29 January 2011

The Messages

I'm sitting here in the second floor corridor of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia watching the flow of "EduCon 2.3" - a conference supposedly about educational innovation. I "know" it is about "educational innovation" because everybody says it is. Just as I "know" the SLA is an innovative success because everybody tells me that.

Traditional student/teacher status divider,
Science Leadership Academy
My goal is not to be cruel or negative. But I guess my goals are to wonder how we effect change if we never change the structures, if we only challenge the small issues?

So if a high school consists of classrooms and time periods and grades, can it really be a "game changer"?

And if a conference begins a day with an hour plus long lecture by powerpoint, and is held in discrete sessions in classrooms on a time grid, can it show people how to "change that game"?

Because I talked to a student yesterday who said, "If the teacher didn't give me a grade I wouldn't know if I was learning." And today the conference organizer seemed troubled that I was 'not in class.'

And that shows, doesn't it?, that we're modelling the same old thing?

- Ira Socol


Chris Fritz said...

Sorry to hear that the structure of the conference is disappointing. :-/ Seeing that kind of thing often frustrates me as well...that's why I'm looking forward to edcamp Detroit! I assume you're coming?

Looksee Fishy Fish said...

Hey there... I am the tech. coord. for SLA and I am happy to see your opinions. I need to clarify that the sign on the wall, "No Students On Elevator", was left over from when we did interviews here. There were over 1000 interviews for 150 spots, and our elevators are not equipped for that kind of traffic. We didn't want perspective students to be trapped in an elevator here at SLA.

Tom Hoffman said...

SLA is pretty much what it says it is and what it thinks it is, an educationally-progressive science magnet school in the Philadelphia School District. The hype around EduCon tends to get ramped up even more by people for whom a successful progressive high school is a novelty.

On the other hand, it is not a Summerhill model free school, nor does it think it is. The structure of the school is a self-conscious compromise to fit into the existing, treacherous political structure.

What sets SLA apart is the quality of the implementation. To be honest, "innovation" is a red herring. Everything that can be done in education already has been done, many times. What matters is how well you do it.

Anonymous said...

Marcie, this isn't meant as an attack, but that still seems a bit odd. What if a student needed to use the elevator for reasons of physical restriction? Do they have to ask permission for accommodation?

And what is the fear exactly? Is it that so many students would try to fit on the elevator at one time that it would break? If that were the case, wouldn't an elevator packed with heavier adults, for example, at a conference, be more dangerous? Or is it that the elevator can only operate so many times per day before it overheats or something? (Though if the elevator did have such serious problems, I would wonder why ANYONE is allowed to use it...). Or do you think ALL the students would try to ride the elevator instead of taking the stairs, causing a traffic jam in the halls, despite that never happening in other buildings, such as malls, where there aren't even special instructions, just for them?

Or maybe you're just afraid that students will find a way to mess up the elevator, somehow, perhaps maliciously, maybe packing it full and then coordinating to jump up and down, out of a random desire to break the elevator at the school they're trying to get into.

Honestly, the only reason for that sign that I can think of is a reflexive distrust of students. PLEASE, explain how I'm wrong. Explain what I'm not seeing.

irasocol said...


I hope to make it.


I think "quality of implementation" is good in a lot of places, especially in schools which hand pick 150 students from 1,000 applicants. This means that unlike the public schools I work in and with, a school can get away with a pretty narrow pedagogical model. Bronx Science is also great. So are select high schools - however funded - across the country. To me, SLA isn't "progressive" so much as "selective." For me, "progressive" schools have, among many attributes, open doors for the widest range of students carrying with them the widest range of human experience.


I must say I'm with "Anonymous" here. If the signs had said, "Please use elevator only as necessary," or something like that, your argument would make sense. But the signs declared "students" to be second-class citizens. And even if that was temporary, it is significant. As are SLA's differing rules for, say, eating in the Library. SLA's different corridor furnishings for EduCon v. Everyday, etc.

Honestly, what I saw was a high school. When I talked to SLA students (admittedly students hand-picked by SLA to interact with visitors), I heard about a high school. I think it is a high school filled with kids (often pulled from beyond the public school community) who are very good at school, and with great teachers who have the 'luxury' of working with students selected especially for this system. But a high school with the same class schedule, the same grading system, the same disconnect between rhetoric and student understanding that I find all over.

For me, the successful non-inventive school is the one which succeeds no matter who walks in the front door. And the successful inventive school is the one which breaks the Prussian/Carnegie model.

- Ira Socol

Chris Lehmann said...


We're a leased facility that had, up until three weeks ago, shared the space with a business that had offices on the 1st and 4th floor and shared the stairwells and elevator with us. We dealt with complaints from our co-tenets and our landlord about student use. And I fought that battle over and over again. But the elevators are horrendous. When they get any kind of frequent use, they break. Our kids know that and stay off of them, because when they don't, our students who need them cannot use them.

The sign, as Marcie said, was put up by our School Police Officer after fifteen prospective students rode up to the fifth floor during admissions weekend and got stuck in it for twenty minutes. I forgot to take it down afterward. My bad. It should have come down after the weekend because I agree, students should not have the Thou-Shalt-Nots all over the building. And I've probably walked by that sign three dozen times.

And for the record, I never ride the elevator because kids can't ride the elevator. It's not keyed... it's not locked. We ask kids not to ride it because it cannot handle the heavy traffic, and we get charged by our landlord every time it breaks.

As for the library, there are challenges to how we handle shared spaces. I ask Mr. Newman to manage the library as an open space, as a comfortable space... and if I had my druthers, he'd allow food. But I also have to let him find his comfortable space too, because he's learning, too. He manages that space far more openly, far more collaboratively with students, than most... is that good enough? I don't know. It is for now. We don't ban food in classrooms, we don't make kids eat in the cafe, and we are always having conversations with kids about how to take care of the community and manage those freedoms. And the cool thing is to watch upperclass kids teach the younger kids who are coming from very restrictive environments how to handle it.

And I have to admit, I'm frustrated by some of the ways you have characterized us... because it doesn't feel quite complete.

We do have kids busking in the halls... had we had school on Friday, you would have seen more of it, but I guess you didn't see the kids with the guitars in the halls over the weekend. It happens... there was a lot going on.

And it is frustrating that you focused on the Wordle, but neglected to show a picture of the linguistic / cultural display of masks at the end of the hall that speaks more to the kind of project that you enjoy.

And no, there are no bells at SLA. I hate them too. And, elevator sign aside, the rules of SLA are positivistic - respect yourself, respect your community, respect that this is a place of learning. (And please don't ride the elevator. I'll cop to that one.) The dress code - in a district that mandates a uniform policy - is that you dress in a way that does not interfere with another student's learning. All of those are meant to spur conversations about what "respectful" looks like, what "appropriate" looks like. And we do listen. And we do debate. And the adults don't always "win" the debate.

