Monday, November 5, 2012

#P4E12 Conference Summary

I have so many things to write about! Thank goodness Twitter can satisfy the itch a bit by allowing me to post tidbits - I know I should devote an entire post to my "marshmallow experiment", for instance. However, the biggest part of this past weekend was the People for Education conference. I attended as a representative for the Ontario School Library Association but I also wore my "parent hat" and "teacher hat" as well. Here are my reports and reflections on the event.

People for Education's 16th Annual Conference

Making Connections

Conference Reflection by Diana Maliszewski

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:00 a.m.

Summary = Typically I wouldn't summarize registration, but I need to share that I was out of bed on a Saturday an hour earlier than I usually would be if it was a workday. I'm not a morning person so this was a challenge for me. I needed to be downtown for 8:00 a.m. to help set up OSLA's booth with Stacey, Barbara, and Shelagh. Thankfully, they can compose full sentences that early in the morning. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 8:45 a.m.
Welcome and Introductions

Summary = The entire room introduced themselves to each other. This took me by surprise but was a smart move on P4E's part: it was an opportunity to know who was in the room and plan your networking moments during the breaks.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 9:15 a.m.
Keynote Address by Roger Martin

Summary = Martin spent years studying what highly successful leaders do and what he discovered was the one consistent but not new "thing" that they all had in common was the ability to hold two opposing ideas in their minds and still function - something he calls Integrative Thinking.

3 Key Points

  • Integrative thinking is not "natural" because the way we make sense of the world - through building models - drives us away from this form of thinking (we make models but forget they are just models - when our models clash with others, we see them as wrong, or stupid, or evil with agendas)
  • Integrative thinking is not just finding a consensus; it's "seek and leverage", it's finding seeds of a better model we do not yet see (instead of either/or, consider AND)
  • Integrative thinking can be taught and they've learned that Grade 10 students can do it just as well as MBA students (and in some cases, better)
So What? Now What? = I bought Roger Martin's book, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking so I could read and learn more about this approach. He offered the crowd two key phrases and one type of question we could begin to use right now to start us on this way of interacting: a) tell me more b) to what extent, and c) how might we. I could see using these sentence starters with my own children and students. He also stated that he believes in a pull not push approach - when the audience kept asking if he's approached Faculties of Education or school boards outside TDSB and private institutions, he reiterated that they came to him and he believes that his results will call others to try it out - a very good approach for getting teachers to partner with the teacher-librarian, for example.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 10:30 a.m.
Morning Workshop: The Social Media Principal - How to tweet, blog and mobile app your way to increased parent and community engagement by Joe Mazza

Summary = Joe is an elementary school principal in Pennsylvania doing his PhD on "eFACE" (electronic family and community engagement) and shared how he has worked on developing great relationships with his school community.

3 Key Points
  • You MUST develop relationships first; invest in the face-to-face connection first before using the tech (relational trust, transparency, collaboration, communication) - Joyce Epstein is the guru on family engagement and she lists 6 types, but in most published research on the topic, "electronic" engagement meant PA announcements or faxes or emails (we have so many more tools we can use than that)
  • Schools must meet parents were they are if they are committed to building and maintaining partnerships; this means that we need to hear what's not family friendly even if it is critical of school practices - in Joe's school, they had a home and school meeting at a local mosque and they stream their meetings so people can attend at home (attendance used to be 13 - now it's 43 on average)
  • Confirm any theory or technique with your own school population and use a variety of tools (families can choose which tools they use because "you can't eat everything on a menu") ; e.g. you must account for those who don't have e-access for the newsletter (which he co-writes with parents using a shared google doc) and ensure information sent is mobile friendly for cell phone access (despite being in a mixed economic area, Joe has 95% of his parents in contact via cell phone or mobile device)
So What? Now What? = I need to look at Joe's presentation slides (at to think more about what he said. People in the audience were so keen to talk to him and share their own examples that I didn't get to hear as many stories from his experience as I would've liked. He feels that Twitter is his first key tool because by being connected, he learns from others. He cited several educators he follows on Twitter and I will be "borrowing" from his recommendation list. I've already started to follow him on Twitter. He mentioned about the language barriers and his solutions - Pennsylvania has a 1-800 district language line where live people can translate over the phone; they also use families who volunteer to translate for free and they partner new families with another family in the school who will help them understand. We could begin to explore things like streaming or even just podcasting our school council meetings.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 1:00 p.m.
Plenary Panel: Who Is In Charge Around Here with Cheryl Jackson (TVO Parents), Ken Coran (OSSTF), George Zegarac (Deputy Minister of Education), Michael Bartlett (OPSBA) and Carole Allen (CPCO)

