Forward to my #CO_PETECHCAMP people: Slowchatpe is a blog is that is dedicated to growth mindset. It is based in physical education and health but tackles the entirety of education. I, like Andy Vasily, believe that we can learn so much about physical education from other sources. I attend every educational conference I can. I read business books, physical education books, or general education books all to further my pedagogy and become a master teacher. The same goes for podcasts, webinars, GHO’s and so much more. This week my blog is a recap of the #NJPAECET2 conference. The conference is sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I hope you enjoy the blog. I also have a voxer chat for #slowchatpe. Terry and Lynn will tell you all about Voxer and how it will change your teaching. Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or feedback that will make me better.  Sincerely Justin.

I have been to numerous conferences over the past ten years. Every conference has its own feeling. Its own vibe. Edcamps have this freewheeling energy of openness and curiosity. What will the sessions be? Who will present? Are the presentations going to be useful? Will I have to leave and go to another session? So many questions and such high expectations. Educators enter and leave with a natural high that is contagious.

Technology conferences showcase the newest tech trends in education. You learn new apps, new programs, and new ways to use Google. Someone always has a new piece of equipment that is either in beta or costs so much you can’t afford it yet. Either way you leave with a wealth of technology knowledge.  

General education conferences discuss pedagogy and best practices. Master teachers discuss what they do to teach their students in the best possible way. They dissect the art and the science that is teaching. Everyone leaves with new strategies and projects that will take their teaching to the next level.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a conference that combined all three into a bonding experience that will have a lasting effect for all its participants. That’s right. This conference was a general education conference that incorporated technology and threw in an hour long edcamp right in the middle. That conference was the #njpaecet2 (also nicknamed the alphabet conference by @mrnesi).

I walked into the conference having no idea what to expect. The first way this conference was different was that it pushed me outside of my comfort zone right away. They assigned me a seat at a table. I was also walked me to the table; which in hindsight was to make sure that we went to where we were supposed to more than their lack of faith in our ability to find our table number. I was under the impression that I would go find and sit with @mritzius, @btcostello, @lavonnaroth, @jaybilly2, @shahlock, or maybe @techedupteacher if I was lucky. This would not have increased my PLN or pushed me out of my comfort zone. Instead I sat a table full of wonderful strangers. I ended up hitting it off wonderfully with @m3lissamurphy. She was hilarious and we had a blast together. Two people shouldn’t laugh as much during pd as we did! This is why we must become comfortable with being uncomfortable. I loved how the conference forced that interaction and helped me expand my PLN. The whole entire table (3) was fantastic. SHOUT OUT!

I noticed that the conference was mostly white. I would say there were 15-20 people of color their at the most. I would not have noticed this years ago. Being connected has allowed me to realize that this is a problem in education period. Most teachers are white so may be difficult to get more people of color to attend just based on sheer numbers. The conference is invitation only so it would be interesting to see what the percentage of people of color that were invited. My initial thought was maybe money was an issue. Some districts do not have the funds to pay for pd and if the educators were from far distances they might not be able to afford food and lodging. The entire conference was payed for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including food and lodging, so lack of money from individuals or school districts should not have been a road block for teachers. My initial reaction to these observations was that the foundation did not place a high priority on recruiting people of color to the conference.

This thinking was challenged after I heard the opening keynote speaker Baruti Kafele. (@principalkafele) Here was a black man talking about race right off the bat. I hadn’t even finished my bfast yet! He was engaging and hilarious. His message was clear and concise. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I didn’t even care that he told substory within substory and went over his time which meant that the sessions would be pushed back and lunch would be delayed! His speech was a homerun. I would highly recommend you follow him on Twitter and hire him to speak in your district. My greatest takeaway was him asking us what is our signature? What makes us great teachers.

The next keynote also challenged my assumption that people of color were not represented properly when Michelle King took the podium for her keynote. Here was a black woman keynoting right after a black man. Maybe the committee did have a plan. Michelle’s speech rocked. The crowd was on the edge of her seat while she took us on a roller coaster of a trip. Her speech did not directly address race (unless I missed it) but the fact that she was at the podium spoke volumes. In school we have the hidden curriculum that teaches our students as much as the explicit curriculum. The conference yelled to the room that they were intentional about giving people of color the floor even though they didn’t directly mention their intentions at all. My favorite part was when Michelle broke down the number of approximate days she would be alive and how many she had used already. That concrete representation of an abstract idea was brilliant.

If the story stopped there I would have congratulated the #njpaecet2 committee for their effort in providing opportunities for people of color. There is more though. Another keynoter they brought in was Joyce Valenza. She brought the discomfort. She talked about mansplaining, manterruption, and how women were not given the same voice. She talked briefly about race as well which furthered my discomfort. I have been really working on being comfortable being uncomfortable. I can only imagine what other white men in the room felt like. The beauty of her keynote was that we (men) need to hear the problems. They are real and need to be addressed. Joyce did a fantastic job of using the crowd to prove her points about the real problems women face in education. Her message was not only to make the men more aware of the problem it was also to empower women. Joyce only apologized seven times during her keynote! I am sure that is a record for her. My takeaway from Joyce’s speech was that I have to be aware of my micro aggressions with women. Do I cut them off in the middle of the sentence? I have eliminated hand raising in my class so I don’t have to worry about only calling on boys which I am sure tons of teachers unconsciously do. (she stated she even did it unwittingly) Am I a manterruptor? At the very least it is at the forefront of my consciousness now.

