Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Visions, Innovation & Change

I'm ashamed it's been so long since I've blogged last (over a week!) but I've been swimming in my thoughts from EduCon trying to synthesize all the ideas I heard. I've felt absolutely too overwhelmed to post. And then, this evening, when I arrived home from grad class and pulled up my notes on my ipad...  they were gone. Stupid inotepad note taker thing didn't save all of my notes. All of those ideas I thought I was remembering correctly but wrote down just to be sure... gone. The quote about innovation for students from poverty...  gone.

So bare with me as I try to synthesize from memory alone...

First of all, I really had no idea what to expect going into EduCon. One of my fabulous co-workers had been the previous two years and always came back raving about it. She finally convinced me to go and I'm really glad I did. I enjoyed the small conference feel and the structure- instead of presentations each session is really designed to be a conversation where you are able to dive into deeper debates of what is needed at the heart of education by pushing one another to ask hard questions and share ideas/visions/goals.

The session I got the absolute most out of was on change. The presenters began by recognizing that one of the problems in education is that all of our long-term visions for education tend to be different, which makes it hard to initiate policy change on a global scale. We're all talking about different overall visions and goals for education. She asked us to share our broader visions, which led to a fascinating discussion on student self-advocacy, the skills students need to take part in their learning, and the tools we need to get us there. It was interesting to hear from all the different view points- the academic doctoral student working on his dissertation, the instructional coach, the technology specialist, an education consultant working with school districts, a guidance counselor, and a high school teacher. Everyone came from different backgrounds- some of us worked with children from poverty while some worked with children in higher socio-economic situations. Some worked in private schools bound by small resources while others of us worked in large public school districts bound by the greater structure of a large bureaucracy. For the most part, surprisingly, (perhaps because we are all people who chose to come to this unique conference) we all realized our visions for our students and education as a whole was to give students the tools they needed to be successful, teach them to advocate for themselves, teach them it was acceptable to fail as long as they continue to try (take risks), and to ensure that all adults are collaborating together to meet their needs.
So we have a vision, but how do we get there?  We hemmed and hawed over policies, top-down regulations and initiatives, statements and roles of principals and school boards. Yet in the end, what we all found ourselves settling on was that we can't wait for the top to change. If we want change we need to each fight for it individually within our own classrooms. We need to follow our own visions, ask for forgiveness instead of permission, get creative and do what needs to be done in order to work with our kids. In some ways it's an overwhelming and depressing order- the system's never going to change so it's up to you- but in other ways it is freeing. You're never going to get exactly what you want from the system so go ahead and give yourself permission to do what you know how to do best.
If we want to bring innovation to our students (the theme of the conference) we can't wait for the reauthorization of NCLB to suddenly give us permission to do so. We need to bring the innovation to our students ourselves, in anyway we can within the structure we're working in.
As one of the opening panel speakers explained (and I don't know who or have the exact quote because my notes are gone...) nobody talks about innovation with students at high risk or from poverty. Innovation becomes something only the middle and upperclass are privilege enough to be encouraged to experiment with in school. Our children in under-performing schools don't have that privlege.
At this point no one is going to tell us we have to encourage student innovation in our under-performing schools, or with our at-risk children. Yet we can't deny them the chance to learn through the drive to innovate, explore and create. So it's up to us to find ways to bring innovation into our own classrooms in order to fill that gap.

Exhausted from a long weekend with other thoughts floating in my head I have been inspired and overwhelmed by this idea all at once. But it's true. I can't wait on anyone else to make my vision for my students come true.

*my fabulous co-presenter/co-teacher did a great write-up on our google-doc presentation. Check it out!*

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