1. Economic High Anxiety: Concerns about the Roiling Waters of this Perfect Storm. While Pat Bassett did come onto stage amidst an gorgeous video display of a hurricane’s fury, he did show a clip of a Mel Brooks movie, and he did also speak two other times on financial stresses and potential reactions, I almost feel like the conference understated the depth of the problem here. Attendance seemed down, considerably to my eyes. Although the occasional survey of the audiences which I saw indicated that people were worried but not overwhelmed, we must not overlook the self-selection problem here: those of us in attendance are much more likely to represent the doing-relatively-better schools, and I am worried about our colleagues who are not in attendance. When I heard Pat Bassett go down the list of tactics, he emphasized cutting spending on so called non-defense categoris, and then asked the audience: what are areas where we can cut? The responses from the crowdabout what to cut?: paltrey, few, and weak. This is a scary moment for us, this huge economic downturn coming just after we have escalated our tuitions so greatly above inflation. As I flew out of Chicago Saturday I read the Times, (along with probably many of you), and saw a piece that both the newspaper and the magazine publishers are canceling their annual conventions this spring, and it made wonder how confident I can even be that there will be an NAIS Annual Confernce next year?
2. CWRA: Excellence in 21st c. Assessment. A big highlight for me was my having the opportunity to attend a non-official session, presented by the folks at College and Work Readiness Assessment. CWRA is, I think a really interesting and really important advance in giving us in secondary schooling a new measurement tool, for data-driven decisionmaking and evidence-based marketing, that measures in the right kind of way (value-add and open-ended constructed response) the right kind of learning (higher order thinking skills, problem-solving, written communication, critical thinking). It was nice to see a very small shout-out for CWRA from Pat Bassett; I want to continue to evangelize for CWRA in the years to come.
3. Oprah! I am not sure whether to be embarrassed about that celeb-thusiasm as I watched Oprah speak, but I know, looking around the room, that I was not alone in that feeling. Some of the heat I felt was generated solely by her celebrity wattage, yes. But, she is more than a celebrity; she does offer enormous leadership in to many people. More importantly, she is in the midst of doing on a grand scale what many of us educators have often dreamed of: building the most idealistic school ever. Hearing her say she was “now one of us,” hearing her say that “what you do is harder than it looks,” hearing her say that she now appreciates the importance of high quality school leadership: all were things I don’t think I will forget. Thank you Oprah: for your South African Leadership school, for your solidarity for us, and for joining NAIS this year. (And than you Reveta Bowers for arranging this; Reveta, as someone on stage said, you are the Oprah of our NAIS world!).
4. Rhee Rocks. Michelle Rhee is a terribly problematic and polarizing figure in educational leadership, and I have been finding myself awfully conflicted in the way I think about her for many months now. She can be, and probably should be, pretty fiercely criticized for her tactlessness, her utter lack of unifying efforts and skills, her focus on standardized testing results as the measure of teacher performance. The way she speaks about many of the employees of the DC District, many of them well intentioned and doing their best, or what they think is their best, in a tough job, is hostile and degrading, and probably very unfair. After all that, how can I still praise her? Because she is so fiercely passionate and unwavering and relentless in placing the cause of children’s learning not just above all else, but in place of all else. It is the only thing, (at least her rhetoric demonstrates, and I am not in a good position to judge her practice), that matters to her. She articulates a dedication to put in every DC classroom a teacher who will ensure real student learning that reminds us of other heroic leaders in their causes to overcome segregation or end British rule. And although I dislike measuring teacher quality by high stakes standardized testing, I do want to point out that when Rhee spoke about good teaching, when she described it vividly, it was not teaching to the test, rote, or drill and kill, rather it was richly interpersonal, inquisitive and inquiring, creative and compassionate.
