Educon always begins with a general session where principal Chris Lehmann (photo credit: Sarah Sutter) addresses everyone, setting the stage, centering us … it’s always a brief but powerful talk, filled with deep gratitude and enormous pride, the culmination of countless hours of meetings, conversations, connections and other planning that makes this amazing event possible.
Chris seemed especially proud this day of his staff and students, relating a story about how not too long ago, the Educon community, facing a “difficult time,” a bonafide school crisis, saw his charges step up and provide HIM with support. In their words, Chris said he was told, “WE GOT THIS.” Without saying any more, he painted a vivid mental image of a group of young leaders, well-equipped after years of life in this school culture, to come together, analyze a problem, develop a solution, and do whatever it took to execute. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the essence of leadership.
Chris then introduced the morning’s Welcoming Address speaker Marilyn Perez – his boss – Regional Superintendent – Central Region, School District of Philadelphia, with characteristic brevity, eloquence and power. I’ve often wondered where and how Chris developed such effective leadership skills … was it in the classroom, or as a young administrator in New York City, or here in Philadelphia? To be sure, the answer is all of the above. Introducing Marilyn, he said that when he has an idea or wants to try something new, and he contacts her, she asks three questions in response:
1) Is it good for the kids?
2) Do you have a plan?
3) How can I help?
Just let that sink in for a minute. Three simple questions with such incredible clarity and focus, simultaneously addressing the school’s mission, its value on planning and process, and shared responsibility/teamwork. Oh, Chris is learning on the job at The Science Leadership Academy. The evidence is everywhere you look.
When Marilyn took the podium, she greeted the audience in English and fluent Spanish. She radiated power, confidence and purpose as she spoke of her background, her path to her current position, her priorities for the children – all children – pointing out that she, a product of the Philadelphia school system, knows all too well that the struggles for survival many of these kids endure every day. Because she faced those very same challenges. And yet, she overcame the odds, went on to earn a masters in educational leadership at Temple, and today brilliantly and passionately leads an enormous collection of (I think she said 30) K-12 schools in what has to be one of the most economically challenged and complex urban environments on the planet. Her quiet, determined, firm yet flexible style is clearly leaving its mark on Chris. And SLA is all the better for it.
My first session, “Conversation: Elementary School In The 21st Century – How Does The Pedagogy Change? How Does That School Look, Or Not Look?” was led by Brian Crosby. Though he started with a few Powerpoint slides, the focus quickly shifted (as expected) to a conversation, with the audience (about 75% elementary teachers like me, the rest administrators and others) going back and forth on the value of and necessity for technology in instruction (or not); the role of school, community and teacher leaders; the impatience we all feel with the pace of change; and what is working for us in our classrooms and districts. The 90 minutes was over quickly…
After lunch, I chose Jackie Gerstein‘s “User-Generated Education: An Authentic Student-Centric Model of Education.” This outside the box conversation challenged us to debate, using Socratic Seminar protocols, this essential question: “Should a student-centric, user-generated education be the predominant learning model for this era of the 21st Century?” Powered by her session wiki, with a CRUSHING amount of resources and technology, we worked individually and in groups as we reviewed, discussed, debated, disagreed, and logged our thoughts in a variety of forms, facilitated by Web 2.0 tools, all while participating via Elluminate. As expected, we didn’t arrive at neatly packaged answers to the problems facing education today, but we did leave with new ideas and a refreshed sense of spirit to try them with our students. I know I did!
Then, in a dramatic shift back to ‘real life,’ I attended Lucy Gray and Debbie Leslie’s “Using Technology to Foster Exploration and Reflection in Science,” which was a discussion of effective technology integration in a typical science curriculum using readily-available Web 2.0 tools, parent involvement, and guided inquiry. http://www.sciencecompanion.com/ provided the framework for the discussion, which was supplemented by personal anecdotes and techniques offered by the participants, as well as a detailed exploration of the “I Wonder” Circle:
Snow started falling in the early afternoon and by the time I walked back to the hotel, it was truly a winter wonderland, very scenic, as shown below (image credit: Lisa Thumann), a peaceful end to a thouroughly invigorating day of learning.
And today, Sunday, January 31st … we get another! See you at Educon!