The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

Reflecting on my learning – Day 2 of the Birmingham Learning Conference

The second half of the Birmingham Learning Conference proved to be just as valuable as the first. Solid sessions, great dialogue, and a true exchange of ideas made for a tremendous conference experience. Having attended my share of two day conferences, I always find it interesting to see how “day 2” goes, are the attendees still fired up? Do the conversations become redundant? In this instance, the learning simply continued to build, as did the energy among the participants. I participated in and overheard a number of action oriented conversations about how educators are going to take the lessons learned and apply them to their schools. The thinking and imagining are clearly happening, and will, based on the conversations around me, lead to action.

Reflecting on my own learning, today I am walking away with:

Lesson #1 – Twitter is the best thing to happen to educators in quite some time.

During this morning’s keynote, I found myself on Twitter posting ideas that resonated with me. This led to two conversations, one with someone attending a similar conference across the country, and another with participants in the same room. Both allowed me to reflect on the presentation as it was happening, deepened my own thinking, and made me even more engaged in what today’s keynote speaker, Ron Berger, was talking about. While I was able to talk about what I was thinking during his presentation, I wasn’t a disruption to those around me, because Twitter allows for silent, global communication. In addition, when Twitter was not available for 45 minutes today, I felt a small sense of panic and disconnect. These are the signs of an amazing tool!

Lesson #2 – We need to expect more from our students.

Ron Berger’s central point, that kids are capable of amazing things, was one that resonated with me strongly throughout his talk. Teaching in a small town, he was able to guide 4th and 5th grade students through projects that were rigorous, personally fulfilling, and also contributed to the world around them. His website and examples were a sign of what students can accomplish and let me thinking about the optimism our future would hold if we were able to engage students, beginning in Kindergarten, in work that solved local and global issues. The day ended with a panel discussion that featured two recent high school graduates who blew me away with their insights about how important culture is to the success of a school. A reminder of how much potential is in our classrooms.

Lesson #3 – Go all in.

I sat in a presentation about engaging boys in writing. What impressed me most was the approach these educators took with their students. Allowing elementary boys to write about “gross” topics, building a comfortable space, going outside the school day, and praising their small successes got these kids to pick up a pencil and start writing. The data jumps for students participating in this work was outstanding, and an example of what is possible when we break away from what is seen as conventional wisdom.

Lesson #4 – If you build it, they will come.

I attended a session on data rooms and was impressed with what I saw and heard about the conversations teachers have when they have time built in to their day to sit down and really unpack what student data is saying. Analyzing trends and looking at student growth led the staff in the example I was learning from to really collaborate and get creative about how to help students who struggle and those who achieve. The data led them to the 5 tiers of RTI that I have advocated. What I appreciated most was that the process was facilitated and led by teachers. Differentiation, enrichment, and remediation were a product of staff collaboration, not an administrative mandate.

Lesson #5 – Start with the people.

So often, we find ourselves saying “how can we teach the curriculum and provide character education?” I sat in on a panel discussion that was a reminder to start with the people. As I pointed out to our students during the 8th grade ceremony, if you start with people and let them know you care, everything else will fall into place. If we want to build tolerant, safe places, we need to foster humble, positive relationships.

Over the past two days, I have taken the time to think, and I have imagined several new possibilities and ideas. Moving forward, it now becomes about working with our staff, students, and parents to create. I’m already looking forward to getting started.

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