Saturday, February 27, 2010

At 35,000 feet

Blogging as an act of defying gravity this morning! I'm on the plane, headed home from 3 days in San Francisco at the NAIS annual conference. The wifi on the plane is such a bonus--I'm not the world's happiest flyer and the attractions of playing around online do a fabulous job of distracting me from the stresses of worrying about "what was that bump?" every few minutes. Of course, I've already tweeted that I'm pondering the fact that wifi is easier at 35000 ft. than at the Moscone Center.

Today's post is an extended thank you note to a number of people who have inspired me to think and build new connections in my brain lately. It's not a reflection on the many wonderful, thought-provoking sessions I attended--that's coming later.

This is the third time I've attended this conference and the second time I've presented. It's a conference that can be a little intimidating--lots of heads of schools and senior administrators in attendance. I co-presented with Jason Ramsden of Ravenscroft School, who is one of those fast-thinking, fast-talking, million miles a minute people who are just fun to listen to. It was an honor to be invited to present with him.

As so often happens, while the session went well, the thought and planning that went into creating the session was the most professionally satisfying part. Jason and I have been having an ongoing conversation about innovation for almost two years. We've been talking (along with Sam Morris, Meredith Stewart, and Matt Scully and a few thousand other eduthinkers) via podcast chat rooms, twitter, email, skype and occasionally we're even in the same place at the same time.

The conversations take on different flavors, depending on the focus, the type of school, current events, student needs. . . but there are recurring themes. What do students need and deserve from educators? They need our A game, every day, every period. How do we keep getting better at what we do? We need to be creative and forward-thinking in our professional practice. Are these notions in conflict? How can we be at our best every day if we are also supposed to be taking risks and accepting that we'll fail sometimes?

I'm not sure we solved that dilemma in our session, but I hope we brought the right questions. The truth is that our students leave every class with (we hope) new meanings and connections in their minds. We can't put this meaning in those minds, they have to make it. The same is true of attendees at a conference session. And that's why we encourage innovating (and accept responsible failure). Because if it is done intentionally, a la Peter Gow, then students will be empowered to make meaning out of the experiences we share with them. And so will we.

I tried something new for me and included some unscientific drawings in the session. I was inspired by Jessica Hagy, whose brilliant blog first came to my attention with her Why Teachers Drink post. I'm not the only person who has been inspired by Hagy's work, but I bet I was the only one at NAIS with completely data-free graphs in my presentation :) To the left is my favorite, inspired by Ralph Davison's "Think small, big ideas scare people."
And, because it's my blog, here's one more on how good things (autonomy, feedback) can become problems (neglect, micromanagement) without intentionality. I'm going to try making more of these in the future because drawing them forces me to reflect on my thoughts in a non-language way that I'm not accustomed to doing. It's unbelievable how many drafts of these simple diagrams I created along the way. New dendrites!

I was grateful that the group arrived ready to talk--we had several pair-share times built into the session, and I should have known that a room full of independent school educators would have no trouble making the most of that time! We also had a live-blogger in the room, many thanks to Chris Bigenho for sharing his talents with us.

One of the comments that was shared during the discussion time focused on not letting the pace of surviving the day and its challenges keep us from reflecting on our practice and growing intellectually. That is a constant challenge for me and, I think, for many others. I am grateful to be an educator in the web 2.0 era. I benefit every day from the tools that make it so easy to participate in a network of "smart happy people" who push me to reflect on my practice.

So--to those I've mentioned and many others I haven't, a heartfelt thank you, this session couldn't have happened without you! You defy gravity every day!


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