alone.

What fills my heart with joy at this time is how many people are starting to see the value of reflection, metacognition, and self-assessment in the classroom now. I’ve been preaching the gospel for years now and finally, it has caught fire.

So the next time you present or attend a conference, remember there is something to learn from everyone and no matter how much you think you know, there is always more and that is the exciting part.

What is something you have learned recently that you want to dig deeper with? Please share.

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