Sunday, February 8, 2015

Attending Conferences WITH Students

It's a revolutionary idea: let's start attending conferences WITH students. I know, I know. It's nice to get away from the task of creating meaningful experiences for them in order to create meaningful experiences for ourselves. But I tried it this weekend at NovaNow in Grand Rapids and I've never had a better, more meaningful conference experience. 

First, taking a half dozen students out of school for a half day (Friday PM) creates a bond that cannot be replicated in the classroom. Just to talk to these students on the drive to and from the conference was a real treat. We discussed what they should expect from an educational conference (teachers working on their craft while embracing the fact that students are there to learn) as well as the weekend's goings-on. No matter the topic, the time to talk with teens is rewarding in and of itself.

Then, once present at the conference, we split up: they attended a session on project-based learning while I was wondering about "the end of teaching as we know it" with some other deep thinkers. The time apart allowed for great experiences and then greater discussion when we came back together. We spent the next session together thinking about "the artist, the maker, and the standardized test taker". Throughout the session, we were able to think deeply about how students learn best and what schools of the future should do for student growth. Overall, the answer was--balance. Students should have the opportunities to build meaningful products, but they should also know how to sit and listen, how to take a test here and there. Balance. I like it.

Finally, it was my honor to present Elevate Empathy with their help. By having students in on the conversations of bullying and empathy, we can see the realities of it. And, in turn, they get an adult's perspective. Never in my short time running workshop sessions has there been more meaningful discussion. Why? We had students. We're all in the educational trenches together; it's imperative that we come up with educational solutions together as well.

In the end, it's the NovaNow leaders to thank for the opportunity. They see the value of the teen. It's because of their forward thinking--and my students' willingness to have unique experiences--that I could have the best conference experience I've ever had.