Rebels kinda without a cause.

“In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. (Mr. Dumby, Act III)”
― Oscar WildeLady Windermere’s Fan

I just came back from the ECOO (Educational Computing Organization of Ontario) Conference in Niagara Falls. The Conference was extremely well-organized, smoothly run and respectful of the needs of participants. I cannot thank Co-Chairs Doug Peterson and Cyndie Jacobs enough for their passion for students and their empathy for the attendees. You don’t need to be a psychic though to see that a big BUT is coming. While I loved the conference as a whole, the peacocking of some presenters gave me pause for thought.

As an attendee at a conference, there are certain happenings that I take for granted. There will be at least one inspiring keynote. The sales pitches will come in thick and heavy in the vendors’ hall. There will be corporate presenters or their proxies desperately trying to pitch their wares through “education sessions”. There will be the “what were they thinking?” sessions. There will be the REAL educators who care about kids, society and progress. Finally and sadly, there will be the presenters who purport to be kid-centric but sadly come off as self-centred or career chasing. ECOO13 provided all of the above.

My default position is to question the status quo, regardless of topic. While often skeptical, I do my level best to listen and discern. I associate more with the left of the spectrum but remain ultimately pragmatic in my decision-making. I strive to be an Integrative Thinker like those chronicled by my intellectual hero Roger Martin in the Opposable Mind. If you spend too much time hanging out at the poles or the far ends of the spectrum, you cast yourself as an ideologue and not an agent of change. Pardon my harsh judgement (or not if you choose) but ideologues are quite often pedantic blowhards who are too afraid of tackling systems level reform. It is easier to act like a rebel than to behave in a rebellious manner. My problem with these vitriolic types is that they make things difficult for those striving for bigger things. As I mentioned in my previous post, irreverence can be a powerful tool  if used strategically. If overused and misdirected, it can also be like pissing in the wind. I attended a few sessions, (one in particular) where the presenter cared far more about being heard than about teaching and learning. Nothing new was presented but the presenter revelled in “correctness”. The presenter had it right and the establishment had it wrong. Maybe true but the message was lost on me. The only thing that I remember from the session was the hubris of the presenter. Now seems like the perfect time for some wisdom from resident Good ol’ Boy Dr. Phil, “do you want to get better, or do you want to be right?”.  Do we want to change the current educational reality for the better or do we want to feel righteous about operating outside of the system? This presenter along with several others were way more concerned about broadcasting their worldview than about creating change (a charge that I might be guilty of from time to time as well!!!).

Change is about others, not yourself. 21C is about providing expanded and relevant options for students. It is not about tearing down one set of education elites, only to be replaced by a new one. I attended two kindergarten sessions that were so clearly about kids. Student work was prominent and student voice was apparent. The Superintendent for Curriculum and Accountability in the TCDSB, Dan Koenig, recently pointed me in the direction of a powerful book – Mother Teresa CEO. The book lays out the leadership principles employed by Mother Teresa to develop her organization and fulfill her vocation. The vitriolic “expert” presenters would do well to read this book, especially the chapter about embracing doubt. Doubt is a powerful ally. It keeps you grounded. It keeps you humble. It keeps you people centred. Most importantly it prevents you from becoming “an expert”. There are a lot of experts out there. On any given Sunday you can find them in full punditry commenting on the NFL, you can find them daily offering opinions on the political system and you can find them critiquing the creative efforts of artists. Experts are experts because they don’t actually do anything. They may have at one time but no longer. They are comfortable operating outside of the system not out of choice but often because they were no longer useful (think fired coach).

I would love to chalk all this up to the impetuousness of youth but sadly my targets were not faculty fresh. I admire the passion but it needs to be refocused to the kids. It must always be about them, not us. Politicians on the far right are dangerous but so are those on the far left. Educators who are stuck in the past are dangerous but so are those thumbing their nose at past or current practice just for the sake of it.

My overall conference experience was wonderful. There was powerful dialogue and sincere collaboration throughout many aspects of the week. I only ask that when given the opportunity to present, that one carefully reflects on motive before proceeding.

I want to thank Doug (king of the #FF) Peterson, Cyndie Jacobs and the organizing team of ECOO once again for a great experience. I learned a lot from the good and the bad.