And while we put *more* tables in the halls for EduCon, there are always tables in the halls... in fact, we just got more. I think Trung Le's comments about how it is tragic that schools use 30% of their physical plant (hallways) for only managing student flow is spot on. Kids are everywhere at SLA.

Chris Lehmann said...

[Part Two - it was a long comment...]

And I agree - there should be comfort and joy in schools. And not just for some. We open at 7:00 am and we close at 6:00 pm. And kids use SLA as their community center. There are student run activities, there are shared spaces between teachers and students that are both "organized" (clubs and such) and not-organized (kids and teachers hanging out and learning together, laughing together, going out to eat, etc....) And more than that, we structure Advisory such that we all have a powerful reminder that they teach kids, not subjects, because I do believe that what you schedule and structure shows what you value.

And, students weren't hand-picked for EduCon, not by a long shot. If you wanted to take part, you did. And that's true of all our school events.

And what I would like you to know is that every one of those things are hard-fought victories for us. We are the *only* high school in Philadelphia that doesn't have metal detectors, and before you say that's because we're a magnet, there are *many* other magnet schools in Philly, including the two top test-score schools in the state (not that you or I think that is a measure of learning, but the district does) and they have metal detectors. I've been asked if I am willing to lose my job because of that, and I've said yes, because I never want my kids to feel like they are walking into prison in school. I fought about uniforms, I fight about metal detectors. I fight about curriculum. I have even fought for the right for kids to learn in the hallways.

As Tom suggests, we are what we say we are. We are a magnet school, which probably precludes your approval on its face. But I don't think that means we're not progressive. Ted Sizer developed many of his ideas at one of the most "elite" high schools in America. And at a time when the dominant paradigm is growing more restrictive by the day, we fight hard to prove that kids can be trusted... in a school that is 65% students of color, 49% economically disadvantaged, 9% special education. That may not matter to you, given our admissions process, and I understand that, but I believe that magnet schools can and should be an important part of the landscape of American schools. We may have a point of real difference there.

Our admission status may mean that you do not approve of SLA, but we try to be close to many things that you do believe about a school. You and I differ on some substantive issues - the role of magnet schools, whether grades can play a role in a healthy school - and that's good. We should have debate about all those things. But we make common cause about many things in education, and I do feel that your representation of our school did not reflect those things... nor did you do the very thing that you say schools should do - which is question. In your post, you did not ask why we don't let kids ride the elevator...

Which brings me to my final point... you say that I "seemed troubled" that you were 'not in class.' To my recollection, I asked you what I felt was an honest question, "Are there no conversations to your liking this session?" To which you replied, "I don't [do / go to] class." (I don't exactly recall which of those phrases you used.) To me, that did not feel like an invitation to dialogue, rather it felt like an end to one. If I missed something, I apologize as I was looking forward to talking to you this weekend, but I'd ask you to own your response as well... that there were other ways that you could have responded that would not have been as dismissive as what we were trying to do...

Chris Lehmann said...

[Turns out it was a really, really long comment.]

In the end, I hope you'll come back to SLA sometime... not at EduCon with 500 other folks, but on some other day... and you can see what we look like without the fishbowl of a conference, and at the end of the day, let's sit around with some kids and teachers and parents and have an open debate about what education can be, should be and might be. There are too many people would would reject what we both believe about what school can be for us to not find the places where we agree, because I think those places are many.

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach said...


By your admission you didn't attend many- if any - of the conversation sessions at Educon because of your personal circumstance. It is tough to make a clear judgment of something you only saw from the periphery and at a time in your life where you are less than 100%.

The conference or the school isn't about the building, the signs, the powerpoints ect.. it is about the people and the relationships. The opportunity to meet with people from my network face to face, to meet you for instance, to see folks from far away and have professional conversations the likes that I rarely had when I taught-- makes Educon worth it in my book.

Educon may not be radically different. But it is different. Because in just about every session I attended I was co-constructing knowledge and meaning- developing what Cochran-Smith & Lytle call Knowledge of Practice which believes that systematic inquiry where teachers create knowledge as they focus on raising questions about and systematically study-
ing their own classroom teaching practices collaboratively, allows educators to construct knowledge of practice in ways that move beyond the basics of classroom practice to a more systemic view of

I would be more apt to listen to your critique if you had indeed attended more sessions.

Just sayin'

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S.L. (1999a).
Relationships of knowledge and practice:
Teaching learning in communities. Review
of Research in Education, 24, 249-305.

irasocol said...


I appreciate your response. I really do. And I appreciate your struggles within the Philadelphia School System.

Yes, you and I do disagree on the value of magnet schools, and corporate funding, and maybe corporate branding. But I suspect we agree on much more. My issues with magnets - especially as models - is the limited impact, and that choice becomes a function - in most communities - of parental resources (not always monetary). I am troubled by admission policies (other than perhaps blind lotteries, as Philadelphia used 40 years ago with the Parkway Program) because I want to discover ways to offer solutions to every kind of kid. At least, that is my base-line for any school which sees itself as a "model" or part of a "movement."

next >
- Ira Socol

irasocol said...

My issue with EduCon is different. I know you don't feel this way, but it reminded me of a traditional high school social structure, with a very strong social hierarchy. I do not think that is intentional in the conference organization at all, but I also suspect that little effort was put into trying to break that. So, as Sheryl says, I didn't attend many sessions, but I did what I usually do in secondary schools, I wandered the periphery of the conference. I talked to SLA students for long periods. I talked to others who weren't comfortable in the sessions. I sat with people in corners... parents, first-year teachers, and others having a hard time "joining in." I realize this is not how Sheryl sees EduCon, nor the "A Listers," but that view is every bit as real, and important, as any other part of any conference or educational experience.

- Ira Socol

irasocol said...

Finally, part of the way I try to help schools re-think is to re-imagine professional development. Rather than conference sessions and keynotes, I like to walk the halls with students and staff, looking at all the unintended messages schools project, looking at all the possibilities often overlooked. Yes, I have the advantage of "new eyes," but I also can talk to different teachers in different ways by doing this. I can suggest social media connections and other personalized resources, I can light little fires rather than imagine "scalable" projects, because, I never want duplication, I want re-imagination.

So, yes, I see things like the elevator sign - it was the very first thing I saw on entering SLA, followed by an Apple sign - that you are likely to miss because I am new there and you almost live there. And I get to ask students different questions for the same reason. And that is the advantage of us doing "rounds" together as a path to that re-imagination.

- Ira Socol

Chris Lehmann said...

Great to continue the conversation... going to try to do a short reply because the SLA-work is piling up. [ed. note - so much for that. This is longer than yesterdays. Argh.]

