Last week I attended AASA’S National Conference on Education, here in my own fine city of San Diego. I heard some amazing keynote speakers, attended some great sessions, enjoyed lunch with colleagues, and even caught up with my AASA mentor from the More Than a Power Lunch Women in Leadership group I participated in back in 2017.
As I was reflecting on the conference as a whole, with a theme of The Personalization of Education, one word is standing out to me more than any other… connections. Every session I attended had lessons that came back to connections.
In a session on how to use social media during emergencies, we discussed that while communication is critical, you have to have relationships and connections established well before an emergency strikes, so people have reasons to want to follow you. In his keynote speech, David Brooks spoke not just about his journalism career, but more importantly about loving one another and recognizing the peaks and valleys we all experience. His message was about the importance of connections in our personal and professional lives, and in schools. In Linda Darling-Hammond’s keynote speech, she connected her most current educational research to make the case that we need more love and connections in schools. Our students need to know we care now more than ever. Her research talked about how neural networks are enhanced by social interactions, how learning is social, and how we all thrive through these connections.
In two sessions about how innovative school districts (including my own!) are making more environmentally sustainable decisions, the presenters shared that when we connect students to what matters to them, and when we help them connect to the world they live in (whether it be the water of the Chesapeake Bay or the glaciers of Montana or a city that banned plastic straws), our students can make an impact on our environment, their own learning, and beyond.
Why so much talk about connections? Why isn’t it obvious to us, as educators, that we need to make personal connections to our students, and connect them to their learning? I think after so many years of high-stakes testing and external pressures, educators have focused on standards more than support. I think this is also why we’ve seen such a rise in Social-Emotional Learning across the nation’s schools. The students and the adults in our schools are living more complex lives than ever before. We need more empathy in our classrooms and our staff lounges. We need more authentic connections with one another, so that when the work gets hard (as we know it will), we can hold each other up. This, to me, is the call to action for more personalization in education. How are we empowering our students to have agency in their own learning?
I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend the AASA conference, and to have time to collaborate with new and old colleagues. Many other leaders have written their own reflections about their time at the conference, including Jill Siler, a new colleague I met this week after we connected on Twitter. She even blogged about our Twitter chat while in a session together! I appreciate the new connection we made and look forward to more learning from and with Jill.
Who will you make a connection with today?
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Did you know that I wrote a book? The Coach ADVenture: Building Powerful Instructional Skills That Impact Learning is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I love interacting with readers via Twitter and my hashtag #CoachADV.