Aside from not having a minute to spare during this hectic week to record my thoughts on my amazing experiences at #rEDWash, I needed some time to reflect on the brilliant sessions I attended. The ResearchED series of events is, bar none, the best PD I’ve ever attended. The ideas presented are challenging, relevant, and useful. The entire day is jam-packed, and I still didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see. That’s the rub of Tom Bennett’s curating expertise – the diversity of topics and the powerhouse line-up of speakers inevitably demands that difficult choices be made. On a positive note, I got to socialize with almost everyone, thanks to the inviting and inclusive community created by Tom Bennett and Eric Kalenze, both at the official conference and beyond the main event.
After making some of those inevitably difficult choices, I came away with a stellar day. It began with a keynote presentation from Dylan Wiliam, the authoritative voice on formative assessment and assessment for learning. His focus here was on the delicate balance we must maintain between research and practice and on the important considerations we must take into account when applying research findings to classroom teaching. Wiliam provided astute analogies and sage advice. My favourite bit of food for thought was his assertion that “everything works somewhere and nothing works everywhere.” Always mindful of the dangers of falling victim to confirmation bias, this is something I’ll try to remember throughout my career.
The first session I attended was David Didau’s Poor Proxies for Learning. Not only is Didau able to persuasively challenge often unquestioned positions, he is a most entertaining and engaging speaker. It’s obvious he was a master in the classroom and I almost feel badly for the students who don’t have the privilege of taking his classes now that he’s moved into another sphere, but their loss is my gain! I’m not sure Didau is even aware that attendees of his sessions take as much away from WHAT he says as HOW he says it.
Next, I was treated to Tom Bennett’s Running a Room presentation. As a fairly experienced teacher, much of what he said was not new to me, but only because, like Bennett himself, I had to figure classroom management out largely on my own. This was Bennett’s thesis: teacher-training programs need to more consciously and deliberately prepare their charges for typical situations in the classroom that can, for the most part, be anticipated. Thankfully, he’s started an online course where his wisdom is available to all.
After lunch, I got to see Eric Kalenze in action. His book, Education is Upside-Down, was one of the first policy-reform books I read in my independent research journey, and it blew my mind. Like Didau and Bennett, Kalenze’s presentation was as engaging as it was informative. A master of metaphor, he cautions us against over-correction in education policy and reminds us that we should be skeptical of initiatives that simply re-package old, failed ideas. Best of all, he provided a must-read list of hard-found resources for those getting started on their paths of questioning the established orthodoxy.
Next, I attended Robert Pondiscio’s Why Knowledge Matters, where we were given a primer in thinking about designing a curriculum based on core knowledge. A gifted orator with a wealth of knowledge, Pondiscio’s presentation came the day before I toured D.C., and I thought of his point about President Obama’s inauguration speech as he looked toward the Lincoln Memorial, where Dr. Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. I wasn’t prepared for an emotional response, and I thank Pondiscio for providing a bit of a framework for the power of knowledge surrounding that bit of history.
I then attended Dr. Robert Craigen’s presentation on Project Follow-Through, still the most comprehensive longitudinal study on the efficacy of various teaching methods. Despite some technical difficulties, Dr. Craigen is so well-versed in this important study, he was able to communicate its relevance in a methodical manner. It always upsets me when I see how many people have never even heard of of PFT, a study whose results should have informed education policy, rather than having been suppressed from teacher-training institutions and ignored by the education establishment.
Another expected treat was Benjamin Riley’s The Emerging Science of Teacher Expertise. Riley is the founder of Deans for Impact, a research-based organization that endeavours to bring evidence-informed theories to teacher training and practice. One of my main take-aways from this dynamic presentation was Riley’s tempered approach to effecting change, a particularly timely bit of wisdom given the international trend toward polarization and fragmentation. I look forward to the upcoming Deans for Impact report on initial teacher-training.
You’d think that by the end of the day, I’d be completely bagged, but I was as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I could be when the day closed with Paul Bennett’s presentation on Special Education. This Bennett, no relation to Tom, is Canadian, and his talk was actually focused on a relevant issue in the context of my own backyard. Bennett reinforced the idea that class size, while always a concern for classroom teachers, is not necessarily as pressing an issue as class composition. In Canada, a country that has largely adopted an inclusive model of education in most provinces, the challenge is how we can address a diverse learning environment in which we have students who struggle with speaking the language, those who require specific interventions based on medical diagnoses, and others with behavioural issues that go beyond any training the average teacher will have received. Bennett is an expert in this area, among others, and his findings have been largely ignored as provinces like Alberta keep pushing forward with this failed model that has been of questionable benefit to anyone. Incidentally, as a teacher in Alberta, my U.S. and U.K. counterparts were stunned to learn how much contact time I have with students as part of my mandated schedule. While my union, which also doubles as a professional association, has worked hard to ensure that we’re well-paid, this issue of class composition and prep time has largely been ignored.
My four days in D.C. also included a couple of great evenings with people I didn’t get to see present, like @bethgg, @BryanPenfound, and @thebandb. After #rEDYork, I also gained the confidence to approach people and introduce myself, which allowed me to meet @doctorwhy, @DrSmithRIC, and @DrGaryJones. I met so many other delegates from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada with whom I shared ideas and from whom I learned so much. As well, I saw the iconic sites of this great city and enhanced my own personal experience of the world. I look forward to the next time I can participate in a ResearchED event, and I hope to one day be able to have a hand in bringing these great ideas and people to Alberta – we really need this here.
P.S. Many thanks to David Didau, who got me 100 Twitter followers in less than 24 hours with his joke-tweet. That’s the power of greatness, I guess!