Monday, 4 May 2015

researchED New York part 1: Just like I pictured it


It was the best of times it was...actually, it was just the best time. Yesterday Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York, hosted researchED New York, our first in the USA. Mary Poppins once said that when you find the fun in the work then *snap* the work's a game. Building this hasn't felt like work at all; it's been a human cannonball across the Grand Canyon dressed as Evel Knievel, only instead of landing on the other side you take off and land on the goddamn Moon and they laid on a ticker tape parade. 


It's also been a six month heart attack. Mary Poppins never mentioned that. 



Carry on Riverdale

Every educational eco system has its own idioms, dialect and context. Edu-tourists frequently fail to grasp this; they bumble into the gift shops at the airport and fill their briefcases with snow globes and tea towels, mistaking tat for treasure. Forget about context, and you might as well have stayed at home. (Strangely enough this maxim also often applies to people seeking universal truths about schools and classrooms, but then it's easier to sell a con if it promises to work every time). It's been fascinating to look at the New York scene, and its atmosphere, and climate, and meeting its people. 


Riverdale was an extraordinary venue, and its Head Dominic Randolph (the Bronx's most rock and roll school Head you will ever come across, unless Robert Plant decides to have a shot at it) equally generous to have us; I would marvel at how often people have been kind, ambitious and brave enough to take a chance on researchED and help us build something, but if I took the time to think about it too much I'd need tranquillisers and oxygen to recover. This engine runs on hope. 


And what a line up: Tom Whitby, teacher Twitterer extraordinaire encouraged his audience to get online and get involved through social media, and amen to that. I speak as a man running a gig that would never have happened if educators and mean and women of talent and hadn't shaken hands in cyberspace. The revolution will not be televised; the revolution will be live streamed, and open access, a shared resource for the good of the many, not the few. Tom made building up an online empire sound easy, or at least possible to anyone, but then a man who can pull off a handlebar moustache and a Hawaiian shirt like him is no ordinary man. You should check him out, he's amazing. 


Other superstars were also available: as usual, je suis votre compere, so I saw twice as many people half as much as I'd like. Lucy Crehan was magnificent: a teacher explorer who's spent the last few years burrowing deep into different countries' education systems. She's now writing a book about it, and if it isn’t fascinating I'll eat David Weston's College of Teaching sash. Speaking of which, the hardest working man in edbiz sizzled in a session that was standing room only. He was packing them in. Wisely I didn't put him up against my session. 


The Sisson sisters were far from filthy and their session was gorgeous, opening up literacy research like Christmas; Ben Riley, from Deans for Impact spoke masterfully about the way teaching can interact meaningfully with science. He's far too good; I'll have to put a hit out on him. Wellington College's Hibernian bohemian axeman Carl Hendrick shook off the sweats to hit the ball out of the park with a session about the Grassroots model of research, co hosted with Christina Hinton from Harvard. John Mighton rolled out JUMP maths; Bob Janke talked about data babble; Glenn Whitman dived into 'brain science'; Angela Logan Smith talked about vocabulary....and on and on. It was an orgy of riches. A really, really polite one. 


What was particularly edifying was to see and hear so many kindred spirits over here; articulate, powerful voices all wrestling with similar issues, all reaching out in similar ways, to support each other, other teachers, and the children we all serve. It was also a treat to see a day built of UK and US voices (and Canadian- I'll be lynched by a few if I don't add that) talking the same language, with the odd phonetic twist here, an Atlantic neologism there. But people are people; kids are kids; learning is learning. Maybe some things are more universal than we suspected. 


Yes we can


There is an appetite for this; my propellant belief is that educators are building new models of CPD, of ITT, and of professional discourse, right in front of our noses, real time. The opportunities now exist for us to seize- if we want to- autonomy and agency from the structures that brought us here. Educators of all flavours can speak unto educators directly through new forms of social media, spreading ideas, sharing experience, and collaborating in ways we couldn;t have dreamed of even fifteen years ago.

But the key to this deluge of data availability is criticality; discernment; information literacy. Bad ideas spread as well as good ones, faster even, if they promise the Moon when the truth is more coy. It’s never been more vital for educators to become research literate, or at least literate enough to be cautiously hospitable to new ideas…or even old ones.


By the end of the day we had been invited back to do more researchED conferences in more cities. We’re working on the cloning program as fast as we can; God knows how I’ll find time to do it.


But I will, with a little help from my friends. America, you let us in and looked after us. Let's do this again sometime.


Part 2: Daniel Willingham's presentation proves persuasive, in tomorrow's super soaraway TES.

from Tom Bennett - Blog

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