NJPAECET2 just wrapped up. In case you were wondering like most people will, ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. It is a conference that is half fundraised and half paid for by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They do a fantastic job of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers. Meals and lodging are covered allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the experience of a conference without having to worry about a thing.

This event reminds me of a smash between a conference and a summer camp retreat. They really work hard to bring people together and almost force serendipity to occur. The day started out with us having to stand and sing a song. The song was quick and easy but not gonna lie I hate singing with a crowd. I never remember the words, have a horrible voice, and no rhythm at all. With all that being said, the leader had a great voice and singing is a great way to get the crowd excited. Any time we are standing and not just sitting is also a bonus.

The opening keynote was great. They showed a clip with a Admiral William McRaven about how to change the world. He spoke about the importance of making your bed. The premise of this idea is that if you start out with an easy task and complete it that will help propel your day. In addition, when you get home at night you come back to a successfully completed task. It was very inspiring.

I also watched a clip of a football coach motivating a player by yelling at him in a positive manner. The coach was trying to help his player achieve more than they thought they could. I understood the video’s aim at showing if you encourage a child they can achieve more than they think they could. The video came across more like a coach uncomfortably yelling and wanting the goal more than the player. I do not want to have to yell at my students repeatedly even in a positive manner in order to motivate them. The video should have the coach walking next to the student or perhaps giving advice when needed. Even better what if the coach did the bear crawl with the student? Watch the video and tell me what you think!

The first session I went to was entitled Be an Advocate for the LGBTQ community. There were two members of GLSEN that ran a fantastic session! I learned the history of the LGBTQ community in a way that touched my heart. One presenter handed out cards with milestone events of historical events that impacted their community. Our job was to stand up and put those events in historical order. First, that is a fantastic way to run a lesson or professional development. We were up, working together, and learning all at the same time. I stole that idea right away. Secondly, when we were discussing the events that had occurred during their lifetime you could see how they had emotional ties to some of the events. It was powerful to watch both presenters speak with such passion about Title IX or the legalization of Same-Sex Marriages. You could see them reliving the moment. It was a fantastic session that I was happy I attended.

My second session was called Professional Development over Professional Dissonance: Designing PD from a Systemic Perspective. This session was presented by Mike Ritzius.  He is a NJEA associate director of professional development and instructional issues. I have heard him speak about this idea in the past but I was still confused and needed a much deeper understanding of the topic.

I walked away understanding a lot more about the why and the what and am still confused with the how. The system has no mechanisms for change. We are changing but the system isn’t changing around us. How can we change the system? Our school has the ability to change with relative quickness. We are a small school and are the only school in the district. I equate us with being a small fish that can adapt quickly to a stimulus. This gives us a leg up in our ability to make large changes with relative ease. I will be approaching my admin and union to see if we can bring the NJEA in order to make that happen.

The session was followed by the keynote of Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price. Okaikor shared her story which was clearly emotional to her. I enjoy watching people be real and hearing personal narratives. The idea that, “good teachers are also critical of society and push for equity in their work/classroom” is something every educator needs to hear and understand.

Her speech sparked a conversation later about when and where we need to hear this message. I understand that ECET2 is all about elevating and celebrating teachers. The teachers that were being elevated and celebrated still have the responsibility of understanding all of their students. That means that bias has to be addressed. People have, and always will, think that speaking about race and equity should be done at a different time. There is never a “right time”.  Let me switch that up. It is always the “right time” to speak about race. We saw torches and Nazis in 2017. We are not talking about that or what causes that in our classrooms. Worse our own bias is harming Students of Color. I think Barry Saide made a fantastic decision when he chose Okaikor to speak about her story and equity.

Session 3 was called Thinking Like Socrates: Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions At Every Level. Shanna Peeples told her story about changing her writing prompts from teacher centered to student centered. That wasn’t the gold nugget though. She asked her students, “What would you ask the smartest person in the world if you had the opportunity?” The responses she received were way above what she expected. One student asked why did God give us free will if he wanted us to be good? That is a pretty powerful question.

This is another really great way to get to know your students and use that knowledge to drive instruction. As most of you know empathy and the affective domain have been a large focus of my teaching in the past two years. This is another great way to start a discussion as well as allowing our students to have space where they can decompress and really reflect on their lives in an authentic fashion. Check out her presentation here.

Mike Ritzius ran an unconference called ProAction Cafe. People could pick a problem they had and post it. Participants then rotated to three different tables and answered the question that was prompted in the front of the room. It was a fun way to interact with different people. Sometimes meeting and hanging with different people is as important as the activity.

The evening keynote was done by Chrissy Romano. She rolls with the moniker @TheConnectedEdu on the Twitters. Her speech followed my rules of a great speech. Make me laugh, make me cry, and have me walk away with a message. Chrissy started out connecting the room with her kids with the help of pictures and anecdotes. She then went on to tell us how they both struggled with an illness that was invisible. I would be doing a disservice to both her and her story if I attempted to capture the feeling in the room after her speech. All I can say is that there were many sweaty eyeballs and not one bottom was sitting down when she was done.

I walked away with the message that just because the students in my class looked healthy doesn’t mean they weren’t struggling in one of a million other ways. This idea of building relationships and getting to know our students continues to be a message that we hear but don’t always practice enough. It’s funny how simple of a concept it is yet how difficult it is to achieve.

The next morning started out the same as the day before. More singing. I was more into it this time. It was time for my 9:20 presentation on Learning With Movement. The idea of the session was to give the participants some ideas on how to teach with movement. The idea is that movement can be used authentically to teach in a new way. It is a very powerful tool that we should be adding to our teaching toolbox. The idea that students learning will be deeper when we connect the knowledge with movement. If you want to learn more check out my presentation here.

The final session was called Supporting Ourselves and One Another Through the Lens of the Whole Learner. Amanda Britt ran us through personal wellness and hammered home the why. We briefly exercised using tabatatimer.com. Her session again crossed into the idea that in order to help others we must help ourselves. I would imagine that Lavonna Roth would approve as this lines up perfectly with her movement of #IgniteYourShine.

I will finish my blog with Glows and Grows (thanks for that Grows idea Fade) from the conference.

Glow: There was a boatload of signs directing me on where to go. I need those.

Glow: The atmosphere was created where participants were encouraged to have fun and learn.

Grow: The picture of the organizing team racial makeup mirrored the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. The team was all white with one visible Person of Color. This has to be explicitly and purposefully addressed.

Glow: Having the presenters that were flown in to run pd the day before the conference. That is brilliant. My school will be knocking on your door next year.

Glow: Lavonna Roth. She glows. #igniteyourshine

Grow: The crowd was very white as well. We have to reach out and bring in educators of Color.

Glow: Chrissy’s speech. Amazing.

Glow: The days ran smoothly and it was well organized.

Glow: The culture and climate of the conference was fantastic and positive.

Glow: Mike Ritzius. His hair.

Grow: Hotels were really far away. If possible switch them closer.

If you ever have the chance this conference is worth your time. I appreciate everyone’s hard work and effort they put into it for free!



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