Conference Day Two: Going from Good to Great

Today was a full day at the conference: one session in the morning, a general session with all 8000-some conference participants in attendance, and two sessions in the afternoon. The whole experience was exhausting but rewarding, and it was especially nice to emerge from the last afternoon session and find that the rain clouds had parted to reveal brilliant sunshine.

Two sessions stood out to me most today. First, a session on Web 2.0 tools (gasp! jargon words!) for building your own personal learning network, or PLN. What’s your PLN, you ask? It’s the network of people, resources, and tools that you use to interact with your world and build relationships and knowledge in your professional life. This session was hosted by a New Jersey high school principal who has received national recognition for his leadership in social networking and Web 2.0 tools like Twitter, Delicious tagging, and Ning communities. I felt inspired: in fact, I think this means I may finally join Twitter, since now I have an even stronger sense of how it can be used as a tool for connecting with a network of other educators in order to enhance my practice. I now have a lot of work to do in restructuring my RSS reader, creating a Twitter account, and joining online networks to help myself tap in more effectively to the enormous body of knowledge that’s out there about education.

The general session speaker was Dr. Atul Gawande, Harvard surgeon and bestselling author and a personal hero of mine. Although Dr. Gawande is a physician, his messages about the need for constant improvement speak to the practice of education just as they apply in medicine. Dr. Gawande spoke of the aspiration to go from good to great, and he posited that it takes constant coaching and constructive criticism in order to do so. Find a mentor or a colleague or a coach of some kind, some person you trust, he said, and invite them to observe your work in action and offer their insights. He did this recently and felt he learned more from this brief conversation about his latest surgery than he had in the previous few years of training. This is exactly what we as educators need, too: it’s instructive to bring in other smart, experienced practitioners to observe what we’re doing, to comment on it, and to help us reach the next level in our own practice. There are many good teachers and many good doctors out there. But to become great, we need to keep striving for tiny, incremental improvement. Those tiny gestures can have a huge impact.

The biggest take-home from each of these talks was a powerful one: if we expect our students to be life-long learners, we can’t just tell them that’s a good thing to do. We have to model that behavior. We have to commit ourselves to using our time and our other resources wisely to constantly assess and improve our own practice. Just as we ask students to reflect on their work as they go, we should share that commitment to reflection.

So look for me next week: I’ll be the one huddled over my computer and bending others
ears in the faculty room trying to learn as much as I can from all of the many great educators around me.

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