Post-Conference Thought

On the drive home from Educon this afternoon it hit me that I expect one of my colleagues to ask me about the conference tomorrow. When I return from a conference she always says something to me about how I should share with the team what I’ve learned, how they’d love to hear about it. I believe she’s letting me know that she thinks what I am doing is valuable and that she genuinely would like to learn what I have learned.

When it hit me tonight, however, it stressed me out. I don’t ever feel like I have anything to say. Not that I haven’t learned anything at a conference, just that I can’t figure out what to share. I think my colleague is hoping I can bring new ideas about teaching students to become better readers or writers or historians or such. I can’t.

Which isn’t to say that what I learn at a conference doesn’t help my students grow as learners, thinkers, and teachers themselves. It definitely does. It’s just that I can’t turn around and say, “Here’s an interesting idea you can try in your classroom tomorrow.” I no longer attend sessions that would give me something like that (not that such sessions really exist at Educon).

I want sessions that look beyond my classroom, that are bigger and broader. I want to talk about systems and change and theories.

I could still learn from sessions that share specific teaching strategies, of course. I am not a perfect teacher. But, two decades into this, I’m a pretty good teacher and I believe my time is better spent working on bigger issues. We could all be perfect teachers when it comes to helping our students learn the required content and skills and we still wouldn’t be fully serving them. The required content and skills are important, but so is helping our students look at their world thoughtfully and critically and know they are able to improve it. So is thinking about how we improve ourselves, facing our own biases and analyzing our own values. So is discussing how to have difficult conversations around these ideas with colleagues and families and community. If I could only figure out how to have what should be a simple conversation with my colleague.

One of the few pictures I took at Educon. This is Matthew Kay, a teacher at SLA, as he led us in a discussion about having difficult conversations about race.

I have every intention of writing more about Matthew’s session as well as several others and other moments from Educon soon. There is much for me to think about, reflect upon, and process.

6 replies on “Post-Conference Thought”

  1. Charlene says:

    Jennifer, my reasons for attending conferences and PD are exactly the same. I want to challenge my thinking and processes by knowing what happens outside my daily world. Sometimes it’s just good to have my thinking affirmed and to meet people. It’s pretty personal as I think about it. Your post really has me thinking about this idea now!

  2. I have found the same thing after attending conferences like Tapestry and Eyeo. It’s not about replication—that I can go home and do the same projects. There’s something deeper and more revealing at these types of conferences. More about thinking than doing, in a sense.

    I am continually surprised, however, by how many places I’ve presented where educators only want the idea they can take back and try tomorrow. Not that this is a bad goal (it’s one of the things I like about ASCD)…but sometimes we need a guide to reflect and build from within. I wish more valued that.

    • jenorr says:

      Earlier in my career I definitely was looking for ideas I could take back immediately. So I totally get that desire. Over time, I think, I got to the point at which I had plenty of ideas and wanted something more. What I am looking for now doesn’t immediately impact what I do in my classroom in a clearly visible way, but I am confident it actually impacts every single thing I do.

      More revealing is such a fascinating phrase. I think it really hits on what I was thinking.

  3. I love this comment: I want sessions that look beyond my classroom, that are bigger and broader. I want to talk about systems and change and theories. Perhaps teachers have become conditioned to pick up quick ideas rather than question/consider/critique the systems that we are entrenched in. How do we change this culture and ultimately, renew and renegotiate some of the ‘hard places’ of teaching and learning?

    • jenorr says:

      It definitely took me time as a teacher to be ready to face the ‘hard places’ of teaching and learning. It is, as you said, hard! Now that I’m two decades into this, I am excited by that challenge. And grateful to all the other educators who are working and willing to share their thinking and struggles about those ‘hard places’.

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