The sessions at #njpaecet2 were solid. I was able to meet up with Lavonna Roth (@lavonaroth) and learned how to physically represent nerve cells and their synapses with a group of people. Her session was lively and informative. I periscoped some of it and my PLN was asking me for her resources! I understand why Lavonna was flown in from FLA. I learned two new literacy approaches to add to my repertoire. The first was a simple partner definition activity. Each person took a definition and summarized it to their partner.  Lavonna walked around and listened to the participants summarize. It is such an easy strategy that I am sure most know but I am not most. The second strategy she demonstrated was using note cards to make a word tree. She had five participants take a note card and put the person with the main idea in the front. The other four people put their hands on the front person’s shoulder. It felt a little like church but was a cool group activity that allowed us to get up and move. I highly recommend you follow her on Twitter and buy her books. (I get no cut from her) I left with new ways to teach literacy while still staying true to my movement roots.

Another session I thoroughly enjoyed was Cory Radisch (@MRHS_Principal). I have been to his sessions before and I knew he would bring it. My philosophy on sessions I pick now is based on the presenter and not the content. If I follow them on Twitter or have heard how great the person is through my PLN I will go to their session regardless of what they are presenting about. I know that I will be engaged and be able to glean some gold nuggets of wisdom from them no matter what the content. Cory delivered. His message of being a merchant of hope is something that I can’t get enough of. He brought two teachers with him who were able to show us how their classroom was structured so their students could succeed. I highly recommend you check him out if he is presenting at a theater near you.

The final session that blew my mind was run by David Culberhouse (@DCulberhouse). I knew that David was a brilliant fella just by his blogs that I read. I did not have much interaction with him online before the conference. Like most people I come in contact with I knew him and he had no idea who I was. His session about thinking around the corner was transformational. He was able to show how far technology has come and the skills our students will need when they graduate. My favorite line was when he told us those skills aren’t being tested. His idea of intentional disruption blew me away. This paragraph is doing his session no justice and I apologize for that. If you are still reading this I would suggest you follow Dave. Your brain will hurt but you will become smarter.

A huge miss of the conference for me was the forced colleague table activity. They started off by forcing norms on us. First I am 33 I don’t need norms. Second shouldn’t we talk about our norms as a table. What if we wanted different norms? Third you invited me to the conference. Why are you inviting people who need to be told to be respectful. (that was a norm) (is anyone else thinking of Norm from Cheers right now?) Fourth the activity was boring. We had to individually come up with a problem. Any problem about anything. We then wrote our problem down and passed the paper to the person next to us who was going to give us ideas about the problem. After that we each told the table our problem and then had to vote for one. That one person was going to have their problem dissected and analyzed the next day. The activity fell flat. No one at my table was there at the end the next day. In addition, it was too long to wait. That could have been started in the morning and finished at dinner. I would vote that idea off the island if we were on Survivor.

2015-09-20_2225The greatest takeaway of the entire experience was back at the hotel. I was able to really talk with Manan, Michelle, Dave, Lavonna, Barry and so many other leaders in a relaxed environment. We talked education, sang, and danced. It was wonderful to socialize with people who had the same excitement for education that I have. There was a special time during the night that I ended up outside on a park bench with Christine (@ccavallo2), John (@C0ACHSuk) Jarvay and some random ladies. Motown was rocking on the radio, tunes were belted out, and fun was had by all. What made this really special was our conversation with Jarvay. He was dropping knowledge on us and I was ready to catch it. His views were fresh and there was no sugar coating any of it. It was the perfect ending to a phenomenal night.

To wrap this blog/novel I would like to that the entire #njpaecet2 committee, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and every person who presented and attended the conference. I would highly encourage everyone to reach out to your PLN and find out how you can attend your local #ecet2 conference. You will make connections, raise your pedagogy, eat a ton, and have lots of fun while learning. Can you think of anything better than that?

Q1: What was your favorite part of #njpaecet2 ? #slowchatpe

Q2: What do you think needs to change at #njpaecet2 to improve it? #slowchatpe

Q3: What session blew your mind? Why? #njpaecet2 #slowchatpe

Q4: Who should present at next year’s #njpaecet2 #slowchatpe

Q5: Who should people be connected to that you met at #njpaecet2 ?


1 thought on “#NJPAECET2

  1. andy vasily (@andyvasily)

    Great that you could experience a professional development that was so meaningful and relevant to what you do in education. One of the biggest things is to make meaning of what is presented, to find inspiration, and to connect it with areas you are passionate about. This requires a different mindset and way of thinking.

    It’s easy to dismiss information that we feel is not relevant to us as educators, but my belief is that there is always a lesson that can be learned in every single PD experience. A walk away tidbit that can make us better.

    Good for you for reaching beyond your subject area for wisdom and inspiration. Keep the flames lit my friend.



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