Magnets are a challenge because they can be a force for real good and they can be a force for real bad. There's no question. It's why we do interviews, it's why our kids help us choose the next kids, it's why we make sure that we visit schools in the more economically impoverished neighborhoods in Philly to recruit so that kids are aware of our school... and it is why we take lots of kids from those schools. At their best, magnet schools can bring together students from across the cultural, racial, socio-economic and educational spectrum, and that's what we try to do at SLA. We ran an analysis of who we accepted last year, and we take a wider spectrum of "academic achievement" than any other magnet in Philly. A cabinet member here in SDP came up to me this year at a meeting and said, "You don't take who we thought you take. And that's by design, isn't it?" We are, still, a magnet school - one with as humane a process as we can make it, and one with a process of acceptance that models the kind of work we do - bring a project, show it off to us. As to the *insane* numbers we're seeing... over 900 interviews for 125 seats... yeah, I hate that. It speaks to the need to have more schools *like* this (not SLA - not replication.) We're using that to try to create the space for more inquiry-driven schools to start. Those conversations were moving before the budget crisis hit.

And in case anyone ever thinks that I believe in replication and scalability, I don't. People at EduCon kept asking, "When are you going to replicate SLA?" And my answer was, "We run a conference where we try to take apart everything we do for examination. That's the best idea I've got so far." I think that our community has to figure out what the principals / processes / questions that we believe in the most are such that we can help schools to move this way. We're up against some pretty formidable opposition, and we have to find ways to help people see another way as possible. Whether that is helping people to more powerfully own the CES 10 habits of mind, or the 3Is model or the Big Picture Schools model, I think it is incumbent on us to figure out how to help others move schools away from the dominant paradigm. I don't want to franchise SLA, but I also am concerned -- more than concerned -- that the loose affiliation model of a CES hasn't worked, and we have to find some kind of way to make this easier for people, while recognizing that it *is* really hard to do. If someday, another school in SDP gets the clearance to open / change / whatever to an inquiry-based approach, I really don't want it to be as hard as it was for us. That is where I feel a powerful responsibility for SLA to make a difference.

And I share your concern about corporate culture / corporate influence in education. We, admittedly, walk a fine line with Apple. But the School District of Philadelphia doesn't pay for SLA's 1:1 laptop program, and EduCon and private foundations only cover so much. We have to pass the hat to keep the program going. I'll admit that talking to Linda Nathan about some of the creative ways she has BAA fundraising gives me some ideas, but she takes corporate money too. It's really a tough issue there.

Chris Lehmann said...

And there's another problem that I don't have answers to there... corporate creep into education spaces is here. And in our world today, corporations have more and more (too much) power. If we cede the corporation / education discussion to only those who are currently courting them, I think we lose even more ground and marginalize the kinds of things we both agree on. And if we can leverage Apple as one more reason that the School District sees SLA as something to be nurtured, not weakened - and you and I both know what happened to the really innovative programs of the 70s here in Philadelphia when they didn't have the protection they needed. In the end, it's why I am very happy to have The Franklin Institute as our primary partner and Drexel as a close second. Apple is a vendor - a vendor that likes us a lot, but they are a vendor. Our partners are non-profits, institutions who are rooted in Philly and committed to Philly education.

As for EduCon, we too are trying to redesign the model of PD as well... One of the things we try to make explicit by asking folks to design their sessions w/ conversational protocols modeled after the NSRF protocols is to have everyone experience teaching and learning that way. I like panel discussions on the Friday night / Sunday morning because they are discussions and we can bring voices to an at-times insular community that aren't often heard. I'm thrilled that the take-away for some folks at EduCon was getting introduced to the amazing work that the people on the panels are doing. And I'm also thrilled that five of the ten people took the time to do smaller, conversational sessions. Is EduCon The Model, yee gods, no. We are a model. I like it. I'm not so in love with it to think we're perfect or we are what everyone *should* do. And I go to ISTE and I go to EdCamp both, because there are great things at both places. And I try to go into them with an understand of what the explicit and implicit pedagogies are at work, and take them for what they are. One thing that we have tried really hard to do is to be very explicit about our pedagogy. I cringe a little bit when people describe EduCon as an 'unconference' because we know we aren't. We're a conference... one with a specific, defined pedagogy.

And, and perhaps this is the biggest bummer of the snow day, Friday is a day for exactly the kind of PD you are calling for. Understand how terrifying it is for me to open up our classes and our school to 250-300 visitors on a school day. We have student-run tours, but we also just publish a list of our classes and encourage people to go in and take part / watch / engage / etc... and to give us feedback. And we do listen to the critique, because it is important to have a fresh view on things. And that doesn't just happen at EduCon for us. When visitors come to SLA, and we get a lot, if they just want to spend an hour, sure, we'll give them a tour, but if they come for the day, we give them a tour, but then we give them a schedule, and we give them some questions if they want them that they can use as a protocol for giving us feedback and critique, because I do believe that we have to be better tomorrow than we are today.... and I believe that need to have lofty goals and the joy is in the struggle to reach them.

Chris Lehmann said...

[Told you it was long.]

And I am not *quite* egotistic enough not to see the issues around the social structure you mentioned... (close, probably, but not quite.) It's a tough thing to manage. It is why we serve so many meals at SLA during the conference and ask folks to stick around and eat.  And we try to be inclusive by asking facilitators to use group work, get people talking, etc... so that both in formal parts of the conference and the informal parts of the conference, people are encouraged to talk to each other. And on a personal level, I try to model it by running around and talking to as many people as I can... and by making my session that I run about people talking to each other, not listening to me. We added more lunch-time "talk to each other" sessions this year, and I think we'll  try to create more spaces for those to happen next year. And I know that many of the "name" people who come to EduCon make a real effort to be "one of" at EduCon and just hang out. Some of it is really hard to manage. I mean, I know I was a *total* fan boy with Linda Nathan. I love her work, admire the heck out of her, and was so excited just to get some time to talk to her. I don't know... is the answer more than setting up protocols and spaces for conversation and then asking people, regardless of who they are, to talk to people with an open heart and mind and listen deeply and interact honestly with others, regardless of whether or not they read their blog or follow them on twitter.... or whatever. And let's also remember that people come to EduCon at all different places in their own lives, and several folks have commented on how they were much more quiet at their first EduCon and then realized this year that their voice was important. There shouldn't be a year-long lag on that. Last year, Tim and Zac (SLA teachers) ran a session in session one - "How to get the most out of EduCon," and much of it was about trying to create a comfort level for people - especially folks who hadn't been here before. Perhaps we should do that again next year.

Finally, let's also take a moment to enjoy this dialogue. It was on my mind today when I mediated a very challenging moment between a student and a teacher who were not seeing eye to eye.  The easy move would have been to side with the teacher and tell the kid to deal. I don't think -- I don't think -- I would have done that under any circumstances, because I don't think that's my MO in general. But today, your voice was very much in my head, and I was even more aware than usual of being worthy of this conversation and worthy of trying to walk in the footsteps of my heroes / mentors (even the mentors I've never met) in that moment. The awesome thing about that is that it wasn't just a good idea for this conversation, it created the space for both the student and the teacher to get to a place where they (we) could learn together. It required all three of us to listen deeply with an open heart and an open mind, and there were moments across a forty minute conversation where all three of us struggled with that, but we got there. And the conversation at the end was radically different than the one we started with, and it ended with consensus where none of us got exactly what we wanted, but all of us could give the space to others for what they needed as well.

