Thursday, November 12, 2015

Reflections from iNACOL 2015

The resounding themes of iNacol 2015 this year have been competency based education models, a renewed focus on project based learning, personalized learning focused on the needs, wants, interests of students, and a press to innovate for kids, not for innovations’ sake.  All these themes resonant deeply with me and the work we have been embarking on in Henry County Schools for the past three years.  I was affirmed and reaffirmed that our district is heading in the direction that is best for students, best for college and career readiness, and best for the entire community that we serve.

I was also reaffirmed of the need to commit to the work.  One thing that has impressed me with Susan Patrick and her team over the past five years that I have come to know iNacol is a clear focus on students.  Its easy in the edtech space, and an online/blended learning organization is in the heart of that space, to get caught up and focused on tools, platforms, gadgets, and the related IPOs and relationships that exist between funders and edupreneurs.  And although iNacol operates in that realm and helps to guide that work, they remain steadfast in a commitment to a focus on high quality educational and instructional practice.  They remain focused on the idea that creating really good schools and learning experiences is both simple in concept, but challenging in reality because of so many competing aspects. At Monday morning’s keynote address, Susan Patrick passionately advocated that our work of personalizing learning is not about innovation, but it is about equity and believing in all kids.  This was reiterated by each of the key note speakers and resonated throughout sessions.  

At its core, this work of personalized learning for me and for so many in the field is not about making money, its not about fame and notoriety, and its not about gaming an accountability system built on industrialized/standardized models of testing.  At its foundation, this is about a belief that every single human deserves access to and success in a high quality educational setting and that EACH student should be taught how to learn and how to be contributing members of society.  Its about a belief that knowledge is power and that it should be shared openly and transparently and not closely guarded behind the covers of leather bound journals in libraries of the wealthy and learned to be revealed when one is worthy.  It is about a belief that public education is really about, as Tom Stritikus paraphrased, teaching kids how to open doors for themselves.

The student panel was especially poignant and I am humbled that four of those shining your people were from our own Impact Academy.  Knowing these kids deeply and knowing their stories, I understand that personalized learning is really about making school relevant, engaging, and meaningful. But even more, its about relationships and being a community that cares deeply about all kids.  Relationships are essential because they are the safety net that allows kids and adults to take risks and to try things untried, to do things they aren't sure of, and to be in the space where they are actually growing as scholars, as citizens, and as humanity.  

We are at a great time.  We are at a space where we have the tools, the knowledge, and the ability to truly change the way we make education a game changer for all kids.  Do we all have the will?

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