28 March 2015

What's Your Why?

I spent last weekend at the ASCD annual conference---my fifth one. They are a blur of conversations, learning, laughter, and vendor-dodging. I look forward to these moments all year. They are my opportunity to visit with friends I only see once a year and build connections that make my work at home that much more rich.

At one of the presentations, a student teacher group asked the audience, What's your why? For me, this was a great frame for the conference.

My "why" is different now than when I was a student teacher---when I was sure I could change the world. Robyn Jackson told a story during her presentation about when she was about to be a first year teacher. She was convinced that she was only months away from a book or movie deal. After all, isn't that what happens? An enthusiastic young teacher enters a classroom for the first time and transforms the system? (I don't know about you, but I've seen that movie many times.) While Dr. Jackson has had her own journey in the educational world, you know when you meet her that she has not lost her why...her passion for students and learning...her belief that she can make a difference, even if she never has that movie deal.

There was a fabulous keynote speaker: Sarah Lewis, author of The Rise. Speaking on how we develop our sense of perseverence, Dr. Lewis was resolute in the passion of her message and beliefs. Failure is neither an end or beginning, it is just part of the journey. It is part of how we develop our why. I am most anxious to read her book. I also recommend her TED talk.


The conference had a different feel this year and I believe that it was due to a more balanced approach to what was offered. It seemed like last year (and the year before) were way too heavy on edtech sessions. The great thing about a large conference like this is that it's an opportunity to learn things you might never run across in your day-to-day world...and sessions that focus on what a Twitter hashtag is dumb down the overall experience. Edtech has had its day in the sun and now it's time to let the grownups talk for awhile. Anyway, this year, most of the sessions were geared toward elevating our conversation in education. Lots more sessions with a focus on social justice, helping students create meaning, and supporting principals in their work. The quality of the why was increased tremendously this year.

This was the first year that I've attended the conference with several other people from my district. Many were first-timers at the conference, and their "why" was focused on seeing as many big names as possible. (I remember doing that, too, at my second conference.) It was a good opportunity for them to reflect on their current goals and hopes while listening to experts talk about their own vision. An annual conference is a good opportunity to consider the state of your why.

As for me? My why continues to evolve. I have had a grand love affair with my new job this year, even though it exhausts and challenges me relentlessly. Being around 9000 others who use the conference to recommit to the critical work we do with students is both energizing and reaffirming. I have no doubt that all of our whys are different, but I don't believe that matters. It's the collective voice and synergy that make public education as rich as it is.

I came home with some new ideas, a few books to read, and other ideas to share. Look for some new posts in the coming weeks that follow up on these ideas.