Friday, November 7, 2014

Bringing It Back Home

We teachers love to attend good conferences. We swap ideas, weigh down our suitcases with free stuff from the vendors, and let's be honest: it's all about the local food. We get to say to our colleagues for years afterward, "Isn't this a cool lesson? I learned it at that conference in Philly!"

I just attended a conference in New Orleans without teaching workshops. Without vendors. Without poster presentations. And this was the most inspiring conference I've ever attended.There was singing and dancing at this conference - yes, I participated. There was a parade - yes, I participated. There were problem-solving, colleague circles, cage-busting, high-fives and shout-outs. Yes, I participated!  I did not want it to end. I looked for my colleagues on the plane. I sought them out on twitter with our hashtag (#ecet2nola). I've continued to interact with them since via facebook and voxer.

So here it is: ECET2 New Orleans. ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers and the entire convening - that's what we call it, not a conference - was wholly focused on this task. Funded by the Gates Foundation, it elevated and celebrated our work every day. The staff and organizers did this. Dr. Irvin Scott, the Deputy Director for Effective Teaching, did this with daily calls to convene (and sing, and dance!) The attendees picked that ball right up and did it when we supported each other through colleague circles.

Sound hokey? Yeah, in the way an old-fashioned revival is hokey. Yeah, in the way a wedding is hokey. Yeah, in the way meeting the President is hokey. Not hokey! One hundred percent genuine, and you don't hear me gush like this often. ECET2 got it right, folks.

Here's a video about the convening, made during the convening.

Now why did I get to attend this incredible weekend in New Orleans? I was lucky enough to be selected as a keynote speaker for the "Cultivating a Calling" series. All the speakers in this series are teachers sharing our stories on stage. We rehearsed and supported each other throughout the weekend. Our stories are here: Anthony MarshallDwight DavisMatthew Keefauver, and me.

Let's break this down. What do the ECET2 people want? Why did Gates pay for all these educators to travel and attend and eat at this conference? Because here it is: They want teachers like us to bring it back home. They believe that elevating and celebrating effective teaching and teachers will promote positive problem-solving, professionalism, and improved opportunities and outcomes for students. Because as every educator knows, a school's culture can have an enormous impact on all of those elements, which in turn affect student achievement. If educators do not promote and participate in this kind of positive, uplifting behavior, we will be impaired in our efforts to teach students effectively. That's the bottom line.

So what happens next? What happens is I keep in touch with my #ECET2 pals. I help plan a Western Montana ECET2 convening. I get the sound system ready. I invite teachers to speak. I practice my shout out voice. Because that's what we do: we lift each other up, we celebrate our successes, and we plan for more.

And for the record, it really is all about the food, y'all.

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