I think - I hope - you would have approved.

-- Chris

Anonymous said...

I attended Educon in 2010 and had a similar experience as Ira. The "closed" cliches were evident from the start and continued through my Educon weekend. I was lonely in a group of people professing building communities of practice. I find active networking to be extremely difficult. I made a few attempts to make connections with limited success. It appeared that since many of the networks were already established (past Educon and other conferences), I found it easier to just remain alone and quiet.

I left feeling quite empty - more empty than pre-Eduon. I also felt that if I expressed any dissatisfaction with Educon, it would be viewed as some form of treason (do so even now and as such, am choosing to make my post anonymous). I noticed Twitter comments directed at Ira when he expressed his dissatisfaction with Educon '11 - with an underlying message that he did something wrong - he did not attend sessions, etc.

Not all conferences are for everyone. But maybe a part of Educon should include some formalized mixing groups of people.

I discovered Educon is not the conference for me . . . and that is okay . . . and it should be okay for Ira, too.

Anonymous said...


Don't worry about what this guy thinks. He walked the hallways looking for signage he could turn into controversy. If that poster hadn't have been by the elevator, it would have been something else.

The depth of thought you put into your school, Educon, your posts and your responses is apparent. It's clear when others are trudging by the shallow edges of the pond.

And I'm posting anonymously because the last thing I'd want is this guy to turn his attention to insignificant detail on my school or school community.

Miss Shuganah said...

I was one (the only?) parent Ira talked with in the corners, as he put it.

Unless there is a major overhaul to EduCon, I will not be attending another.

I am an introvert, I am claustrophobic, and I readily suffer from sensory overload. Tangerine walls? Really? Looks great on the fruit but on a wall not so much.

The sessions that seemed right for me to attend were so overcrowded that i ended up standing at the back of the room. Three hours of standing at the back of a room is hardly conducive to me wanting to be there. I can do it because I evidently have a lot of stamina.

There was little time between sessions. The handful of people who did say hi to me often scurried off to attend the next one, even after I asked them if they wanted to talk. And, again, the rooms were so jam packed that it was about impossible to walk up to people to connect.

EduCon could have benefitted from a kind of bulletin board system as I have seen online at conferences my husband has attended. "I need a ride to the airport," and other hospitable amenities.

Through a series of communication mishaps, I was left without a dinner companion on Saturday night. When I returned I discovered that someone I wanted to meet and didn't, had tweeted out a desire for a dinner companion and he lamented to me:

it's amazing how bad we can be at the networking thing when our tools fail us in some way.

He had tweeted out to the "room" and I had networking problems and so hadn't seen it. I found out later on Sunday that he had all ready left. One of several regrets.

Overall the EduCon experience left me really angry. Actually filled with supreme rage that has taken me several days to get over.

I tweeted about my rage when I returned late on Sunday night and into Monday. I have heard from people in private that they feel as I do. Right now, never again.

If educators want parents to be supportive of them then they need to stop whining about how parents do not understand teachers and actually extend an invitation and then follow that up with explicit desire for partnership. That partnership can only happen if there is genuine respect and trust. I love teachers. My parents were teachers. I was a teacher in a previous lifetime. I want to support really good teachers who feel they are under the gun. But, first, I need to feel respected, and, with few exceptions, I do not.

Yes, I was apologized to by a few who acknowledged they should have been welcoming. But it's too little too late.

irasocol said...


I want to continue steering this toward commonality, and perhaps, looking at other recent comments, toward some new thoughts.

You are right, the flood of applications you get speaks to the broad failures we see in secondary education in too many places. Not that all schools fail - they do not. I think that even the "worst performing" schools I have seen work for a certain percentage of kids, and even the "best performing" schools I have seen fail a significant percentage. But because our schools fail to operate around the idea of student choice and student-centered practice.

Yes, we need to make "this" easier, changing so that students who need SLA get SLA and students who need Parkway/3I get Parkway/3I and students who need Performing Arts get Performing Arts. Yes, we need to empower people to be able to move against the opposition you describe - an opposition I keep really trying to fully comprehend (why I'm constantly digging back to the origins of our system, trying to discover the motivations - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2010/09/designed-to-fail-education-in-america.html ), and yes, we need people to stop looking to replicate and scale, and instead to invent and imagine - and - you as a principal know this well, listen to the next wave of needs coming from students.

- Ira Socol

irasocol said...

Where a difference lies, and I understand your choice even as I might suggest it is not my choice, is that I want choice built into schools wherever they are. In part this is mentor experience - one of the biggest differences between the 3I Program of Alan Shapiro and Neil Postman and many other "Free Schools" of the 1970s-1980s (including Parkway) was its location within a broader high school, modeling a different vision of education within the older context. The other is that it was part of a "choice design" within that high school - a high school structured more like a university campus than a traditional "school" (different units even had radically different schedules).

The two things I see from that difference were (a) the kind of tension between practices which - if managed decently - gets lots of questions asked in lots of places, and (b) an opportunity to imagine choice not just in big cities with great mass transit systems, but for every age - http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/06/great-schools-2-environment-and-choice.html - and even in the kinds of places I now live, where our current choice model left me driving my son 45+ miles each way to school, which, for many students, means no choice at all.

But, I'm not one to pretend this isn't harder. You can't get there with the Bill Gates/New York City model where different school administrations compete for space and students. You can't get there if the building is not a "safe" place for all students. You can't get there if building administrators don't truly trust their teachers, and you and I know those environmental facts too often don't exist.

I don't have a conclusion to this thought. These are different paths. Just as SLA might have been as inappropriate for me at that age as it is perfect for many of the students I met there.

- Ira Socol

irasocol said...

As for EduCon, I came because last year I heard these voices. I heard it described as - you know I'm not kidding - some sort of educational Nirvana, and I heard it described as "other" things. Both by people I respect. That kind of dissonance always interests me. It didn't make me want to present - I rarely do that in a first time at any kind of event, I need to read it first, but it made me want to see.

To say that it "didn't work for me" does not imply that it didn't work for others. To say that the environment made me uncomfortable, well, that's the mismatch we so often see in schools. To say that that mismatch sent me back into "hostile student mode" (a mode I've been quite familiar with in my life), is something you understand because you live with kids every day.

As I always say, I never want one of anything for every student. Not a kind of computer, not a kind of school, not a school schedule, not a style of conference for us "older learners." But at the same time, and you said it pretty perfectly above, "it's amazing how bad we can be at the networking thing when our tools fail us in some way." And those tools include our personal vision when we're in a school or at an event, and busy, and rushed. And those tools include our choices of words, our attention to details, and our empathetic skills. So, we grab the criticisms we hear, and we keep trying. Which I admire you for doing so publicly here.

