For those that listen to me, I often say that my trip to Philadelphia last summer for PLP Bootcamp was the transformative experience of my professional career. It was after that experience that I began to write this blog, became a much more prolific contributor to twitter, and began to build my personal learning network and fully leverage its power. My experience at Educon this past weekend, coupled with my return to work just in time to analyze state assessment data (sigh) only solidified PLP as the professional life-changing event that it was and my continued journey as a learning leader (including the need to keep learning!)
So many have written about their experience at Educon that I am not quite sure I offer a truly unique perspective of the event, but I can say that it is like no other “conference”. The conversations that didn’t stop until the wee hours of the morning at Con Murphy’s coupled with the flutter of preweekend tweets attest to the palpable buzz that defined this gathering. What made this conference so different than others, other than the fact that SLA students ran it, was the access that all participants had to conversations that were taking place. This wasn’t the “sage on the stage” approach to workshops. Sure there were “big names” there, but when Will Richardson, Dean Shareski, Gary Stager, Chris Lehmann, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and David Warlick (to name a few) weren’t talking, they were listening. And, when the Tony Baldasaro’s of the world weren’t listening, they were talking. It was a three-day conversation between and among 500 people passionate about teaching and learning.
Here’s the other thing… It wasn’t about technology. Sure, technology was everywhere and the work of the SLA technology team and students (who ran the help desk and ran live streaming) needs to be commended, but this conference wasn’t about technology, in part because it was assumed that technology was part of learning, it was embedded not an add on. There were laptops, netbooks, iPhones, iPods, Droids, etc. but it was so ubiquitous that no one noticed. I couldn’t help but wonder what our schools would look like if classrooms “looked” the same.
I have been the data “guru” in our district for about a half dozen years now and I am really beginning to question my role in propagating its importance. Data is very important in our district (as I am sure many others) but I fear that it is used as a weapon to attack rather than a prescription to heal and unfortunately, since I have been called upon to testify so often about its meaning, I feel as though I have legitimized its ability to cause damage.
In part due to my experience at Educon and in part due to my continued struggle with the meaning of assessment data and our use of it, I wonder what our recent round of test scores really mean. I say that as an Assistant Superintendent of a school district that did very well on the state tests – 93% of our 8th grade students scored proficient or better on the state reading assessment with 1 out of every 2 8th graders scoring in the highest category. But, in light of my experience with PLP and Educon, I have to say that I don’t know what that “success” truly means. Does it mean that 93% of our kids have truly learned and if so, learned what? How does their performance on the state test relate in any way to the act of learning? I am not naive enough to think that accountability in the age of NCLB will disappear, but I want a model that can somehow account for learning, learning like what I experienced at Educon this past weekend. But, as hard as I try, I can’t adequately “quantify” my learning at Educon, most likely because it wasn’t linear. Yet my time there was too valuable to pretend that it didn’t impact me as a learning leader.
This all leads me to the following question:
If accountability is here to stay (for the short term anyway),
and If accountability drives our schools as we know that it all does,
and If we accept the fact that traditional pedagogy doesn’t meet the needs of a 21st century classroom,