Monday, June 9, 2014

Edcamp USA at the US Department of Education

Let me start out this post with an apology. I should have shared more in the past few months. There have been many blog worthy events and topics that have presented themselves. Unfortunately, there have been so many of those opportunities that I've been too busy to write about them. As time went on, I felt like I had so many blog posts to write that I was a bit overwhelmed to even start catching up. And, so I didn't write.

As someone who preaches to others the importance of telling the positive stories in education, I am sorry that I didn't share some of the incredible things I see teachers and students doing around me.  Here are a few brief descriptions with links to catch you up on some of them:
There are other amazing things going on at school, but that list gives you some idea of the things we've been doing. Because of those projects, Skype in the Classroom took notice of our school and asked me to represent them at a media event in New York City last week, and at the Social Innovation Summit, which is hosted by the United Nations. Being able to share stories of the amazing things our students and teachers are doing in front of thousands of the most innovative problem solvers and do-gooders from around the world in New York is definitely one of my career highlights so far.

Edcampers gather for a group picture after #EdcampUSA
So, that brings me to Friday.  The US Department of Education and the Edcamp Foundation collaborated to bring teachers from around the country and policy makers from the Department together in an unconference format to improve education for the first time. There was overwhelming demand among teachers to get a free ticket to the event, and I was fortunate enough to get selected in the lottery. I am also grateful that my district agreed to allow me to take a professional day to attend.

Anyone who follows this blog or knows me understands that I have not always agreed with policy decisions coming out of the Department of Education.  I can honestly say that I did not have high expectations that USDOEd would put much weight into the ideas that teachers shared at this event, and I was a bit worried that they would use it as a publicity event instead of an opportunity to really hear what teachers are saying.  Reflecting back on the day, I believe that the Department was very interested in hearing what we had to say.  I know that policy changes slowly.  I'm not expecting RttT to end tomorrow due to our discussions, but I think this was a positive step forward.  Welcoming teacher input and inviting teachers into the building to have discussions with policy makers was a positive.

I was pleasantly surprised at the feedback I heard from those in the Department. Emily Davis, a Teacher Ambassador Fellow at the Department is amazing.  She spent the day attending sessions, providing input, and taking notes to pass along to others in DOEd. We need teachers like her in higher policy positions.  I know she is looking forward to getting back in a classroom, but voices like hers are needed in rooms where education policy is being decided.

Right before lunch, Ruthanne Buck, a Senior Adviser to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (who made a brief appearance in the morning) sat in on a session in which digital leadership was being discussed. She seemed very impressed with the quality of the ideas being discussed and debated.  I had the opportunity to talk with her over lunch about educator-led professional development like edcamps, the need for teacher voice to be heard by those in senior policy positions, and the need for our best teachers to have avenues into those top policy positions.  She was genuinely interested in finding ways to give teachers more influence, which was a pleasant surprise for me.

The discussions at this edcamp were excellent.  Unlike many of the other edcamps I have attended, the sessions were more geared toward bigger issues and action rather than classroom pedagogy and tools.  There's nothing wrong with the latter topics, but this venue called for deeper and larger thinking, and those in attendance definitely recognized that.  The first session I attended, entitled "We're here. Now What?" was a great discussion about taking action to improve education.  Another session on building digital leadership also talked about actions we can take to help develop leaders who will take risks, push back against poor policies, and share success stories.  Both of these sessions made me realize that I have been shirking my responsibility to blog about the good things happening in my small corner of the educational world. In addition to continuing to share the positive stories I encounter at speaking engagements, I committed to doing a better job of documenting those stories here on this blog.

At the end of the day I accomplished another goal of mine for the visit.  As part of the grant I mentioned above, I would like to do some professional development for teachers in the Kibera Slum of Nairobi (more about that in a future post), and work with the Kenyan Education Ministry to put on a STEM summit in which teachers from Kenya have the opportunity to share their best practices with me, and I, as a PAEMST awardee, get to share some of the best practices I've seen in the US in return.  Emily was kind enough to take me upstairs in the Department to the International Affairs Office (I'm not sure if that's the official title) to make a connection who will help me coordinate those activities.

At the end of the day we were asked to commit to blogging about the day and committing to action going forward on the things we discussed.  Here are my committments:
  • I commit to blogging more often about the good I see around me in education
  • I commit to developing the potential leaders around me to be voices for student-centered, learning-focused educational policy through graduate course offerings, professional development opportunities, encouragement, support, and by sharing their success stories with the media.
  • I commit to fostering the connections I have made at the Department of Education, United Nations, National Science Foundation, the corporate world, and non-profit organizations doing social good to promote positive changes in education policy here in the United States, and internationally.