EdCampChicago 2011

Today was my first experience with an unconference at edcampchicago. First, I find it amazing that teachers give up a Saturday to spend time learning and growing together. Nobody was required to be there, and yet we were there…Without going into great detail about the conversations that were had, I have three questions based on my experiences.

What’s more important; content or connections?

Based on the conversations I was involved in today there was some great content being discussed. From flipped classrooms and standards based grading to twitter and smackdowns, great content was being shared all over. However, I would argue that the connections made and renewed were more powerful than any content discussed. As teachers we are often isolated in our classrooms/schools/districts with very little contact with those beyond our own bubbles. This conference provided us a chance to connect with others we would never normally be in contact with. In addition, for those on twitter and other social media, it allowed us to reconnect and put faces with profile pictures. It provided that real-life human component that is not there in online conversations.

Would you stay?

As with most conferences, we as adults have the option to leave a session. If the conversation we are involved in is not what we are looking for, we reserve the option to walk out. I took advantage of this and besides a small amount of guilt; I was able to find something else that fit my own personal need. This makes me think, what if kids have the option to walk out of our classroom? What if students could get up and walk out if our teaching was not meeting their needs? Would you students stay in your room if they had the option to walk out?

Why do we not do this more often?

This is a fairly straightforward question. Why are there not more professional development opportunities such as these? I would like to see building level institute days/professional development run in the same manner. Bring your staff into a room and give them a board to fill in with topics for discussion based on their needs. Would this not be a better way to facilitate learning? Let teachers choose what their needs are and given them the opportunity and time to explore and develop.

I did have some great conversations within the sessions about some great topics and enjoyed every minute of it. The whole concept of the unconference is phenomenal and I would encourage anyone to find one near them and attend it. If there is not an edcamp in your neck of the woods, that is only because you haven’t started it. 

Listen to the Mustn'ts

As I near the end of yet another school year, my students have accomplished some amazing things. From Innovation Day and Holes in my Wall to Student Driven Learning and Lip Dub, it has been a great year. One of those years, that I have to think to myself, “does it get any better than this?” I know I will return in the fall pumped and ready to take on more challenges and more than likely bite off more than I can chew once again.
While we wind down, I use this poem in my Language Arts class by one of my favorite poets, Shel Silverstein.
Listen to the Mustn'ts 
Listen to Mustn'ts, child, listen to the Don'ts.
Listen to the Shouldn'ts, the Impossibles, the Won'ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.

-Shel Silverstein
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974)

The reason I use this poem is to serve as a simple but powerful message to both my students and myself. There will be people in our lives that will try to put us down and hold us back. Often times, we will never know what our students deal with outside of school and in their “real” lives. However, we need to empower those students and be supportive of their dreams in the time we have them in our classrooms. We all have dreams and too often they are crushed at an early age.

Listen to all the haters out there…then go and do what you are passionate about in spite of what you hear.

Gapers Block

In Chicago, we have a term called “Gapers Block”. It is an event on a road where traffic is jammed up due to motorists slowing down and/or stopping due to some distraction on the side of the road. In some cases it is a fender bender, a dead animal, or even someone answering the call of nature. When you finally get through the traffic and see what was causing the problem you get mad that people slowed up traffic for something silly.

Too often in schools we like to admire problems and develop a “Gapers Block”. Whether it is students, politics, budgets, or our personal lives, it is easy to complain. Spinning our wheels is something we teachers can get very good at. It is easier to complain than deal with an actual problem. We like to find company in our complaining and seek others out to share stories of the problems in our classrooms, our schools, our states, and our profession. It’s easy and sometimes it makes us feel better…if only for a little bit. However, when the conversation is over, the problem still exists.

We need to focus on keeping traffic moving and not focus on what is at the side of the road. Problems will come and go, but we need to stay focused on moving forward and not admiring the old man peeing on the side of the road.