And just a note to a commenter above who is so sure I was looking for bad, I do see things differently. I always have. I'm the guy who knows what's happening in the background of movie scenes, and also what students' feet are doing in a classroom. That has its problems, yes, but it has its benefits. I was happy to get SLA students wondering about Library policy, about grading, about whether they deserved PE credit for running the stairs all weekend. And I suspect that Chris thinks that's fine as well. We look into what we see, and encourage our students to look into what they see, because that is the heart of inquiry, and inquiry is the heart of learning. And those who don't ask the questions, will never begin to find new answers.

- Ira Socol

Chris Lehmann said...

[O.k. - shorter comment this time. And I need to focus on my day job. Soon.]

Debbie - I am very sorry you had a bad experience at EduCon, and where we could have made it a better experience, we will endeavor to do so in the future. We had the MeetUps Board and Jeff ran @educoncierge in an attempt to do exactly the things you suggest. If that wasn't enough, I apologize. I'd ask for your patience because EduCon is not the first priority of everyone who puts it on - we are students and teachers and parents first, and we do the EduCon stuff after hours as a labor of love.

Structurally, we actually do schedule a half-hour between sessions and an hour for lunch on Saturday and two hours for dinner on Sunday, and 90 minutes for a post-panel reception at The Franklin Institute so that people can talk. (We'd schedule more time for lunch on Sunday, but people asked us not to, because it makes it hard with flights out and such.) I take it a little bit as a positive that people find so many interesting people to talk to that it never feels like enough. Event planning strategies says better to have people feeling like they didn't get to do everything than to have people be bored. And we make sure to keep the library and the cafe open and tables everywhere for people who just want to check out of the sessions and spend time talking.

And I don't know the right answer for when sessions get crowded. We try to give a lot of thought to spreading out the topics so that there are a broad range of interests each session, but it's hard to get that right every time. We didn't want to "close out" sessions when they get full like other conferences do, because that didn't feel right to us. We thought about it... it would have gotten people to go to sessions by some of the lesser known facilitators, perhaps, but in the end, we didn't want to tell people they couldn't be in the sessions they wanted to be in.

The colors of the walls were a collaboration  between architects and school designers to try to avoid the drabness / prison feeling of most schools. The classrooms are meant to have a more "cool" feeling than the shared spaces. That was yet another fight we had to win... the right not to have white walls. I think the warmth it creates does more good than harm, and we did base it off of the work of school designers I respect. It was a thoughtful decision, is all I can say.

Chris Lehmann said...

[See... only two comment fields this time... and then, off to coach Jakob's soccer game. And I'll only check the iPhone for comments once or twice. Really.]

All of this is to say that there isn't a "right" answer here. As school people, as conference organizers (I guess we're that now), we make 1,000 decisions on what our school... our conference... looks like / acts like. We try to be as inclusive and as thoughtful as possible. Creating something that serves 500 people is a heck of a challenge, and it's almost impossible to make everyone happy, although we do try. Where we can create flexibility to let people do  / be what they need, we do. But there are moments (like paint on the walls) where you have to make decisions... and do the best you can. 

And I agree with the first anonymous poster who says that yes, it should be o.k. for EduCon to not be "for" Ira and others. As long as we work hard to be what we say we are, then people are informed enough to make choices about where they want to be... but the point of this debate is not whether or not EduCon is "right" in format for Ira... or even about whose fault it is that Debbie didn't have a good experience. It's about how we can best work to create space for people to come together to learn. Where we at SLA can do a better job of that, both as a school and as the EduCon host, we work hard to do so. And we will work hard to listen openly, not defensively. 

And to the second poster, while I appreciate your kind words about what we o, I'd ask that you not attack Ira in our name. Whether it is EduCon or SLA or me, we get a lot of positive strokes our way... and we never, ever claim to be perfect. I take Ira at his word, as he wrote, "My goal is not to be cruel or negative. But I guess my goals are to wonder how we effect change if we never change the structures, if we only challenge the small issues?" And I am engaging in this dialogue with that spirit in mind. I would hope that I would do it with any critique, but given the incredible scholasticism and powerful, thoughtful, inquiry-driven, student-centered that Ira has shown over and over again, I would argue that he is to be dismissed at one's own peril. 

I will say this about any and all sides of this discussion - We need to be kind in our critiques. Real people are doing this work every day... with all their flaws and strengths on display for all to see. I say all the time, "I forgive other people their flaws in the vain hope that they will forgive me mine." (And because it's a good thing, too.) EduCon was neither perfect nor was it a horrible event put on by horrible people. SLA is neither the perfect school for all children everywhere, nor is it the root of all evil. And... in the end, to expect any one thing, any one person, any one idea to be that is to set one's self up for disappointment. 

In the best spirit of inquiry, we question, we listen, we read, we talk, we experience, and we grow. Let's try to make sure we model that for anyone who might listen.

Chris Lehmann said...

Ira -

I just saw that you posted as I was writing... which hopefully speaks to how much we both are enjoying this.

I don't know that I have much to say to your last comments except this - I agree.

And there's more to ponder and discuss... like how we strategize out how we can get more people to reinvest in the Parkway / 3I model... or even how SLA tries in places to honor that spirit within (and outside) our walls, and how we can do it better... or how a little magnet school could help to convince people that non-magnet schools could do this too... but now, I'm going to be Jakob's soccer coach for a little while so that my kid gets what he needs tonight.


Miss Shuganah said...


That was not my comment but one made to me on Monday morning. And I realized that I wasn't the only one who had been disappointed or lost out because of inability to connect effectively. Had I known, I would have grabbed an opportunity instead of one I felt was wrested from me.

I keep trying to push through my personal discomfort and misgivings. What else can I do? What I am still learning to do, or, rather, perhaps chose to ignore, was taking a step back and taking a breath and possibly gaining perspective. Even as I typed that I saw tangerine before me and just about gave myself a headache. I did not do well with the conference because I felt overwhelmed and I felt perhaps that others ought to help me with that. Perhaps that is not fair to others, but I felt that I was coming there as a parent and I really didn't feel as if people took the time to see to it that I was comfortable. I lost my train of thought as I allowed myself to get distracted by email, reading responses on another blog and another DM conversation.

I had expectations I should not have had. I should have been better equipped. Truth is no one really clued me in as to what I might expect. The EduCon in my imaginings was vastly better than the one I experienced. The conversations were better. The seats were more comfortable. There was carpeting. For some reason it did not register with me that I was actually going to be going to a school with school furniture. I thought... conference... large rooms. Smaller rooms. Carpeting. Comfy chairs. That is what I had been accustomed to. Then again this was my first non open space conference. I was unaccustomed to the formality that I experienced here.


Kind of you to address me. You are kind of missing my point. Not about allowing people to attend sessions. About allowing enough time between sessions so that people could take a breath and connect.

And, sorry, but I still hated the tangerine wall. Perhaps I stared at them too long. These are my sensory issues.

