1. Change is in the Air

Big kudos to NAIS for its continuing work to challenge us, its members schools, to embrace change, and along with that challenge, to give us advice, encouragement, and tactics for doing so.   As PatBassett is fond of saying, “if you are not a school of the future, you may not be a school in the future,” and I think he is right: Disruptive Change is coming, and coming on strongly, and we need to adapt to thrive.  But with the distribution of Switch (which I have read and I like,  and will review here soon), the publication of the new Change guide from Jim Tracy and NAIS, and the multiple sessions proclaiming a new era in learning, this was powerful and valuable: TIME to CHANGE schooling.

2. New Tech Network and Edutopia featured  in general session

The morning general sessions disappointed; the afternoon general sessions rocked (though it was disappointing that the afternoon sessions seemed to have much fewer in attendance).  Best was the Thursday afternoon session on Schools of the Future; I was enthralled by this conversation, and very delighted to see two of the most importance forces in educational reform today, New Tech Network and Edutopia, get this strong attention.  Wanda Holland-Greene, by the way, did a great job facilitating (I envied her so!).  The messages from these two organizations, which have some common roots in the North Bay of San Francisco (Marin and Napa) are strikingly consistent: Learning must become the focus rather than teaching,  and students learn most and are engaged best when learning by doing in authentic, collaborative,  performance tasks.

3. Wagner, Tracy, and others deliver the goods on educational reform

Several other sessions carried forward and reinforced the work we need to be doing to better carry our schools into the 21st century.  I was delighted by both Tony Wagner’s session (previous blog post), and by Jim Tracy’s session– (blog post forthcoming), and their message on why change must come, what change looks like, and how to promote change.   Sadly, there were many other sessions on this same topic I missed but would have loved to have seen; that they were available is testimony to the fine forward progress of our association.

4. The excellence of naisac10 blogging and tweeting, and of our NAIS Technology Directors

A huge shout-out here to Chris Bigenho for his excellent and industrious management of the naisac10 wordpress blog, twitter feed,  and the affiliated sites.  I am so delighted to feel myself increasingly a member of an on-line virtual community of bloggers and tweeters (many of whom I have never met in person), and I am learning so much from these fine colleagues.

I have said this before, but I will say it again: when you follow the blogs, the tweets, and the ISED list-serve, you can not help but notice, and be fascinated by the realization, that such a large proportion of the most excellent writers  and reformers within NAIS are our Directors of Technology.   You (you know who you are) are our brain trust, you are pushing our envelopes, you are setting the agenda, and I thank you for your intellectual leadership for educational reform.  (I only wish I had the skills you have such that I could be one of you myself someday!).

5. Moral Courage

Change is hard, and reform takes courage.   Irshad Manji, Friday afternoon, was inspirational: this is a woman literally risking her life every day to promote freedom of expression, critical thinking, and the essential role of self-scrutiny in our contemporary age.   She kept apologizing that her session ended up being more about reforming Islam than about the teaching she does about moral courage universally, and in some ways I was sorry not to hear more about that, but in actuality she was genuinely showing, not telling, moral courage, and I was very impressed.  This was a great way to close the conference with gusto.

6. Michael Thompson scores twice

Michael also spoke compellingly about courage and change, and it was surely a highlight of the conference.  Full disclosure: I didn’t get to attend either of Michael’s sessions, but I didn’t have to attend them to know that they were excellent.  The buzz on the twitter feed was so strong, and the energy in the hallways after his session so positive, that I regretted greatly missing them.   I did see and greatly appreciated a fine writeup of Michael’s session on Boys.  My wife attended this talk, and came away moved to tears and greatly reassured and strengthened in her role and responsibility as mother to two boys.   His message here is SO important.

But returning to the other MT session, Headship and Courage, as much as I enjoyed the tweets running on #naisac10 about this session, I haven’t found anyone’s writeup about it: does anyone know if it was blogged anywhere?  (I think Michael deserves his own general session next year).

7. Frustrated by wifi

As a San Franciscan of sorts myself, it was a bit embarrassing to be in my city which prides itself on its technologically forward focus and suffer so severely from wifi-fail.  This is Moscone Center, where Apple itself holds it annual convention: come on!   No wifi was available in the conference rooms, whether free or even paid (though I still wonder how Jason did his live-blogging), and the wifi in the lobbies I found to be inconsistent and slow.   For this attendee, this deeply reduced the quality of my experience.  I want to be online as speakers present; I want to be surfing to check out and bookmark website the speakers refer to, and I want to be enjoying the give and take of the twitterfeed, and these experiences were effectively closed off to me.   Please NAIS, please make a high priority of strong wifi capacity for future conferences.  (Oh, and more widely available electric outlets wouldn’t hurt either.  Both, wifi and outlets, were far more available in naisac09 Chicago).

8.  Captain Independent

Actually, I didn’t mind Captain Independent so much; I was mildly bemused at times, and thought he represented a gently playful spirit.   His participation was a little glitchy, and the pauses were awkward, but I felt we should make room for NAIS staff to experiment and take risks, and be forgiving.   That said, I will report to nobody’s surprise that many, many other attendees seemed strongly put off by the avatar’s presence, and expressed disgruntlement that at the precious financial resources invested in the goofy avatar.  I will agree that his chortling about a man’s putting hands-on Wonder Woman was anything but a high point for this conference.

9. NAIS: the negative scuttlebutt

Cpatain Independent aside, I guess I was sorry to hear more criticism of NAIS itself this year than I am used to hearing.  I can’t say with any authority that this is distinctly different; maybe I am hearing differently.  But in several different conversations, I heard people expressing frustration with the cost of the annual conference, the one-way communications that some of the sessions demonstrated, and the awkward way NAIS was handling the whole issue of SSS, financial aid needs assessment, and the controversy over the same topic with ISM.

I’d say that the general tenor out there was less positively appreciative of the work NAIS is doing right now than I have previously observed.  (One small additional observation: having Pat, more than once I think, take the stage to the awesome REM song “I am Superman” may have been a tiny bit hubristic… I felt this way, and I a big admirer of Pat; imagine how his critics must have felt.  Then again, maybe we should all just have a better sense of humor.)

10.  Keynote fail: Huffington and Enriquez

Maybe I am being too strong in labeling the keynote speakers as failing; neither did a terrible job.  But the expectations are high for these major speakers, and I was let-down.  Huffington didn’t offend me, but I didn’t quite get the value she was to offer; to my eyes, she is a bit of a celebrity, famous for being famous.  I like the Huffington Post, and I thought her words were inoffensive– some of them were even nice.  But this was not someone who is changing the way I view education, and she is not inspiring me to become a better educator.  I also found her talk to be an awful lot about herself, and I wasn’t at NAIS to learn more about Arianna Huffington.

Enriquez is an incredible scientist, and has  interesting world-view, and to his absolute credit, he did inform me, he did open my eyes to an enormous change coming on in the world.  But his speaking style was drab, and I wondered whether we could have done as well with a 10 minute talk, or a 15 minute well made video, and then used the remaining time a debate, an exchange, an interactive session.