Thursday, July 25, 2019

Building A Cohesive Community — Where Educators Become Neighbors

Source: Michael Maslin, The New Yorker; Condi Nast; Art.com (for sale)

One of our favorite New Yorker cartoons by Michael Maslin depicts a woman at a party replying to a suited gentleman, “I’m hearing a lot of buzzwords from you, but I’m not getting any buzz.”

Educational conferences can be like that. Despite the best intentions of dedicated presenters, sometimes the reruns of familiar talks can feel like a litany of mots du jour. The session titles can feel like “Christmas Tree” bills in Congress — so nicknamed because Senators will hang endless amendments on a well-intentioned law, such that the final text is a mishmash of unrelated pet projects. Session headlines often do the same, smooshing as many buzzwords into a 64-character limit as possible.

Source: Building Learning Communities 2019

That’s why the Building Learning Communities (BLC) conference from November Learning is one of our annual favorites. Alan November, an international leader in edtech, personally invites expert educators from around the world to share on-the-ground experiences and best-in-class techniques. This recent BLC19 conference, from July 16 - 19 at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, lived up to its pedigree.

For example, one of the new friends we met from South Africa introduced us to how diversity education is framed in his community. Personally, we have been struggling with terminology, from the outdated “tolerant community” to the slightly better “inclusive community.” Both of those, however, position one group in higher status that “tolerates” or “includes” the other group.

Source: ASIDE 2019

In his South African school district, they use the notion of a “social cohesion.” For some reason, this immediately struck a chord with us. "Cohesion" refers to unity and solidarity. It doesn’t give one group more agency than the other. It suggests effort with lasting effects. It implies disparate elements coming together to coalesce around a common core. We really liked his suggestion, and we are eager to take this framing back to our own school.

In fact, our session about reimagining a curriculum based on social justice inspired all sorts of meaningful and spontaneous exchanges. Many audience members offered valuable resources, while others raised due concerns about a wording shift from “social justice” to “social good.” This thoughtful debate played out even further over Twitter.

Source: @theASIDEblog

We want to thank the many individuals who attended our conversations and who lent global perspectives to the collective thinking:
Other highlights of BLC19 included:
  • "Healthy Grading," by Joy Kirr (@JoyKirr) - Kirr led a master class in fostering a debate about grading, with a group activity that worked so well, we are going to steal it for our own faculty meetings
  • Keynote, by Shaya Zarkesh (@ShayaZarkesh) - As the teenage founder of Polyup, Zarkesh introduced us to one of the most intriguing math apps we’ve ever seen, combining true gamification with adaptable learning
  • "Innovative Leadership," by Matthew X. Joseph (@MatthewXJoseph) - Joseph reminded us that “only tasks can be managed – not time,” and we should, therefore, prioritize efficiency and communication
  • "Beyond TED Talks: Voice, Influence and Impact," by Caitlin Krause (@MindWise_CK) - Krause emphasized how stories start with connections. They are "something I give in a box and care about" to share with others; to hear them, we need to be present.
  • "Encouraging and Supporting Leaders To Foster Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology," by Vincenza Gallissio (@vgallisso), Christine Zapata (@CGoffredoZapata), and Jackie Patanio (JPatanio) - This group from NYCDOE, District 31 implemented a district-wide SEL program that would be the envy of most schools. It exemplified a growth mindset toward professional development.
Finally, the conference’s prime location near Copley Square and Back Bay made for lush local dining choices — from our regular “welcome to town” lunch at the Parish Cafe, known for its eclectic sandwiches from star Beantown chefs; to the spicy pasta, fresh mussels, and sincere service at Lucca (despite having a full glass of Cabernet knocked onto our white pants by an embarrassed busboy); to the French Mediterranean flavors of Mistral, featuring a summer corn soup with lobster and chive leaves, a fabulous halibut over shrimp risotto, and a sumptuous Maine crab ravioli.

We have full heads and full stomachs after a conference like this.

55 comments:

  1. Awesome!! Yes - PLEASE use whatever format you'd like to have a similar discussion at your own district. Thank you for keeping the conversations going, and enjoy your 2019-2020 school year!

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