educon28sessionI was fortunate to be a conversation leader, an active attendee and support staff for the 9th convening of EduCon at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia from January 29-31st, 2016. I’ve been at all the EduCon’s, even before I was hired to be a teacher at SLA. The format mimics the classroom methods that fuel the day to day experience at SLA and must be why I always feel so at home leading sessions in those big rooms with all the spectacular sunlight.

This year, after a last minute cancellation, I was able to jump in and co-lead a session with Katrina Stevens, Deputy Director of the Office of Educational Technology, on the #GoOpen initiative, which was a treat. I hope to write more about that in the near future.

My ‘planned’ session was titled “Silver Bullets, Elixirs and Panaceas: The False Prophets of Educational Reform“. I throw some air quotes around planned because I don’t do such a great job at planning for EduCon sessions. Its more that I have ideas, a general jumping off point and then feed off the energy, direction and flow of the conversation participants to move us along a path. I say all of this to call attention to fact that the people in the room were as much a part of what unfolded as I was. All of this was done super low tech and on stickies with lots of chatter and discussion throughout.

Premise: There have been a gagillion propositions for what one thing will ‘fix’ American education. None of them are ‘it’.

  • Step One: Name all the silver bullets that have been pitched as the saviors of American education. Talk up at your tables.
  • Step Two: Identify which ones are junk and which ones are useful – Useful ones are those that might be a productive tool to have in the toolbox, but not ‘the’ singular answer.
  • Step Three: Add in other concepts, approaches, methods that you feel are important to have in the toolbox for a modern classroom/school/district.
  • Step Four: As a table decide on the top ten items that are must haves. Results from the tables are below.

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Wrap up: If you would have told me three years ago as I sat and listened to Michelle Rhee at the Free Library in Philadelphia that we would no longer have her voice dominating the educational reform scene, I wouldn’t have believed you. The loud, definitive voices claiming that ‘the’ answer for educational reform is found in standardization, testing, accountability and tough talk for teachers…  seem to be retreating. After surviving the decade+ slog through failed reforms, we have a proverbial PhD in what doesn’t work in educational reform. There is space opening up in our conversations, circles, PLNs and policy talks for new ideas, for a different approach.

We hold a particularly powerful position; we know what doesn’t work, from experience, and also what tactics we’ve been using all along to mitigate the pain and frustration associated with the failed reforms. We know what is needed. If in this moment, where there is space to have a new conversation, make a turn, course correct… we stand by and wait for someone else to fill the space… it will once again fill with the newest silver bullets, panaceas and elixirs of educational reform.

We MUST, in this moment, assert an affirmative position of change that resonates with our professional experience. We MUST not allow that space to be taken from us. We are 3.5 million strong. There are more of us than any other entity that is going to try and fill that space with their newest, flawed silver bullet.

Please take time to write about what those top 10 items on your list are.

Please take time to reengage your local community in what kinds of schools they want to create for their children.

Please take time to assert your professional expertise to guide the narrative around how to make our schools relevant and meaningful.

No one is coming to save us. We’re it.

Get loud, teachers, get loud.