I am on the agenda for this afternoon’s faculty meeting. I am tasked with sharing my EduCon experience with my colleagues. This is unexpectedly challenging for me. I want to share my passion and my takeaways from the weekend, but I find it hard to put together into a coherent narrative. I respect my colleagues’ time, so I do not want my presentation to be a disorganized mess. How are all of the different conversations, threads, and thoughts sparked by the weekend supposed to come together to make sense to anyone who was not there to fill in the gaps?
This internal conversation I am having echoes an external one I just had with a student. He is working on a research project for our foreign policy unit in US history. He is planning to do a class presentation for his product. He started out wondering which countries he would not be allowed to travel to and the reasons why? Then he began investigating countries for which there are State Department warnings against travel. Other questions emerged – which countries does the US recognize? Just how many countries are there in the world? How many different countries can a person claim in terms of participation in sports? What do other countries tell their citizens about traveling to the US? We were having a really good discussion about these related but distinct topics. Then he said he did not know how he could pull all this together for his presentation. My advice was to get his ideas down on paper and then work on pulling it together later. I feared he would lose some of the interesting, thought-provoking information he had found. The advice may have been sound, but it did not address the central concern.
What if he does not pull everything together in a neat package? Is it okay if his gift to the class is to make them think about things they have not considered? Are the disparate, related but not necessarily connected pieces enough? I am faced with the same dilemma for this afternoon’s faculty meeting. I will explain the conversation aspect of the conference. I can share some of the sessions that were most powerful for me. I can end with some tips, tricks, and food for thought that I took home with me. This plan is similar to an approach I suggested to my student.
I am considering having my colleagues spend a few minutes browsing the schedule of conversations to get a sense of what I did not choose. No doubt those sessions would appeal to many of them (in fact, many interested me). But, I also know that there are those for whom none of this appeals. My enthusiasm for a session about authentic student voice and choice might not be infectious. I imagine that some teachers will be puzzled by my proposal for an elective where the content and assessments are determined by the consensus of the class. Others will see design thinking as partly something they already do and partly something they have no desire to do.
The potential pushback, or perhaps even worse, indifference, makes me nervous. Will my colleagues be polite but underwhelmed by what they see as buzzwords and fads when I talk about genuine student choice, engagement and empowerment, the power of wonder, design thinking and empathy? Part of me would prefer to fly under the radar using my classroom as a private lab for testing out my ideas. Then, the other part recalls the theme of the panel discussion about openness and transparency in education. My work needs to be transparent, so that all can see what I am doing in my classroom. But that is not enough. It also needs to be open, so that others can question and challenge my thinking. Loosely quoting the words of EduCon’s host and organizer, Chris Lehmann, “Even the smartest person in the room is never smarter than the room.” Now that I think about it, that could be the underlying principle for student presentations next week. The deep learning will come from the conversations afterwards, not the presentations.