On Friday, January 29, eight of us left our school in suburban Philadelphia and made our way to the Science Leadership Academy. It was a short 20 minute ride. We had our entire PLP Year 2 team along with the chair of our science department. So the adventure began
Two of us had attended last year, but we did not arrive on Friday. When we all arrived, we checked in at the entrance of Science Leadership Academy. (SLA) We were greeted by very welcoming students and equally welcoming parent volunteers who checked us in. It was a very organized smooth check in.
This student created poster was in the hall, welcoming post-it note commects
A student tour guide approached and told us that he would be our tour guide. He was an outstanding guide. More on the tour later.
The Friday night panel at the Franklin Institute was an impressive display of connected learning. The title of the panel was “What IS Smart.” A great question that should be asked in every school. The panel was outstanding. The back channel on twitter was also outstanding.
With iPhones and other smart phones aglow, the #educon tag was all over twitter as questions were sent to Chris Lehman, the Principal of SLA, who sat in the front with his iPhone. And those not asking questions were commenting on the proceedings adding value to the whole experience.
On Saturday and Sunday, we had opening discussions and then the conversations began. Instead of passive presentations, EduCon, like SLA embraces dialogue on the topic at hand. Facilitators would kick things off and then the discussion would ensue. This format helps to make EduCon the most effective conference there is.
I attended 6 sessions over the weekend. They were all great. Some of the conversations I attended included: Subversive PD, Introduction to Inquiry, User-Generated Education: An Authentic Student-Centric Model of Education, and Metacognition. All of the sessions were tremendous learning experiences, but two really stand out.
Chris Lehman’s “Leadership 2.0 started out with an overcrowded class room. Packed to the walls. As a high school admin, the topic appealed to me and the session was well worth the time. Chris, as always brought his passion for leadership and schools as caring communities to the session. I think that we all left with renewed energy to transform our schools.
The other was David Jakes “On the Development of Learning Spaces.” David brought his expertise and friendly nature to the session. He started by distributing a paper handout and willingly took the groans for using actual paper. But I still have it! The session focused on converting existing school environments into ones conducive to community and learning. It has made me really think of our classrooms, my classroom, my office and other spaces around the building.
All of the session information and archives can be found here.
While I know this is a long post, I have saved the best for last.
The student guided tour was a tremendous learning experience for our team. Coming from a traditional school, we saw a very different
SLA student guide teaching our group
way of doing things at SLA. Our guide, Jeff, was outstanding, answering our questions and even taking us into an empty room to explain how the school schedule works, and how the assessment process works. And we were an attentive group!
All of the SLA teachers we met were welcoming and willing to answer all of our questions, and we had many.
My take aways:
- When we entered a class, at first glance, it was difficult to determine where the “front” of the room was. This is truly a learner centered place.
- The students we met were happy to answer questions. They all seemed to really love being SLA students. And while they had varying views on some of the questions asked, they exhibited a strong sense of ownership. If we heard the word “we” once, when referring to their school, we heard it a hundred times.
- One comment from one of our team stands out. They said on the tour that they felt no tension in the building. Very cool.
- Every student we encountered greeted us with a smile and was happy to talk with us.
After the tour, we all had a late lunch and discussed our day. All were impressed beyond words with what they saw. The inquiry driven, project based approach seems the direction that many of us would like to go.
The eternal question is, when you see a school as right as SLA, can it be replicated? There were about 500 motivated progressive thinking teachers there. Enough to start 100 new schools. Enough to transform hundreds of existing schools. But can it be done?
I humbly say yes. Not replicated in the sense of copied, but replicated in the sense of taking the core ideas and shaping them to fit each community. If we have spent 100 years shaping the industrial model to fit communities, can’t we now shape progressive ideas, that are by no means new, that can now flourish in an embedded, technology rich, (but not tech focused) environment and make it work? Why not?
Thanks to Chris Lehman, the faculty, parents and students of SLA for EduCon. It was a tremendous learning experience, one that has provoked much thinking and reflection. It was also great to meet in person, so many people that I have only met online. It is powerful how well we know each other before we meet. I am looking forward to EduCon 2.3 to learn more, and meet more of those in my ever expanding PLN.
Our school team has not stopped discussing our EduCon experience. We have been discussing it on our school ning site and soon will get together for a face to face reflective dinner.
Thanks for taking the time to read this very long post. Comment if you would like!