First 2017: Not Your AVERAGE Conference

Summer 2015

I had the opportunity to attend an annual conference, The Institute for Better Learning put together by the kind folks over at First Educational Resources, LLC. This is my second year attending the conference so I knew that a great conference was in store. After briefly reading through the pre conference materials, I was surprised to see that this year’s conference would be set up in a format that allowed for the participants to choose sessions that would best fit their needs and have time to collaborate at the end of each day. Amazing presenters such as Todd Whitaker, Garth Larson, Tom Hierck, and Myron Dueck to name a few, embraced sessions sharing their wealth of knowledge and providing learning experiences that can be put into practice at all levels.

With my Ipad, notebook and pens, and an open mind, I approached this opportunity ready to take back ideas and much-needed clarification into my next school year. I also came with a yearning to create a new recipe that would be sufficient for both the workplace and personally. The conference began with one of my personal favorite presenters, Todd Whitaker who spoke on What Great Educators do Differently. He provided advice and real life experiences that seem to have had the crowd nodding and praising throughout the quick keynote. Many points that Todd touched on resonated well with me for many reasons both in and outside of the workplace.

  • Teach others how to be effective, don’t tell them
  • Cultivate society, don’t reflect it
  • Have high expectations for your students and even higher expectations for yourself
  • Treat ALL People as if they are good
  • Study both effective and ineffective leaders…practices, yourself, etc…know how you are perceived by others

I could literally go on and on about many points that were made that I see as an ability to make greater growth in my district/school, but these stood out the most. I feel as though taking the time to reflect on how effective we are in our own buildings…throughout the district would give educators a chance to make necessary changes and begin to put the I that is cleverly hiding in TEAM back. Doing this would definitely help us go from great to AMAZING by putting more effort into creating great students that are ready to make a positive impact on this world.

Another great session that I attended that offered another view of classroom assessment was presented by Tom Schimmer. His session was all about instructional agility or making real-time moves when assessing students. Simple reminders such as training kids to assess themselves, planning with precision, and assessing day by day and minute by minute reiterated the true purpose of not just posting a learning target but making sure that students understand the target and the progression.

Throughout the conference. I stayed busy talking with peers throughout the region and sharing my thoughts on presentations given. Many conversations were sparked around topics such as homework, effective feedback, and assessment for learning. These topics combined with the increasing student achievement made great lunch and parking lot conversations. I was surprised at how many educators I encountered who could not get over getting rid of homework as well as those who still administered stickers and written notes for feedback. On the other hand, I was intrigued with those who were ready to put some of the practices discussed in place as soon as August/ September hits.

Overall, I was impressed with the presenters and how cohesively each presentation worked together, the session formats, and the powerful conversations that were sparked. The last day pretty much summed up the conference with a presentation presented by Garth Larson on student learning and a closing keynote by Myron Dueck that highlighted the importance of understanding students. Garth reiterated the importance of building a relationship with students and focusing on the #1 initiative in education which is LEARNING. This presentation really puts things into perspective when I reflect on how much time many educators spend on bickering with partners and staff, finding fault in any and every initiative put forth, as well as generally complaining instead of “focusing on less and getting better at what they do”. Furthermore, Garth discussed how building relationships goes beyond simply building relationships with students…we also have to ensure that we are doing this with ALL staff. We have to learn how to treat our colleagues before we can truly engage in teaching our students how to treat each other. Myron, of course, had the crowd engaged with his ups and downs of building relationships with his students. My favorite quote from his closing keynote was “answers divide, questions unite”. Many times we as educators are only given answers…a practice that we do with our own students. Often times there is no time to explain or go through the questioning process. How do we embed the importance of questioning into our current practices? How do we make questioning the norm? Of course, my only reasonable answer is to “Just Do It”. Adapt to the times, embrace change, never settle for less, and be ready to give your all at all times…my recipe for the new school year.