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Reflections From Portlandia - #iPDX16

Last week I had the privilege of learning and sharing at the two conferences that make up Portland's celebrated #iPDX: AcceleratED (a one day professional learning opportunity for school and district leaders) and IntegratED (a two day professional learning opportunity for educators of all stripes). I feel like I'm still processing my takeaways from the three days I spent with educators from all around the Pacific Northwest, but here's what I know for sure right now: iPDX is something special.  Although there's something to be said about the magic of serendipity, the exceptional learning that takes place at iPDX happens by design, not happenstance.  The entire conference is set up to maximize learning opportunities for the educators who attend, and that attention to detail pays huge dividends.  Here are a few of the ingredients that I recognized in the secret sauce that makes iPDX so special:

1 ) A focus on participatory learning and student (who were in this case

educators) voice:

From the giant whiteboards and markers that greeted participants each morning, (asking them to share what they hoped to learn that day, or illustrate what success looks like, or describe their biggest takeaways from iPDX), to the collaborative notes that were created for each session so that every participant could benefit from the ways their co-learners processed the same information, to the giant monitors strategically placed throughout the conference displaying the ongoing conversation taking place on Twitter through the #iPDX16 hashtageverything about iPDX was designed to leverage the collective brain power amassed at the conference. 

2) An emphasis on pedagogy and not technology: Although iPDX is a "technology conference," its focus is very clearly and deliberately on teaching and learning, not tech. Every session is a workshop of at least 90 minutes. And presenters are tasked with sharing innovative uses of instructional technology while modeling excellent pedagogical practice. That said, I'll be honest, I found this challenging.  I'm used to delivering this kind of instruction in my district, but in those situations the presenter comes in with more control and information. For example, if I'm doing a session for educators in a school district, I know before I walk in how many participants will be in the session and (roughly) what their level of

expertise will be.  In a conference setting, these variables are unknown until go time.  And as someone who can be a little bit "type A" when it comes to my work, not knowing this stuff in advance, frankly, freaked me out. However, I soon realized a couple of things: a) this experience is far more reflective of what teachers encounter in their classrooms and libraries every day and b) having to adjust course on the fly, making sure I was bringing my A Game for every type and any number of learners, not only made me better at my craft, but also provided a model for the educators sitting in my session. For this reason, among many others, I wish I'd seen more librarians at iPDX. Don't get me wrong, there was a strong library contingent there, but, frankly, not enough.  And because librarians SHOULD be providing excellent, pedagogically strong PD for the teachers and admins in their schools and districts, iPDX would have been an excellent source of inspiration for even more members of our profession.

3) An emphasis on quality not quantity. iPDX is a small(ish) conference. I'm not sure what its capacity is, but when IntegratED sold out, they didn't add more sessions in order to accommodate more people (and therefore make more money).  As an outsider looking in, I couldn't help but imagine the conference organizers approaching every decision with a single question: Will this make for a better learning experience for our participants? And if not, let's not do it. 

All of that said, my sessions at #iPDX16 were a labor of love for me, as they grew out of real conversations I've had with educators in my own district and state who are challenging themselves to a) make instructional magic in situations that are far from 1:1 and b) use the technology they do have access to in ways that go beyond "what we've always done" and move towards engaging students in learning opportunities that simply weren't possible before the technology existed. These are big and important goals.  And it's my privilege to be a part of their journey towards reaching them.

Now, forgive me for a moment while I wax philosophical....

I'm both fond of and challenged by these words by Dr. David Lankes:

Go back and read them again.  No. Really. Do it. They are powerful. By empowering the learners we work with (be they little learners or big learners) to use resources (be they digital or analog) in ways that:

  1. amplify their voice

  2. increase their agency

  3. help them contribute to the information tsunami that our world is currently generating in ways that positively alter the conversation, and 

  4. fundamentally change teaching and learning in ways that

  5. result in meaningful outcomes for students

WE are building communities. 

The longer I do this job, the more convinced I am that the mission of school libraries (and all teachers really) should be this and this alone: to change the world. 

I know what you're thinking, that's a tall order, Jennifer. And you're right. But anything else just seems trivial.

  I recently asked a group of teachers to share some of the reason(s) WHY they were in education. Although I wasn't surprised, I was disappointed by the sheer number of "June, July and August" responses I received. I went on to challenge those educators with this question:  If you were to ask this same question of your child's teacher/librarian/principal/etc., what answers would you hope for?  Most people I encounter hope ALL of the educators their child comes in contact with are rock stars.  No one wants their child to be saddled with a teacher whose favorite part of being an educator is the "summers off." No one hopes their child's librarian is just counting the days until retirement. No one dreams that the person whose job it is to light the spark of learning in their own child be stuck in the middle of an inspiration blackout. When it comes to the child who is most important in their lives, everyone I meet wants a teacher who is not only determined to change the world, but who also firmly believes that they can do it AND who is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen for every child, every day. And of course, the thing to remember is that every child in your classroom, or library, or computer lab, or sitting in the hot seat outside of your office is the single most important child in the world to someone else. (And if they're not, you ought to do everything in your power to make them feel as if they are to you).

That said, call me naive, but I still believe that we can change the world - one lesson, interaction, conference, training, workshop, book study, reflection, _______ (fill in the blank) at a time. The day I stop believing that, is the day I need to pack it in and go home.

Finally, please indulge me while I publicly thank Darren Hudgins and the entire iPDX crew for inviting me to be a part of how you are changing the world each day.  Thanks also toDean and Jeff for reminding me that in order to change the world, we sometimes have to unlearn what we've already learned and believe to be true.  And, thank you Nancy Mangum and Abbey Futrell for always pushing me to be better. Love you! 

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