For the first time since January 2020, which feels like eight lifetimes ago, we got to spend this past weekend in Philly for Educon. I first attended Educon in 2009, the second year the conference happened, and I haven’t missed a year since (although we all missed 2021 and 2022). In 2010 my husband joined me and he has returned ever since. This year we took our kids (ages 19 and 16) with us. It was exactly what I needed. Time with brilliant, thoughtful people. People who are kind and caring. People who are ready and willing to fight for what education could and should be for kids. People I hadn’t seen in person in three or five or eight years.
I got to sit down and talk, albeit briefly, with Matt Kay. The first time we’ve been in the same physical space since 2020, more than a year before we started discussing, planning, and writing our book. A book that is already available for preorder (although, if you wait, it’ll probably be cheaper from Stenhouse directly). And I realized after we were on the road heading home that we didn’t take a picture together. That feels like a missed opportunity. We did do a session together at Educon and that feels like we’ve come full circle. Educon is how we first met and the reason we know each other. So it feels right that it’s also where we first did a session together. I am grateful for every opportunity to continue learning from Matt.
There are so many things I don’t want to forget from this weekend. And so many things I still need to reflect on more, think about more deeply. To begin, Science Leadership Academy (SLA), the school that hosts Educon, is in a new building. They should have been in it in 2020, but weren’t (a much longer story than is needed here).
SLA is co-located with another high school, each of them having half of the school building. They share the auditorium and gym (maybe?) and cafeteria (maybe?) but otherwise the building has basically been cut in half from top to bottom and SLA gets the right-hand (in my view) side of the school. Previously, they shared an office building type of space, without a gym or auditorium. It was far from ideal, but it doesn’t seem like this is more ideal, in many ways.
One of the things that has impressed me from my first visit is how thoughtfully people at SLA use the space they have. From creating spaces where students can gather wherever they might be room for them, including wide hallways and little nooks, to the ways classrooms are organized, clearly for students to interact with one another and move around. The spaces they have at SLA are not, inherently, better than spaces in other school buildings. In fact, in some ways, they are quite possibly worse. It doesn’t matter. Adults and kids at SLA will make it work. And they’ll do it together.
Educon has a student co-chair for the conference. This year that student is a junior (and an absolute delight, of course) so she was not at SLA the last time Educon happened. It had to be a challenge to help plan and run a conference without having ever seen it. And without having a lot of institutional knowledge, as the only students who had been here for Educon before were the seniors. But students having a voice and a role in their school is a priority and it shows.
When I first began attending Educon, SLA seemed like a utopia. In many ways, it absolutely is. But it is a school. A public school. Within the Philadelphia School District. It has it’s challenges, many of them. The students don’t all arrive fresh-faced and eager to learn, even though they’ve chosen SLA. The students don’t all fly high and shine in their classes, even with thoughtful, caring, wise teachers. The students at SLA are high school students, with all that involves. It is amazing to get to see and spend time in a school that believes in the brilliance of the students and teachers there. Believes in them even when they fail. Gives them another chance to shine.
I had no intention of writing this much tonight, at least not without getting into my reflections on the sessions and other conversations I had. I think there was something to seeing SLA through the eyes of my teenagers that got me looking at it anew. And I am grateful for that. Just as I am grateful for the time there this weekend.