live-blogging and conferences

Last year at the ASCD conference, there was a tremendous amount of buzz around the term the whole teacher: just as teachers are tasked with developing the whole child, principals are increasingly being tasked with developing and supporting the whole teacher. This year, I would sum up the ASCD conference in a single word that takes that concept even deeper: WHY.

All of the presenters I heard–from Daniel Pink to Sir Ken Robinson to Eric Jensen to Jane McGonigal–discussed the importance of asking this question within the context of our work in schools. Superintendents and administrators need to ask it. Teachers need to ask it. And just as critically, students need to ask it. Why are we doing this? Why does this matter? Why is this important?

ASCD-Annual-Conference

Click to view tweets from the conference and see what other big ideas were shared.

In their incredible session on student engagement, Robyn Jackson and Allison Zmuda reminded us that WHY is a much harder question than HOW. Teachers are rarely asked why they make instructional choices in the classroom, and they rarely have time to ask it of themselves. A typical response to Why are you teaching this? is Because it’s on the test. And why is it on the test? Because it’s in the curriculum. Why is in the curriculum? Because it’s a standard.

The real truth that none of us want to admit is this: we don’t often see a good reason for kids to learn the things we’re tasked with teaching them. Why, for example, do we teach elementary math students to figure out the area of a space? There is no obvious, practical, and compelling reason why we should teach it or why they should bother to learn it. Because they might want to lay carpet in an irregular space one day? Who would be excited to learn or teach that?

The alleged real-life purpose for a skill or concept is often not that meaningful. So we attempt to dress up the curriculum a bit to make it more authentic and relatable: What is the square footage of Beyonce’s mansion? This strategy only works part of the time, because not all kids care about Beyonce, and even fewer of them care enough about her to put in the hard work needed to determine the size of her house. When we choose the context for problem solving for our students, that doesn’t automatically make it relevant or engaging or important. Sometimes that approach leads to even more student disengagement.

Most of the time, we launch into instruction on concept after concept without really knowing how or why it’s going to benefit students. We’re grasping for real-world connections and seeking to entertain our students instead of engage them. We make the mistake of believing that learning must be fun when in fact real learning is often hard work. Real learning is centered around engagement and meaning, and struggle for mastery is often the very thing that makes it enjoyable.

passionate teaching

Robyn reminds us that without our own compelling reason for teaching a lesson, it’s really difficult to get kids invested in their learning:

But when you start your lesson planning by answering the WHY, you immediately get more excited about your own lesson. And that is the secret to finding your passion: start with your WHY for teaching that lesson. Your passion and clarity of focus become contagious and the kids become engaged, too.

Here’s the best part, Robyn says: you don’t always have to be the one who finds the answer to why something is important. You can create a space in your classroom for students to find the answer for themselves. Sometimes a skill or concept is important because it helps kids think in a different way or problem-solve. Sometimes an activity is important because it gives them a chance to practice skills they’ve already learned and apply them in new ways.

The importance of a task does not necesarily stem from the possibility of a student one day becoming an architect or fiction writer or physicist. The task must, in some way, benefit them right now. When we truly believe in the purpose, we enjoy teaching more and do it more effectively. And when students truly believe in it–when they discover the personal benefit and consider their unique, individual reasons for learning–real engagement happens.

Do you have any routines or practices that help students connect with the purpose for a task? How do you connect to the WHY of a lesson while planning? Can you think of a time when the WHY got you really excited to teach? I would love to hear how you make time for WHY in your classroom.

{ 7 comments }

Daniel Pink at ASCD: why being persuasive in the classroom is more important than ever

ed news and trends

What percentage of your time is spent convincing people to give up something they value (like time, energy, attention, or money) in exchange for something you offer? This was the question posed by Daniel Pink, the first keynote speaker at this year’s ASCD conference in Los Angeles. He shared a study where 7,000 Americans participated, and […]

Read the full article…

Big ideas and ed tech trends from ISTE 2013

21st century schools

I’m home and getting settled back in after the biggest ed tech conference of the year: ISTE, which was held this year in San Antonio, Texas, and attracted over 20,000 participants. I’ve already shared my notes on the inspiring ideas shared in the first Ignite session at ISTE and my summary from a session on integrating […]

Read the full article…

Inspiring ideas from the first Ignite session at ISTE 2013

21st century schools

The Ignite format for conference sessions is one of my favorites: each presenter has five minutes to speak. They get to show only twenty slides which automatically advance every fifteen seconds. It’s a fast-paced session that gives the best ideas designed to inspire and energize educators. Here are some of the highlights from my notes […]

Read the full article…

How to integrate technology when nothing works right

21st century schools

I’d love to do more with technology in the classroom, but I don’t have the equipment and infrastructure I need. What can I do? That’s the question we sought to answer at this morning’s Hack Education 2013 unconference in San Antonio, Texas. A group of about 25 educators had some casual conversations in a session we […]

