Exhaling at EduCon

Note: The bulk of this was written at nearly 11:30pm on Saturday, 30 January 2010, upon arriving home from EduCon 2.2.  I just wanted to get these thoughts down before I went to bed and lost the feeling I had at the time; “post-production” tweaking was done with the benefit of a clearer head and a few hours of sleep.

I’ve just walked in the door from Educon 2.2, a conference structured as a series of breakout conversations about current and future issues in education, facilitated by classroom teachers, professors, researchers, and students, among others.

I was fortunate to attend sessions led by Gary Stager, Ben Hazzard & Rodd Lucier, and Jon Becker & Justin Bothan.  In between I spent time walking around the conference site, Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and taking in the classroom setups, the facilities, and even the little details like the posters & flyers on the walls.  The majority of what little down time I had, however, was spent speaking and rubbing a friendly elbow with many people with whom I had heretofore only corresponded online via Twitter or Facebook.

Doubtless, there will be a flurry of blog posts over the next week about how great EduCon was (and it was!), and what people’s favorite presenters or sessions were, or what have you.  What’s on my mind right now, however, is the value of the time spent in between sessions.  I imagine that most folks at EduCon have a few things in common:

  • we fancy ourselves “progressive” educators (for whatever that might mean to each of us)
  • we are proponents of increasing student access to technology
  • we believe that there is a significant degree of change needed in the American education system, from the federal level down to individual classroom practices.

I don’t know that these phrases always describe the majority of our colleagues outside of our little online pseudo-social circles.

While it’s easy to look at the folks congregating in-between (or in some cases, during) sessions and cast aspersions that they’re prioritizing socializing over their own learning, consider how isolating the teaching profession can be in general.  Then, place yourself in a small subset of educators who can be defined by the above criteria.  For teachers who work in districts where their passion is not only ignored, but sometimes actively discouraged or prohibited by colleagues and superiors alike, social sessions with like-minded people are a necessity for sharing ideas, blowing off steam, and, as someone I spoke with earlier today said (I forget who, sorry!), “remembering that we’re not crazy”.  In some cases, it can feel like a deep exhalation.

There’s always been talk of the dangers of the “echo chamber” effect in ed-tech circles online.  Yes, it’s a valid concern, but considering how far the pendulum swings in the other direction for most of us in our professional lives, it’s not as if there’s not plenty to bring us ‘back to reality’.  Indulging in some off-the-clock camaraderie, perhaps even at the expense of a structured, scheduled activity, is not only acceptable, but vital to our continued advocacy in the face of continued opposition.  The sessions gave us plenty of food for thought about what we can do differently (or do more of) in our classrooms, buildings, and districts, but the shared food, drink, and laughter outside those sessions nourished our souls.

And I’m definitely going back next year for seconds.


  • You pretty much nailed it. As I said to a couple of people this weekend, I know that the kinds of conversations we had there this weekend are conversations that we, for the most part, just aren’t having at our own schools. It’s essential for us to have the chance to say the things we either can’t or won’t say while we’re off dealing with the politics of our own jobs on a day to day basis. It’s also nice to know that, even if we’re all talking and blogging all the time on Twitter, we can still learn a lot from each other when we get together in person and do some seriously constructive PD.
    .-= Dan Callahan´s last blog ..This week’s comments elsewhere (weekly) =-.

  • (re: the echo-chamber) Agreed.
    It’s important to be aware of the potential dangers of an echo-chamber. However, I’ve heard Deborah Meier note that to drive change you need a “community” for support & guidance. Going solo is draining and causes even the most persistent individuals to tire quickly. I have no such community at my place of work (as I imagine is true for many “progressive” educators). My online network has filled that space and been a source of great support and knowledge.

    I’ve decided that next year is definitely an “Imma-goin-to-EduCon-no-matta-what” year. Hopefully I’ll see you there next year.
    .-= Ben Wildeboer´s last blog ..“Typology of non-optimal video use” =-.

  • […] Exhaling at EduCon | Apace of Change […]

  • Thanks for adding more echoes to my chamber, fellas. 🙂 Hoping you’ll both be coming down to Philly next year; I really have no excuse, as I’m only an hour train ride away.

    I’m slowly coming to the realization that my desire for conversation and camaraderie around these themes stems less from a desire to incorporate tech into curriculum (although I do think that’s important) and more for a desire for overall reform of the educational system in this country. The technological stuff and the attendant attitudes, I’m finding, are simply aspects – microcosms, maybe? – of my larger desire for change.

    Changing the US educational system – no prob; we’ll do a conversation on it at EduCon 2.3. 😉

  • Damian, I always appreciate your thoughts, whether on Twitter, or here on your blog. That said, I won’t be adding to the echo chamber. That is to say, I find gatherings such as EduCon comprised of the same cadre of folks from year to year – few fresh, new voices – and the same conversations. So, is it truly “progressive”? Not sure. Now, this is coming from one who has not attended EduCon, and the observations I’ve made are two reasons why I have not attended. I trust that the converations in which you engaged Damian were genuine and enriching, and yet, beyond that, to what end if each person who attended doesn’t live the courage of her convictions, takes a risk, and speaks a bit of truth to power to the status quo? It’s just another conference where good conversations were had, until the next year. So, my question is: How has EduCon transformed education?
    .-= Marcy Webb´s last blog ..Fun Resource for Middle School Foreign Language =-.

  • Marcy said: “…to what end if each person who attended doesn’t live the courage of her convictions, takes a risk, and speaks a bit of truth to power to the status quo?”

    I’m totally with you on this, Marcy. I think a major problem (and this crosses over a bit into the conversation Scott McLeod & Russ Goerend had a few weeks ago on Twitter re: leadership in education) is that by & large, the folks at these conferences tend to be classroom teachers who may be able to influence what happens in their classes, but with little overall influence in their districts. They can stand up and speak, but if their voices go unheard (or ignored) by decision-makers who don’t like or don’t understand what they have to say, what other recourse do they have? Or worse, if their own fellow teachers disregard them? I’ve always thought change like this needs to start from the ground up, but without at least a small group of like-minded folks, the lone reformer can get burnt out pretty quickly.

    So how to combat this? Dunno. Maybe we need fewer teachers and more admins at these types of things? I know there were some principals, AP/VPs, and maybe even a superintendent or two there this year. What I’d like to see in future years is a more even distribution of classroom teachers and admins (and other folks in support roles, like me) taking part and bringing their support back to their individual districts. I think that might be more beneficial in the long run.

    How has EduCon transformed education? It hasn’t, but I’d venture that’s an awfully heavy load & potentially unfair question to pose to a single conference or event. I think it does its part by providing a space for folks to discuss systems, structures, and practice in education in addition to the neat tech tools that seemed to bring us all together online in the first place.

    With regard to fresh new voices, that’s another point in EduCon’s favor – anyone can apply to conduct a session, not just by invite only, as some conferences are. And as far as I know the folks involved in the selection process, I have no reason to believe there is an agenda at work with regard to censoring certain topics or ideas that don’t fit within a specific philosophical worldview.

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