I've spent the last few days at Educon, a small (but growing!) education event at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. It's always a wonderful time to see old friends, meet new ones, and engage in some really thought-provoking, face-to-face conversations about encouraging and sustaining innovation in education. (The "con" in Educon, I should note, is meant to be more "conversation" than "conference.")
Last year's Educon coincided with a massive snowstorm that closed the school district on the Friday. That was disappointing (not just because I hate the snow and cold) as that day typically involves spending time exploring the school itself, visiting classes and talking with students. Science Leadership Academy gets a lot of attention and praise for its school (and deservedly so). In doing so we tend to focus a lot on the institution, the instructors, the principal, the community and the mission that makes SLA -- after all, I think everyone is eager to identify "what works" in education. But I'm always struck by how incredibly awesome the students at SLA are.
That's not to say that students elsewhere aren't awesome, of course. And I should note too: to get accepted to SLA, students must have good grades, good attendance, and a teacher recommendation, as well as complete an interview -- there's a long list of students who want to get in, and not everyone does.
But to the point of the SLA students' awesomeness: it isn't just that the they organize the event, manage the AV in the sessions as well as the live-stream, run a Twitter account that helps guide visitors to their school and city, and volunteer to take a bunch of grown-ups (teachers to boot -- ones that ask a lot of tough and probing questions about education) around their campus -- all impressive. It's that as the students do the latter, they do so with an incredibly sophisticated understanding of the school's mission and a strong sense of ownership over their own learning. I don't mean simply "ownership over their education" either -- I don't mean just what classes they're enrolled in and what major they're considering in college (and/or what college they're planning on attending) and what career they'd like to pursue down the road (although, yes, that's all part of it).
Rather, I mean:
Ownership over their learning. Fierce curiosity. A stubborn sense of inquiry. Courage to question. Courage to question adults. The strength to ask "why?" The guts to lead, not just follow. The realization at a really young age (14-18) that they must seize the reigns of their future and not rely on others to tell them what to think and what to know. Empowered and encouraged to be learners not just knowers. And also, take the stairs and stay off the elevator (the number one behavior infraction at the school).
The weekend at Educon was full of sessions about changing, rethinking, improving, questioning a variety of elements of the education system, much focused on what we do and how we teach. My brain's still buzzing from all of it, and have little to say yet (well, okay rather than this blog post) about the experience -- other than thanks Chris Lehmann, thanks all the teachers at SLA, and especially thanks to all the students, the latter in particular. You are why we fight. You are why all this really matters.