Monday, July 7, 2014

Education Commission of the States National Forum: Great Minds...and Changing Times

On the road again.

After a week of recouping, I'm back on the travel circuit. From now (actually from last week) until the first week teachers return to school, I am away from home at least one night every week. Now, I like to travel, make no mistake. And this year, I have discovered how much I enjoy meeting new people, all who have taught me something deeper about either education or life. There's something gnawing at me, besides the mosquitoes staking their claim in my backyard. Although October seems a year away, summer signals the wind down to this incredible, life defining season. What do you do with all of the experiences, skills, and information acquired? Maybe more importantly, when am I ever going to have time to process it all, because any time that I have had to myself this summer has been taking care of myself or cleaning my house. 

I'm having a hard time getting into the spirit of the season, as I view Facebook pictures of friend's families on vacation or at the pool. I'm uncertain of what the future holds, and I've been thinking about it a lot. It's clouding over the sunlight streaming through the windows as I sift through the mountains of papers on my desk with one hand and type this with the other. When this all began, I figured it would be a lot of attention for a year, then things would just go back to the way they were. I thought that long before I had a single experience or encounter with the people that have changed my life. I said this experience would not change me, and it did without my consent. 

I hate to open up a blog post with heavy thoughts, but I had no idea what it meant to be teacher of the year, or what would happen during my tenure. Believe me, I "Googled" it all the way home from Charleston last October. Hopefully by sharing my own highs and lows of this journey, it helps someone else - or maybe this is just one of those things you have to experience to fully understand. Either way, this is my record of what I experienced - and how I felt. 

Back to the travels. Last week I was in Washington, D.C. again for the Education Commission of the States (ECS) National Forum on Education Policy. Farmers Insurance sponsors the current class of state teachers of the year to attend this event and learn more about education policy on the national level. While not your typical conference where you leave with ideas for your classroom or school, it did provide us with an opportunity to meet with those who shape education from the outside. It was also great to meet up with one another again - the first of several opportunities this year's group of STOYs will have in the coming months to connect before we go our separate ways. 

2014 STOYs in attendance at this year's ECS National Forum

With Jane Schmidt, Iowa TOY, and Darlene Sutton, South Carolina TOY
I made the big screen for Tuesday's session :-)

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education, opened up the forum with an EdTalk on the "Educonomy" and engagement in the teaching profession. It was a very powerful speech on how the current shift to focusing on test scores  and evaluations is overshadowing the need to engage learners (and teachers) in their role as learners. Students and teachers who feel positive and protected in their roles are much more likely to produce the results that we keep chasing.

Another influential voice we heard from that week was Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy. If you aren't familiar with the Khan Academy, it is a not-for-profit that creates videos and resources to provide, as Sal says "a free world class education anytime, anywhere." His approach and views on how education needs to transform in order to meet the needs of students in the digital age is profound, and online video is truly going to equalize our outreach in education.

Sal Khan

Flipped Classroom pioneers Johnathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams also provided insight as to how video learning prior to classroom instruction promotes quality instruction. While this is definitely the future of reaching all students, I see many issues regarding infrastructure, student access, and teacher knowledge (teachers need to know and have access to the equipment to create even the simplest online content) before it can be universally effective.   
Aaron Sams and Johnathan Bergman 
Flipped Classroom Web

Pre-kindergarten education was also addressed at the forum. As part of a panel made up of James Barnett, Jr. (Rear Admiral, United State Navy), David Brown (Dallas Police Chief), and John Pepper (former CEO of Proctor and Gamble), the importance was discussed of giving students of all backgrounds and economic status the ability to secure needed skills - particularly social and emotional - before entering the traditional classroom. 

On the other end of the learning spectrum, higher education and teacher preparatory programs were discussed regarding accountability and affordability. While there is a emphasis to push our students to college and career readiness, there needs to be the proper supports in place for students who are prepared for higher education to have the ability to complete a degree that will prepare them for their chosen field.  
Janet Napolitano (President, University of California), William
Kirwin (Chancellor, University of Maryland), and Jim Geringer
(Former Governor of Wyoming and Co-founder of Western
Governors University)

There were also several breakout sessions on teacher leadership, school finance, kindergarten requirements, civic education, and so many other educational issues in the political realm. It was a lot of information to take in within three days. While I agree that education policy is where the decisions are made for our those who are rarely inside of a classroom, I felt out of place the entire time I was there.

 I don't know what life will be like a year from now (just thinking about how much has changed since last year is mind blowing enough), but I don't think the policy table is where I will be headed. I'm a maker, a creator. That's where my heart is, and where I found the joy that brought me to this point in my life. That is why I feel a void in my life right now  - I miss the interaction, the creation that goes on in the classroom. Policies change. Programs change. Kids, however, are the constant, and what they need to be successful depends on people who care - not for the glory or the prestige of a position, but because it brings joy to the learner and teacher. The more things change...the more they really do stay the same. 

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