Read the full article…

A message for educators from Maya Angelou

live-blogging and conferences

As I mentioned in my last post about the ASCD conference in Chicago, the highlight of the weekend for me (and probably for most who attended) was hearing Maya Angelou speak. People started lining up outside the auditorium two hours before her keynote began, hoping to get as close as possible to the legendary poet-actress-playwright-producer-director-activist […]

Read the full article…

Meeting the needs of the whole teacher

ed news and trends

These are my final hours here in Chicago for the 2013 ASCD annual conference. All kinds of posts have been swirling around in my head for days, and I feel like things are just now settling down to the point where I can begin to process everything I’ve learned and experienced. The generosity of ASCD […]

Read the full article…

BlogHer 2012 Recap

live-blogging and conferences

I know what you’re thinking: Seriously, Angela, are you ever NOT at a conference? It’s true, conferences are one of my favorite things in the world and I go to as many as I can. I spend so much of my time connecting with people online that the chance to finally be in the same city as […]

Read the full article…

ISTE Conference 2012 Recap

21st century schools

ISTE 2012 just flew by this year! It was worth every penny and I am definitely going to save up again so I can go next year when it’s in San Antonio. You can read my initial reflections on the 2012 conference here. In this post, I’m going to combine the last two days of […]

Read the full article…

#ISTE12 initial reflections

ed news and trends

The travel day from hell The ISTE conference almost didn’t happen for me this year. It took me 18 hours to get to San Diego from New York. BY PLANE. You don’t want to know what happened. Suffice it to say that I was seriously close to saying forget it and going home. But I survived, […]

Read the full article…

Big take-aways from the ASCD conference

ed news and trends

I’ve been back from the conference since Monday night and was finally able to pull together some ASCD resources for you and really reflect on what I learned. In case you missed it, here are my reflections and session summaries from day one and from the second and third days of the conference. Reflections and session […]

Read the full article…

Reflections on the ASCD 2012 conference, Part 2

ed news and trends

ASCD’s annual conference is coming to a close as I write this: I’m in the last session on Monday afternoon. Yesterday went by so quickly I decided to combine the Sunday and Monday summaries into one final reflections post. (If you missed my first post from the conference, here are my reflections on day one.) […]

Read the full article…

ASCD 2012 Conference: Day 1 Reflections

ed news and trends

It’s my third time attending the annual conference as a member of the press (sounds so important, right?) courtesy of ASCD. This year we’re in Philadelphia, one of my favorite east coast cities. I arrived early and spent some time wandering around the city, enjoying the beautiful spring weather, historic architecture, and of course, cheesesteaks. […]

Read the full article…

Free online conference this week!

live-blogging and conferences

I’m so excited that it’s time once again for the 2011 Global Education Conference!  It’s a unique concept–sessions are held in multiple languages around the clock over the course of five days (Monday-Friday, November 14-18.) Each session is just one hour and there’s usually time at the end for participants to ask questions, make connections, […]

Read the full article…

What’s an ed camp and what’s in it for you?

21st century schools

It’s not ALL bad on the education-in-the-news front! This is the education story that the media is missing: teachers who love their jobs and their students and are actively investing in their own professional development. EdCamp NYC was held this past Saturday at The School at Columbia University. It was just one of many EdCamp events […]

Read the full article…

The haute couture of education

21st century schools

I’ve been back from EduBloggerCon and ISTE for a few days now, and the high that comes from such an energizing gathering has begun to wear off. Now I’m left with the real work of attending a conference: reflecting afterward on how everything fits into the big picture of my work, and allowing what I’ve […]

Read the full article…

Best and worst of the 2011 ISTE conference

21st century schools

I attended the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference for the first time this year, and I am hooked! As in, just-left-and-am-already-amped-to-go-back-again hooked. Here’s my round up of the best (and worst) aspects of the conference. Worst parts of ISTE11: 1) Unreliable wi-fi. This is almost unforgivable in a tech conference in […]

Read the full article…

Stop the tech snobbery

21st century schools

If we want to ever get technophobes comfortable with technology, those of us who love the stuff have got to stop being tech snobs. I’m at the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference where tech lovers in education unite. Unfortunately, there are occasional wafts of divisiveness that kill the otherwise pervasive spirit of […]

Read the full article…

Passion, growth mindset, flat world, and the bright spots: reflections on ASCD 2011

21st century schools

Maybe it was the laid-back California vibe. Maybe it was the jet lag. For whatever combination of reasons, I took a laid-back approach to this year’s annual ASCD conference. And it might have been the best one yet. My intention was to live-blog and live-tweet some sessions (especially the keynotes) as I’ve done in the […]

Read the full article…

Personal reflections on learning at ASCD 2010

live-blogging and conferences

I’m a thematic learner–that’s how I function in every aspect of my life. Personally, spiritually, and professionally, there are always a handful of critical issues that weigh heavily on my heart, and I fully devote myself to tackling them. For weeks or months or however long the passion is ignited, I read every book on […]

Read the full article…