Educon was overwhelming.
The Educon gathering is "an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams."
Philadelphia, PA. It's old-home weekend for hundreds of people who have been coming together to share and learn for six years.
It brought on the same self-conciousness that tends to fall on me when I'm in rooms full of happy talking people catching up. I was told repeatedly, "Just start talking to people," and every time I did that, I was rewarded by a nice conversation and an exchange of some common ground. I wouldn't let myself leave a room until I initiated two (2) conversations. Then after sufficient connections made, I'd allow myself to run home to the hotel.
By Sunday I realized what Educon means for me. I tweeted out,
#educon: the place where, when I turn to the people next to me & start talking abt education, they don't think I'm weird & annoying.
— lisa cooley (@coollit) January 27, 2013
It was like taking a bath in chocolate.
After a conversation (Educon's name for breakout sessions) about how to close the gap between public education today and the public education we all want, (Mind the Gap) I ran after one educator with whom I shared some thoughts at the session, and asked, "Can you tell me, am I right to mistrust curriculum? Am I right when I have a negative reaction to any curriculum, because it imposes learning from the outside instead of starting with the student?" She hesitated and then said, "Yes," and we parted. I'm sure there's more to the story, but the important thing was, she knew exactly what I was asking. I need the confirmation from people with a lifetime of educating behind them, that I am on the right track for kids.
Hundreds of educators were in the same building (and expect a blog post on my thoughts about the Science Leadership Academy, where Educon takes place) eager to learn and share their experiences about putting children directly in the center of their learning...in the center both intellectually and emotionally. Chris Lehman, (SLA's principal), in his session on "Creating an Ethic of Care" said that they provide "professional development on caring" for SLA teachers. It's an acknowledgment that learning done well involves the whole child, and a whole community engaged in caring and inquiry.
Focusing on children as the center of education is a sea change in public education today, and needs a special kind of leadership. Chris is that leader, and "his" teachers are, as well. But there were leaders in every session, both in the front of the room and at the tables.
When called upon to introduce myself, I found myself saying, "I'm a renegade school board member, which is to say, I have no power." People were surprised to have a school board member there; as far as I know, I was the only one in the building. It makes it all the more difficult to come home from Educon. I can't take anything I've learned and put it to work in the classroom. All I can do is...well, what I do. Stay on my Board. Keep trying to ask the right questions, incite conversation, expose people to different ways of thinking.
I can't transfer my Educon experience to my school board colleagues, much as I try. It's a game of throwing ideas at a wall, and seeing what sticks. If people are curious about this intersection between progressive education and technology, there's stuff to view, to read, to listen to. I'll post as many of those resources here as I can in the coming days.