Truth is I jumped in without doing my homework. I did not look up SLA ahead of time and I made certain assumptions I should not have made. The school name Science Leadership Academy sounded like a museum type place to me kind of like Franklin Institute did. In either case reality threw me for a loop. I found a hard time reconciling imagination with reality. I also had visited a school for disabled children early on Friday which did nothing for my disposition. It colored everything else for me. I couldn't shake the contrast between what that experience must be like and what our older daughter back in Chicago. And neither you nor anyone else was responsible for that particular blow to my psyche. Just that I felt devastated, and so it likely exaggerated perceived flaws at EduCon. I needed connection, and lack of real opportunity really ate me up.

irasocol said...

I think I need to take this to a new blog post. The conversation has awakened memories of sitting on the floor at the Parkway Program in the 70s (I'm much older than Chris), kids from Philadelphia, kids from New Rochelle, talking about what schools needed to be. Then we challenged them to a basketball game. Of course.

Anyway, Chris is right. Real people keep trying to do things. I come from a culture of debate and argument, but I hope I always try to keep engaging. Sometimes - here in this case - I need the push Chris provided. But shutting down the discussion advances nothing.

I also remember that my father, a card carrying socialist, played sports every weekend with people ranging from very conservative Republicans to actual committed Communists. They argued continually, yet were the best of friends, and that remains a vital lesson to me.

There is no doubt that there are issues which Chris and I could debate. I think part of my job in education is to continually push the envelope, Chris's job is different by the nature of being a principal in a system. Debbie's job is to be a parent. These jobs create different lenses, all of which have value. So if I see grading as a problem and Chris does not, if Debbie sees paint colors as a problem, and Chris does not, no one is "wrong" - and that is what makes education so difficult.

I suspect we will continue this. I certainly hope we will. Every time ideas clash no concepts are born - no less in the blogosphere or on Twitter than in any good school. That's why both Chris and I see inquiry as the heart of what we do.

- Ira Socol

Miss Shuganah said...

I see tangerine as "wrong" because I have sensory issues and given what I experienced before i even walked in the doors, I was already experiencing a meltdown that snowballed. If I hadn't felt so emotionally devastated before I even attended a single session perhaps tangerine walls would not have affected me quite so much. This is not an SLA issue. This is not an EduCon issue. This was a pain I could not shake because I didn't have a good outlet issue. Everything after that was exaggerated. And I suspect that the visit to that school will stay with me for quite some time to come. It was like ripping open a wound. I could have coped with tangerine if I didn't have the other layer on top of it. I do manage to deal with sensory issues if nothing else is going on.

Adam Provost said...

The students at SLA were actively involved both in making the conference run and in the presentations themselves, as were the teachers there and the administration, most notably the Principal Chris Lehmann. It was easy to see how much they enjoy exploring learning and working together at SLA and it's sense of community. The process of learning is an active discussion there. It's was also easy to see some of the problems: Limitations of the building, budget and in the governing construct of the Philadelphia educational system.

Is Educon perfect? No. Was it considered exceptional by all attendees? No. Such are the trials of conferences I think and of education itself. These comments here in this thread reflect this. These types of discussions, pre, during and post Educon are another reason why I like the conference so much: It's messy. There's as much, perhaps even more content to evaluate post Educon than during… and there's great strength in that as well. It's engagement. I think it's a sign of learning success.

I don't think there is a perfect system… for conferences or for education. I think we spend too much time talking about the perfect system. Instead we should direct our energy toward actively and positively trying improve systems. Educon, much like anything else, I think you get out of it what you put into it. The conference certainly gives everyone the opportunity to learn and collaborate. In that light, I'd consider it a success.

There's a blog title out there (and a good read) called 'Learning is Messy' and it's a phrase I've used many times over the years, one that always seems to ring true for me. I like the refined simplicity of SLA's messages and the significant amount of work it takes to bring those simple goals to fruition... and the mess it tows with it, the active debate and discussions.

But here's the salt of what I've been thinking (at last): What I appreciate the most is the willingness of SLA to put itself under a microscope for the weekend, to open it's doors to roughly 500 attendees and it's clear goal to better itself from the process. They have the resolve to drive forward and try new things… and not just talk or complain about it. Many other schools could learn from that process, to turn themselves inside out and do some deep thinking. Hopefully that's not where it will stop though. Taking some action steps to improve things is next card to play.

… Debate and Steps Forward.

… and then we do it again, and again. And that's how things get better.

When we lose pieces of that process, when we get stagnant, when 'Steps Forward' get bogged down in endless bureaucracy, when it falls under the weight of folks being truly negative or just plain stagnant… that's when people lose their spirit. That seems to be where students lose opportunities.

Now, I know this reflection isn't anything innovative… and I guess that's my point. It's just all good common sense… and what education, especially in the main, sorely needs to practice more often.

With any amount of luck I'll be headed back to Educon next year. If I'm doing it right, I'll have more challenging conversations, meet great folks to collaborate with, have more fun, and be more active, I'll challenge myself more… and hopefully that will all lead to some great steps forward for my students, school, and for myself.

Thanks for tuning in, AP

Miss Shuganah said...

Five hundred people is all ready too many people. Much to my chagrin, i did not find out that it was really going to be crowded until a few days before the conference. While I am glad that I met Ira and a few other people, I needed information like this to better make informed choices. My sensory issues and claustrophobia make it really difficult for me to cope with that kind of crowd. After a while I stopped seeing potential connections and started focusing on the crowd. Could not see individuals for the throng.

Not trying to complain so much as report my experience. I need a different conference in a different space. I need circles not squares.


Do you ever have students with sensory issues who feel out of place in rectangular spaces? Not sure but I think some of my claustrophobia is directly linked to my sensory issues. I really do not like boxy spaces. Do students ever have meltdowns? I am not trying to be challenging. I am asking because I would have difficulty in that space year round. Could transfer out, I suppose, if I were a student, but what if I generally liked the program, ie, the learning that I could receive there?

Chris Lehmann said...


We don't have students who meltdown unexplainably. Kids have issues, sure... and I could imagine that if a student has an undiagnosed sensory issue, that could explain part of it. But so far, that hasn't been an issue for us that we are aware of.

Please understand, I don't think our building is any great shakes. We're a rented, converted office building, and it's a box. We did some nice things inside the box (I like the wide hallways), but we have no gym, we have no auditorium, our stairways are horrible, the walls are paper-thin, there's a wood sub-floor on the front half of the building, so if you are on the 1st or 2nd floor, you hear every chair scrape above you, we've shared the space with AT&T and with an architect's firm, and a dozen other limits I could mention.

It was the building the district decided on before anyone who was ever to work in the school was hired - and worse, the district pays a lot in rent. I didn't choose that. I had some say in the design, but there were serious limits on what we could do, and any changes I had to make, I had to make in the first week I was on the job. (It's a long story.)

I don't think our physical plant is all that wonderful... I tried to do some things (not have the principal's office in the back... create lots of undefined places for creative / collaborative / shared student-teacher stuff to happen... if every last closet has a name and a purpose before humans live in the space, you lose something, but I don't for one minute pretend that it's anything more than a converted office building.

