When our Head of Upper School sent out information about the Edscape Conference about a month ago, it sounded interesting, and I jumped to the conclusion that it was going to be held in South Jersey, right across the bridge from us. That New Milford, NJ turned out to be more than two hours north, above Hackensack, might have made me hesitate to sign up for the conference, so I’m glad I didn’t find this out until after the fee had been paid and the paperwork submitted!
I left my house Saturday before the sun was up, on a crisp autumn morning – a bright crescent moon at my side. When I arrived at New Milford High School, a handsome old brick building, the grass was still silver with the fall’s first frost.
In the NMHS auditorium, we were greeted with energy and enthusiasm by the school’s principal, Eric Sheninger, who has c0-designed this conference in order to inspire educators with strategies based on critical thought, inquiry, problem solving, and creativity that could actively transform their teaching practice for the 21st Century.
The keynote, Vicki Davis, was a dynamic speaker with an important message. I must confess that I was initially turned off by her repeated insistence that the audience deliver a resounding “ME!” after every time she asked, rhetorically, “Who is the only one I can change?” But after putting aside my annoyance with this enforced participation, I was able to open myself to her ideas about teaching, and she really made me think. For example, I was inspired to examine more closely the assessments I give my students, realizing that my classroom becomes a product of what I measure. The importance of our expectations for children was brought home for me most vividly with the statistic that 90% of the people in prison today were told at some time by their parents that they would end up in prison. Davis also talked about leadership – asserting that leaders can either remove obstacles or become them. When talking about the challenges and rewards of project-based learning, she stated convincingly, “If they help to build it, they are already there.” And, reminding us that humans tend to mirror the behavior of the people they spend time with, she made me think about the power we have to influence the kids we teach. I also thought about the people I’d like to have influence me – and I felt encouraged to choose more actively those conversations I want to be part of.
The workshops following the keynote were hard to choose from! I started the morning off with Brian Nichols, who led a session entitled “Leading and Learning through Connections,” which was aptly named, as that was what this day became for me: an opportunity to connect with educators actively committed to strengthening their practice through conversation, collaboration, and the sharing of web tools. Here’s an example of a cool tool I found out about: ifttt.com (an acronym for “If this, then that”), which allows you to create recipes for triggering actions that can help you organize how you receive information from various sources. I also now want to read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams.
In Laura Fleming’s workshop on “Transmedia Learning Worlds,” I was introduced to a fascinating transmedia project called Inanimate Alice, which inspired me to think about how to create other multiple-media learning experiences for my students that could extend the worlds of the books they read beyond the text itself. I also realized that without even knowing the term “transmedia literacy” I have actually already begun building a transmedia component into my classes through my course web pages.
Two educators from Philadelphia were standing in for Christine Miles to present the session “Creating a Literacy Classroom in the Cloud”: Meenoo Rami (moderator of #engchat and co-chair of Educon) and Ann Leaness (an edcampphilly co-founder). Both of these women made me think about exciting ways to enrich my literature classes, and I am hoping to collaborate with them on future projects. I am now newly committed to incorporating public blogging into my curriculum as a way to expand the audience for their writing. I also see even more clearly the importance of writing in front of kids – composing and commenting together. One of the useful tools I learned about and want to explore is socrative.com, which looks like a great platform for peer review, discussion boards, and classroom networking.
In my final session of the day, it was interesting to hear about the journey taken by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board to promote greater creativity and more relevant leadership in their schools. I appreciated their acknowledgement of “informal leaders” in their school community, which could include anyone from teachers to custodians. My favorite takeaway from this session was the query, “Are you listening, or are you waiting to speak?”
A bunch of attendees stopped by the Jersey Boys Grill for discounted food and drinks after the conference, and it was nice to debrief a little with teachers there before heading home. As I drove back to Philly, the sun was making its descent, and I realized I’d not seen much of it all day. But I thought about the light that had been shining inside New Milford HS on Saturday – a very bright light generated by educators invested in young people and in teaching communities as they shared their experiences, best practices, and challenges. I am so glad I went!