Education Conferences as Ideal Spaces for Discomfort and Growth

     How do you come up with ideas to use in your classroom or school?

Are there any stretch goals you’re looking to accomplish this school year?

Where do you get your best support and professional development?

I pose these questions to educator friends often, and for the many that are not “Connected” their ideas are largely conceived independently; spawned from urgent challenges hurriedly discussed with whomever is sitting in the faculty lounge or responsive to a frantic text. These are vital questions for reflecting upon and improving our individual practice, yet my colleagues often struggle to answer one if not all of them.

Nick Young Confused
Why are you asking me these tedious questions?

I’ve been in countless classrooms both as a teacher and as an observer. I love seeing the exciting new technologies that are entering our schools and how we’re finding new ways of developing learners. Despite the wonderful progress that can easily be found in schools across the country, I hear the constant refrain that our students are “underperforming”; that our students can’t compete on a global stage. Regardless of whether that’s true or not (it’s not), I’m interested in exploring the solution to a related phenomenon: the dramatic increase in program adoption and the subsequent implementation fidelity issue. By “implementation fidelity issue” I mean the many programs being poorly implemented or simply ignored in schools.

wonka turnkey

Turnkey education innovation isn’t a thing. Even if a program or app or framework works with little friction in one classroom, the classroom next door or the school down the street will face challenges. This is a well-known fact among vendors, but providing adequate personalized support generally means a program that won’t be scaling up anytime soon. Company responses to this problem typically range from representatives with large service territories, virtual help desks, and supported educator communities. While these support models tend to work for outgoing or tech-savvy educators, others aren’t finding these standard PD methods sufficient for helping meet students’ needs. The Common Core State Standards are just one example, where a study notes that “even though far more teachers are receiving common-core training, it doesn’t appear to be helping them feel more prepared to teach the new standards.”

wiggum glue
Me testing out new experiments as a science teacher.

From a 2012 article on instructional reform:

“Social networks with combinations of strong ties, high-depth interaction, and high expertise enabled teachers to adjust instruction to new conditions while maintaining the core pedagogical approach.”

With external investments and interest in education steadily increasing we won’t be seeing a shortage of “new conditions” anytime soon. We need to continue to ramp up collaboration opportunities for teachers through conferences, and many teachers are already taking this approach instinctively with the rise of the EdCamp and PlayDate movements among other free or low-cost events.

This post isn’t to detract from other wonderful resources for educators. Need ideas to implement on your campus? Jump on the #TXed Twitter chat or one of dozens of other chats and brainstorm. Struggling with your stretch goals? Drop a quick message into the Edumatch Voxer group. Dissatisfied with your district’s PD? Attend a nearby EdCamp for free. All of those are amazing options for professional growth, but conferences have been around a long time and even reserved teachers can feel comfortable there.

Make EdCamps and other free conferences more accessible to educators at every stage, from student teacher to retiree, and we will make huge strides toward solving the implementation fidelity issue and revolutionizing our schools. This holiday season, help a colleague find a comfortable new space for discomfort. If you’re looking for a conference that might be of interest, just send me a tweet!


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