Miss Shuganah said...


I had a longish comment that doesn't seem to have taken. Being the technodope that I am, I didn't save it in any shell window.

I think you need to have adults roaming around to make sure that people in large crowd are doing OK. But that is maybe just my issue. No time to talk to people rushing to sessions. No way to find someone and ask for help when having trouble coping.

I am not returning to EduCon. This is not a dig at you or your school. This is about me knowing my limitations. I am claustrophobic. I have sensory issues. Prior to registering at SLA, I went to a school for disabled children that just about left me devastated for the entire weekend. Without someone to really talk to, I did fall apart. I can only hope it wasn't too public a meltdown. I could have handled my issues but the grief and rage on top of it was one thing too many. Had I been in my right mind, i would have called my friend and he would have talked me through my Saturday night meltdown.

I felt worse when I returned home because I found out that I wasn't the only lonely person in the crowd of five hundred.

What would make EduCon better would be time between sessions. Breathing room. Time to debrief. Making sure that everyone in the school is OK is a huge responsibility but with that many people all the more reason to do a wellbeing check.

Chris Lehmann said...

Debbie -

I suppose what is a little frustrating for me is that we really try to do everything you mention. We have parent volunteers at every food station. We had dozens of kids in white lab coats who were really approachable and great at either helping or getting help if it was beyond their ability.

And we had a team of kids who used tools like Twitter and Cell Phone and Walkie Talkies to make sure they were accessible as possible with info about things to do, a printer to print boarding passes, a phone to call taxi... whatever people needed. And we published all information that on signs around school and in the program and on the website. We really, really tried to make sure that people never felt like they had to navigate the conference on their own.

As for time, we try to build a lot of the time into the conference schedule. We had an hour and a half long reception after the panel at TFI, we have a half-hour between sessions so people can find each other and talk when the time needed to get from one room to the other is minimal, we have an hour for lunch and three stations for people to pick up box lunches, we have a two and a half hour long dinner on Saturday night. That's a lot of unstructured time... and when we tried, a few years ago, to have an hour of reflection time in between the last Saturday night session and dinner, people just left and didn't stay for dinner, which took away from the spirit of meeting people and making new connections that we are trying so very hard to foster.

I understand that you had a perfect storm of things go wrong, starting with what sounds like a heart-wrenching site visit to the other school. But none of us at SLA knew that... could have known that. I promise you, had you said to a student, "I'm having a rough time, can you find me a quiet place," they would have. If you would have stopped by my office and said, "I need ," I would have done whatever I could have to help, even if that was just to make you a cup of peppermint tea. (I keep a stash in my office because we all need it sometimes.)

We try, both pedagogically and structurally, to create the space for people to talk to one another at EduCon (and at SLA.) We're always willing to try new things, but there was a lot there for you that, through no one's fault - not yours, not ours - you didn't see. This is in *no* way about blame... it's about seeing that there was a deep and mindful attempt to create pathways for real human connection. If we missed, I am sorry, but please see all the ways we tried.

-- Chris

Joe Bires said...

SLA is a wonderful place full of wonderful people; people who have the vision to see education differently and the commitment to see that vision put into action.

EduCon is an amazing conference and far better than most other conferences that I attend b/c people there are exchanging ideas rather than selling themselves or their products.

Could EduCon improve? Probably, perhaps a sit-down track in which small groups sit around a table and talk free-form about a specific, narrow topic of shared interest with no more than 7-10 people would be interesting. Basically do what you do in sessions but extend it for an entire hour and let people choose topics, no conversation leaders/presenters.

I think we have to remember that not every school is for every student, but our schools today are far too homogeneous for our society's good. So SLA is different and we need more different schools (and more different learning environments, both formal and informal).

Ira, if you don't do school, why go to school? And if you don't do conferences sessions, why go to conferences? If you don't ski, why go to Vail?

I find what I am looking for. Hopefully we can help kids find what they are looking for.

Miss Shuganah said...


Never, ever, ever in a million years would I have dumped anything that heavy on a teenager. Never. This needed to be done by adults. And it needed to be clear who to approach. I had no idea. Lab coats on kids is not the same as adults roaming around who are on faculty.

I didn't know where your office was. Or I may have, but I am not sure I knew that I could go to your office. And, truthfully, I didn't know you were the principal at SLA until after I got home. I know you had the kids with the lab coats, but I wasn't comfortable asking them stuff.

As far as parent volunteers... I lost out on lunch on Saturday 'cause one of your parent volunteers told me I had missed out on all the box lunches. On Sunday I made sure I got a lunch. I didn't want to keep consulting a schedule as they were unwieldy to find out when meals and other things were.

Part of my problem is that I do not yet have portable technology like other people do. That's not on you.

I am not trying to assess blame. I am trying to talk honestly about my feelings and how things affected me like tangerine walls. I am sorry if you think I am blaming. I had a very stressful time, which is an understatement. No one told me ahead of time what to expect. I was not mentally prepared for the space. I was not mentally prepared for the number of people. The person who invited me should have clued me in, and we have since hashed that out in email.

I am trying to own what was going on with me. I am sorry if that is not what is being perceived. There were things I could have done differently as well. I just about did the forehead slap when I got home. Why didn't I call my 24/7 buddy? Beats me.

If there was really a half an hour between sessions, then why did I get met with "gotta run to the next session," when I asked someone, "wanna talk?" That is what gave me the impression that there was really little time between sessions. Perhaps asked the wrong person.

Brendan said...

Love the great comments.

I have to say some of Miss Shuganah's complaints remind me of how I was feeling at ISTE last summer.
Luckily I was part of a cohort so even though I spent many hours alone listening to presentations I had some time to decompress at night with fellow learners.

I was sitting alone in the blogger cafe when Chris and an entourage sat down on the floor around me (he had just finished speaking). I should have went and introduced myself. There was at least one other person I follow on twitter there. I didn't. Instead I sent out a snarky tweet.

It was a classic introvert move.

I haven't been to Educon. I hope someday to go, but I would rather just visit the school on a regular day. Its easier that way.

Miss Shuganah said...

Not all introverts are passive aggressive. I am not sure what the breakdown is between between introverts and extroverts and passive aggression, but that is not how I personally try to operate. At least one extrovert I know is also passive aggressive. I think the real factor is how honest one can be with self and others without pointing fingers. That is really a challenge.

I suppose to someone who doesn't know me my tweets could have come across that way. Wasn't my intention to strike after the fact. For me it was part of my decompressing. Ira wrote a blog post. I commented. Simple as that. I don't know Chris. I am not here to ambush anybody. I am just here to try and express how I felt and still feel about EduCon.

incidentally, I mentioned tangerine walls to both men and women. All the women I have spoken to have reacted negatively. None of the men have reacted positively but not negatively either.

Do we know a break down of sensitivity to environment by gender? Is that possible to tell?

