The past 2 days I attended the SASPA (South Australian Secondary Principals Association) Conference titled “Creativity & Innovation: The New DNA of Schools” and am pleased to say it was a valuable two days spent. The conference was not only supremely well organised and facilitated, but it delivered inspiration, provocation and great examples of practice from some of our South Australian secondary schools. I could write separate posts about the thoroughly entertaining Ben Walden who took us on a whirlwind exploration of leadership through the narrative of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or the examination of data and who controls the field of judgement in our data driven reform agenda by Professor Bob Lingard. Furthermore Elaine Bensted, CE Zoos SA shared her example of how effective change leadership can have a profound effect, plus one of the best purpose statements I have ever seen.
— Jason Loke (@Jason_Loke) August 17, 2017
Again day 2 held similar gems, with the always poignant Professor David Giles, a compelling example of practice from Banksia Park International High School and their adaptation of Covey’s Habits of Highly Effective People in developing culture across their entire school community and a stimulating final keynote from Professor Yong Zhao questioning the side effects of education.
So seems like an amazing learning experience doesn’t it. What more could you ask for than inspiring messages, provocations, and examples of interesting practice?
Well for me, one of the most valuable aspects of learning in collaborative spaces such as conferences, especially those with a healthy twitter backchannel, is the opportunity to discuss, question and challenge the ideas or practice being presented. Through this questioning and examination, new understandings emerge and perspectives are confirmed, strengthened or disrupted. Over the two days, I experienced little discourse challenging or questioning the thoughts and ideas being presented. After day 1, I conceded that perhaps it was due to my lack of engaging in table talk, but instead tweeting and recording thoughts and takeaways online, where I can often explore the contributions of others to deepen the conversation. Plus the fact that one of the workshop options was spent delivering our own story to a room full of peers.
As I entered my chosen workshop today, I made a deliberate effort to engage others on my table in considering and challenging the ideas being presented by Banksia Park. Not because I was in opposition to their practice (I actually found it extremely interesting and relevant) but because I wanted to engage in dialogue that could drive deeper understanding of the benefits and considerations of their approach. Despite raising questions about rewards/awards and judgements on whether high effort always equates to growth, which normally provokes some discussion, it really didn’t eventuate to any critical examination or conversation. This is no reflection on the quality of the educators on my table, for all I know, they were wondering “who on earth is this irritating human?” wishing I let them be to record their notes and eat their mentos! It was just my attempt to deepen my own experience and understandings.
I not once experienced anyone questioning the rhetoric, challenging ideas or blatantly disagreeing. I find having participants, online or in person, being discordant or making counter arguments, even if I comfortably disagree, facilitates discussion that leads me to deeper understanding and empathy towards the perspectives. Of course, my experience was limited to those I sat with and the tweets I caught throughout the conference, but I can’t help feeling a tiny bit less satisfied.
The concern for me is that we are way too polite and are at risk of conserving a homogenous (word of the day) narrative when we aren’t willing to engage in productive, passionate but respectful dialogue. Even just for the sake of it!
So if you were there, let me know, what was an idea, practice or message that you might question? Or how do you engage others in discourse at conferences to deepen your own learning?
Check out the twitter stream captured on storify here to see for yourself.