Summary = This panel discussion surrounding Bill 115 had representatives from teachers, trustees, principals, and the government.

3 Key Points

  • Bill 115 took away power and decision making from several camps (for instance, the principals were not consulted about Bill 115 but they were mentioned in it)
  • The government is not planning to "slow down in their early learning investment"
  • It is important to return to the table to negotiate and for concerned parents to get vocal with their MPPs and other people to "make noise" about their feelings about the current situation
So What? Now What? = Unfortunately, I had a coughing fit in the middle of the session and had to leave so the cameras could still record the action. Thankfully, while recovering in the hallway, I had a chance to speak with Gerard, a teacher-candidate at OISE who also goes to my church. It was a great chance to get to know him better - I discovered that his practice teaching placement is at a school very close to mine. I made it back into the room in time to hear a parent say, during the Q&A time, "Okay, you've got my attention. My child can't play soccer this year. What do you want me to do?" - it was a frustrated but poignant plea, and everyone said some version of "try to get the players back to the table".

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 2:15 p.m.
Afternoon Workshop: The Flipped Classroom

Summary = I didn't attend my afternoon workshop because I was by the OSLA table. Thanks to Stephen Hurley's tweets, I was able to have an idea of what was going on at the session. Instead, I had a great conversation with Shelagh (director of the OLA) Barbara and Stacey (two parents who have worked hard to support their local school library). We discussed the morning sessions they attended (Shelagh enjoyed the panel on "Sensationalizing Education: What Makes an Education Story Newsworthy?"), issues surrounding school libraries (will Bill 115 affect the Festival of Trees attendance?) and other items. While chatting, we ended up connecting with the person manning the display next to ours, Tanzila Mian from the Canadian Parents for French organization.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 3:45 p.m.
Closing Remarks by Annie Kidder

Summary = Annie summarized key points from the conference so far (some of which I tweeted) like the idea of AND in education, in including people who don't feel like they belong in education, and on how to evaluate things like "did we produce good citizens" rather than testable things like their literacy and numeracy skills. She brought up a potentially crazy question: "what more do you want P4E to do?" and let the audience speak their minds at microphones. Annie said starting petitions against Bill 115 is outside their mandate because as a charity they have to work not to antagonize so doors aren't closed but she encouraged the use of the P4E discussion forums (and showed that "anything goes" on the forum with an example of a thread that was criticizing her).

Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 4:15 p.m.
Reception and Book Launch

Summary = The networking continued. I had the chance to speak with my favourite face of P4E, the extremely positive and delightful Gay Stevenson, whom I adore. She's retired from P4E but attended the conference. We talked about our mutual admiration society, our interest in research, and general topics. Megan at P4E says I can get photos from her they took so I can use them for the magazine, and their photographer let me hold his massive camera (and I had lens envy). I talked with a parent from Ottawa about her daughter preparing to enter high school and made small talk with several other people.

I made it home 12 hours after I left and after a very quick dinner, the family and I went to see Wreck It Ralph at the movies. It was a fantastic film and some of the themes echoed some of the thoughts from the P4E conference, like what's important (is it marks / a medal or something more?) Like last week, I'll post photos tomorrow.  

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