As far as visiting the building first, unless people are made out of money, that is not possible. Many of us are not locals.

timstahmer said...

I've been following this discussion over the past week with great interest since I have attended all four EduCon conferences and visited SLA on Friday for two of them. I don't recognize either the conference or the school in the criticisms posted here. Certainly neither is perfect but it's obvious to me that everyone involved is working to make things better, both EduCon and SLA.

Each year I have had conversations with many SLA teachers and students and it's clear to me that this is more than a school. It's a learning community that is built on the work, and very positive attitude, of everyone involved. In the times I've visited SLA everyone was eager to talk about their work and their learning, and none of what they had to say was promotional or PR. It was all coming from the heart.

EduCon is also a unique experience, and is unlike any conference I've ever attended. It is built on the ideas of the hundreds of people who have participated over the four years and the energy is beyond any other. Most session leaders are not there to lecture. They really want to foster conversations and a free exchange of ideas.

Could EduCon be better? Of course. I always leave thinking the weekend was too short. And yes some of the sessions attract too many people (I stood through several this year). However, the faculty, students and parents who put all this together with relatively few resources (I've organized similarly sized conferences and $150 is relatively inexpensive) are amazing in their dedication.

More than anything else, I've built an amazing personal learning network based in part on the connections I've made at Educon. That is the most valuable part of attending.

irasocol said...

For Tim and some others:

It is not my goal to stretch this out further, but when I read a comment like the one above I have to wonder what an educator like this would say to a student expressing discomfort in, or dislike of, his or her school?

Would Mr. Stahmer say, "This school is so great, it really works for me"?

Because that has been a strong response undercurrent from a certain group of EduCon fans.

Mr. Stahmer asks no questions, he does not reflect on anything those being "critical" have said, rather, he lists what works for him... which is fine in dialogue, but helps those who were uncomfortable very little.

I have to admit that a big part of my decision to publicly raise doubts about EduCon (and SLA) was an interest in what kinds of responses would be provoked.

I want to thank Chris Lehmann for responding as a great educator. I hope others consider their responses, and consider how they communicate with uncomfortable learners in their buildings.

- Ira Socol

timstahmer said...

Ira: What I would like to say to a student uncomfortable with attending SLA or an attendee in the same situation at EduCon is that maybe you are in the wrong place. Ok, that may sound harsh but I believe we need to offer multiple learning situations, both for children and adults, and help each find the one that best works for them.

We don't do that especially well for kids since everyone seems to be searching for the holy grail of educational models to clone onto all schools. SLA isn't that one perfect model anymore than KIPP is. We need to offer multiple approaches to school and develop a system that helps parents and kids find the one that will best suit their needs.

The same is true of professional development for adults. EduCon may not be the best model for everyone, and maybe the best improvement they can make is to more clearly communicate their approach (although it always seemed pretty clear to me). Certainly this is not a passive, lecture/demo, sit-n-git conference like so many in the education industry.

From the start the organizers expected that everyone attending would be actively involved in making the weekend valuable (for themselves and others) and most of the people I've met over the years understand, accept, and embrace the concept. It works well for the vast majority of us "fans" (which I refuse to use as derogatory term) and I'm genuinely sorry some did not have a good experience. But it certainly wasn't due the lack of effort and dedication on the part of the people at SLA.

irasocol said...


I think it is harsh, and I'll say why. We aren't even close, in this nation, to discussing student school choice. We talk "parent choice" but as anyone who has worked with kids knows, that is a very different thing. In addition, the options are so limited in most places, that you just sent that unhappy SLA kid where?

I agree, of course, that we need more choices, more models, but I do NOT agree that these need to be in more places. We should be able to construct campuses where kids needing differing learning environments need not be isolated from one another.

This is equally true of professional development. As bad as mass PD is, I'm not sure it is a better move to isolate adults from each other completely according to learning style.

So I would prefer that you seek solutions, rather than abandoning the student.

Of course I tend to go to a different range of conferences than many at EduCon do. So my experience of "EduCon being radically different" may not be the same as yours. I love - for example - the mix of people who come to CSUN/Technology and Persons with Disabilities: teachers and academics, students and parents, inventors, geeks, hackers. In that environment a different quality of conversation breaks out. Is that perfect? Hell no. Way too big, etc, but few events have pushed my thinking more because of the variety of voices. CAL (UK/Eire) is another. There the range of nations and types of stakeholders compressed into a relatively small event generates stunning power. Few conference moments have been as powerful for me as conversing at CAL 07 about the Open University's DEEP effort in sub-Saharan Africa. It altered my view of PD and Social Media (in a way which brought me to Twitter) and of kids and mobile devices.

Is CAL perfect? Certainly not (and I'll note that I'm skipping both CSUN and CAL this year, having tried EduCon instead), but what I find at those events, but did not find at EduCon, was a vast diversity of voices, and thus, vastly more interesting (to me) discussions going on everywhere outside of sessions.

Finally, I don't ever want to have "fans" and I don't want events to have "fans" - outside of music and sport. "Fan" - fanaticism - is like faith, it is not a questioning state, and we should - in education - always be questioning.

- Ira Socol

Miss Shuganah said...


Maybe I was in the right place but not always the right people.

I was invited as a non-educator to attend EduCon. I was told that more parent voices were needed. The session I was in to talk about parent involvement left much to be desired.

Before I left my hotel room on Sunday, I tweeted that I was going to be on the second floor, and listed specific classrooms. One woman made an effort to find me. I left the session I was in to have a one on one talk with her. Others who saw me and figured out who I was later lamented that they wish they had made a similar effort, including the woman who had issued the invitation to me in the first place.

I had my own failures at connecting with people. I am now contemplating SpEd Camp and grateful that it may only be as few as 200 people. I find it disheartening that we cannot have fewer people with smaller spaces because everyone needs to show they have a moneymaking venture. All about funding sounds like to me. Justifying funding sounds like a poor criteria for people to get together to talk about what they passionately care about. Sad commentary to me that funding trumps conversation. This wouldn't happen in an Open Space model. When my husband and I have attended such conferences as Recent Changes Camp in Portland, it was pay what you can. Perhaps events like this ought to consider this type of way of funding an event. We have paid more than the suggested amount and less than the suggested amount, and we were welcome either way. To me that is community. A friend of ours offered us guest rooms at the co-housing community where he lives. No hotel. No other guests at the time. We paid for that, too, and would gladly do so again. Our friend was our guide. (Also helps that we know a number of Portlanders.) Meals were truly communal, being taken at the nearby university. Entirely different feel to it. If I felt overwhelmed or in physical pain from a knee injury, I could escape to a nearby room to do some yoga.

OK. Maybe I was in the wrong place. But I had no way to know that until I got there. Even so, I was told we need more parents to participate. I was it, near as I know. And speaking of "fans" why wasn't I holding court? I was in my imaginings. Alas, I am a queen with no ladies in waiting or minions or what have you.