I went to a conference yesterday, or rather an unconference. Edcamp NYC. You can learn more about Edcamp(s) by going here: http://bit.ly/i7SZgE. I was fortunate enough to discover Edcamp NYC through Twitter. I registered, and took a quick twelve-block walk from my home to The School at Columbia University where the event was held. I was lucky to have this event in my back yard. Aside from meeting and sharing ideas with interesting, talented, dedicated and inspiring educators (There is nothing gratuitous in that statement.), three things about the day stood out for me.
First, though it ought not have surprised me, was the overall level of technical sophistication of the group. I say it ought not have surprised me, because my introduction/invitation to the event came via Twitter. This group of teachers was self-selected, in part because these are people comfortable with social media, and, it turns out, lots of other technology. There were almost forty different presentations one could attend. Many of them were about using technology to help teach, both in the classroom and as a way to extend the classroom. Laptops abounded and the presenters I saw showed dexterity and sophistication both in the preparation of their offerings and in their moment-to-moment presentation that was stunning. Schools and teachers that content themselves with their proclaimed excellence and believe they can continue to live on their reputation while shunning the advantages technology can offer are in for a rude awakening.
Second, was the heartening discovery of good things happening in schools. There has been such a hue and cry about what is wrong with school systems, schools, and teachers – how we’re all going to hell in a hand basket – it was exciting and comforting to witness evidence to the contrary. The work of Mike Ritzius, Frank Williams, and Nicolae Borota to implement and execute an exciting program that places so much responsibility for learning in the hands of students at the Camden County Technical School in New Jersey is a sign of a promising future that will not, blessedly, depend upon teaching to a test. Their work shows so much respect for students. They are courageous, inventive and leaders to watch. Check them out on Twitter: @mritzius, @fronk2000, @nborota.
More good news from New Jersey, this time from Edison. Chuck Poole and Christine Spiezio teach at the Herbert Hoover Middle School. Their work teaching English, getting middle schoolers trained in both the etiquette and the nuts and bolts of blogging is most impressive. The kids respond to the notion that what they write is being read by other people. They have an authentic audience, not just a teacher. Chuck and Christine have got kids excited about writing. I can guarantee they’ve also got kids using technology with a facility their parents, or many in their parents’ generation lack. True, the emphasis on standardized tests is on computation and reading ability. Nonetheless, the drive their students show to write, to communicate at a more sophisticated level, makes it clear that these kids won’t be left behind. Find Chuck and Christine on Twitter at: @cspiezio and @cpoole27.
Or you could check out the work Meenoo Rami has done with her high school students at the Franklin Learning Center in Philadelphia. What impressed me about Meenoo’s work is her fearlessness and willingness to push ahead, to create something new. She too, has students creating blogs as part of their work in English, putting their writing out there for the world to see. And the world does see it. Find Meenoo on Twitter at: @mrami2.
And finally, consultants like David Ginsburg - http://www.ginsburgcoaching.com/ and Miriam Bhimani at Teaching Matters www.teachingmatters.org with compassion and wisdom. People who understand that a teaching career means a career of adapting, learning and continually refining a craft.
These happen to be a few of the people I encountered. What strikes me is the quality of the small sample I happened across. I have no idea how many other terrific people I did not have the opportunity to encounter. To me, Edcamp is an example of how education in this country will ultimately right itself. For all their press, for all the bluster, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Cathy Black, Arne Duncan and the like will have little effect on lasting change. Teaching is artistry. Good teachers learn through apprenticeship, through connecting with one another. The craft advances one to one. Grassroots. Small steps. A place like Edcamp sets the stage. Teachers show up, work, share and learn together, and take what they’ve got back to their classroom and their students. It reminds me of a song lyric: “Light one candle, one small flame. Don’t just stand there cursing the darkness, waiting for the light of dawn. Light one candle, one small flame, and the darkness will be gone. “ I left Edcamp at the end of the day with renewed hope that teacher to teacher, we will make a difference. The real leaders in education are hard at work remodeling, reshaping and recreating and extending their classrooms. We may not know their names, but they are out there, and they will make a difference. At the end of the day call me a happy camper.