5. Michael Thompson on Technology & Boys. This was an alternative type of presentation by Michael, and I say that having seen him speak seemingly dozens of times, and, it should be said, always wonderfully. As he said himself, this speech was a first-time topic, very much a work-in-progress in contrast to his normally polished (and obviously oft-delivered) pieces. Today he was thinking out loud, inquiring and inferring, offering tentative conclusions. Technology has been oversweeping the lives of our children, and our boys especially, like a tsunami, and it is hard to make perfect sense of, even for Michael Thompson. But, despite this speech’s discursive nature, he took a stance that I found very affirming for my own thinking. One key point is that boys (and girls!) need much more free, unstructured play time, exploring out-of-doors. They need time in nature, time unsupervised, time making their own games. But, and this is a big one, MT doesn’t see this is as either or; he doesn’t pose this as a false dichotomy of nature vs. technology. I hear him to say it is a both/and: our children need much more time in the great out-of-doors, AND they can have good, great experiences in play and learning by being on-line or playing video games. MT really offered reassurance that the negative isn’t SO negative: gaming is often violent but there is no research to support it inducing violence; pornography is more available but first-time sex ages are rising; and the interesting stat that as gaming and the internet dominates so much of our children’s lives, their IQ’s are rising! For me, the most important of many things he said was that as our children increasingly move away from TV, dropping it like a stone, and move away from being watcher and become ever more increasingly actors and doers and (on-line) publishers, our learning environments in classrooms must move too, away from being “shows” and toward being places of engaged activity, frequent feedback, and of creative publishing and communicating. This last is huge!
6. Geeks to Great, Torres, Twittering– Admiring the Tech Professionals. Those of us who follow the ISED list serve regularly, or visit ISEnet-ning, already know this, but I am continually struck by how much our technology professionals are leading us, are our industry’s most interesting educators, are asking the best questions and reframing the debate most importantly. I saw this again and again at NAIS: when I read tweets about the terrific Howard Levin workshop on 1-1 laptop computing; when I observed the creativity and pedagogical thoughfulness of Marcos Antonios Torres; when I enjoyed the very impressive Geek to Great session; and when I read the tweets on Twitter from a dozen or more CTO’s who were so active on that network at this conference, particularly @raventech, @sarahhanawald, @lizbdavis, and the phenomonally prolific @nandikerry.
7. The Global Education Session: Takeaways. This was my first attendance at GES, and I think it is an important addition to the program, and I commend NAIS for adding it. Like anything, it had its hit or miss qualities. Although most in the audience were really delighted by the work being doing in Atlanta by Luma Mufleh, and so was I, I yearned for a bigger picture keynote, from the likes of last year’s Appiah. And I still don’t know what happened to the the Global Curriculum panel advertised in the program (although advertised with no place or time), and when I asked NAIS staff about it, nobody knew when, where, or whether it even took place. But in the sessions, I enjoyed learning about, and learning from, some really good programs: Andover’s very impressive Niswarth- Mumbai program whichintegrates community service with 21st century skills of inquiry, collaboration, and problem-solving; Providence Day School’s interesting and innovative Global Studies diploma program; and Washington International School’s excellent project taking their student journalism on-line and global.
8. Appreciation to NAIS staff and fellow bloggers. While I have been determined to offer my honest assessment of the event, warts and all, it really has to be said that this was another very fine NAIS Annual Conference, and a big cheer to Amy Ahart, Heather Hoerle, and everyone else at NAIS for the herculean effort to stage it. I have personal appreciation for Kitty Thuermer, who has been such a chamion for us Annual Conference Bloggers. The video and graphics were outstanding, the speakers excellent and varied, the theme consistently implemented. I said at the beginning of my NAIS entries that I love coming to NAIS AC, and I eagerly anticipate attendance at future NAIS AC’s for decades to come. Also, a quick shout out to the other bloggers, including Michael Obel-Omia and KaTrina Wentzel who also were official NAIS bloggers, and also the blogging of Jason Ramsden, Liz Davis, and of Sarah Hanawald.
9. Chicago is a great town, and I greatly enjoy coming here for NAIS LTP (Leadership through Partnership). But, I have to say, I just don’t think this venue is especially effective for the AC. The convention center is too far from most of the hotels; the building is a bit soul-less and sterile (nearly no public art, for instance); the walking distances inside the center seemed much too long; the wifi service was both expensive and frustratingly spotty; the ushering staff at the center I observed to be hostile and aggressive at times (not always, certainly not always, but sometimes). Myself, I have much preferred Denver, San Diego, and Baltimore venues to this Chicago one.