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Three Takeaways from EduCon

I spent this weekend at EduCon 2019 at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. For anyone unfamiliar with EduCon, the creators of EDxEDNYC dreamed up the idea for EDxEDNYC on the train ride back to NYC from Philly after attending EduCon several years ago. To quote the website, EduCon is “an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools” — a future that is inquiry-driven, includes student voice, and uses technology to serve learning.

Here are three takeaways from EduCon 2019—ideas that will shape my work as a teacher coach in urban high schools and an educator of pre-service teachers over the next months:

  1. “You can’t restore a relationship that didn’t exist.” In a session on leadership and coaching practices that support social justice, we discussed one school’s shift away from punitive discipline systems towards a restorative justice approach. A session participant was quick to point out that in many cases, this approach works, especially when teachers have established strong relationships with their students. However, in some instances, there may be students we haven’t yet been successful in reaching. Relationships are foundational to learning. As teachers, it is our responsibility to create relationships with ALL of our students and then to leverage those relationships to support learning. This is not always easy. When breakdowns occur in the teaching and learning process, or in the respect between teachers and students or students and teachers, these relationships function as a point to which we can return. In the absence of relationships, though, there is nothing to return to except the breakdown. One way I plan to build stronger relationships with my students is by looking at my rosters and reflecting on what I know about each student outside of their academic performance. Starting with students I know least about, I will select one to two students each class to try to learn more about each day.

  2. Teaching is a political act; education is a political sphere. While taking a public stand may feel risky, as educators, whether we move towards activism or decide to avoid it, either decision is equally impactful and political. By virtue of our role as educators, we are invested in a fight for educational equity for all learners. In Val Brown’s (@ValeriaBrownEdu) session on What Does it Mean to Teach for Social Justice, we jumped into Teaching Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards. Depending on where we are in the work around equity and social justice, working through the four domains (Identity, Diversity, Justice, Action) as individuals, with teacher colleagues, or with our students can be a concrete way to do this work.

  3. Participating in conversations with like-minded educators is both invigorating and challenging. Every conversation session I attended pushed my thinking about teaching, learning, students, teachers, and how people from all over the country are working to provide amazing educational opportunities for their students. It was simultaneously inspiring and overwhelming. I left Philly with a long to-be-read list, some ideas about practices I can shamelessly modify for immediate implementation in my own learning communities, and a sense that there is still much to be done. Chris Lehmann (@ChrisLehmann) and Zac Chase (@MrChase) offered some practical advice in the final session I was able to attend: planning small changes and clear first steps is a way to bring the ideas from the conference into the realities of schools. I’m ready to get started!

Kate Spence is an instructional coach in urban high schools and an associate professor of education at Fairleigh Dickinson University. She previously taught English at both the middle and high school levels. Spence specializes in curriculum development, professional development, school change, urban education, teacher preparation and induction, literacy, and inquiry-based instruction. As a coach, she enjoys success in collaborating with teachers to develop and implement curricula that leads to higher order thinking for students.

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