Friday, April 11, 2014

Subversive Education Un-Conference Style!

It takes distance for me to really get a full perspective. I think of the many drives I’ve taken into Yosemite Valley, stopping at Tunnel View or standing at Glacier Point, looking back on the tree filled valley, river winding, rock formations surrounding it like the hand of God holding this amazing location in it’s palm.  It’s that perspective, that can be found in those lookout spots in life.  Likewise while standing at the base of El Capitan and looking up at the largest monolith of granite in the world or being drenched on the Mist Trail by two massive waterfalls towering over in Vernal and Nevada Falls, you can feel so small and in your surroundings.  Surfing gives me this same perspective as I'm sure something in your world gives you. For me, both the near and far have moments that provide perspective.

Breakfast Pre-Edcamp LA
Edcamp LA Photo Walk
Please know, I loved my experience at EdCamp LA, but it does not compare to the inspiration that Yosemite holds for me personally.  Yosemite is simply my way to show a clear distinction of perspective.  EdCamp LA in every way was an awesome experience for me as an educator. This blog post though is my "Tunnel View" or "Glacier Point Perspective" and not my valley experience on EdCamp LA.  

My valley experience would be filled with my conversations with the dedicated educators I spoke with throughout the day starting at breakfast with Sean, Chris, Elizabeth, Senna, Greg and David leading into the jokes and smiles with amazing educators like Bill, JR, Elana, Jo-Ann and others.  It would have the details of how to take Minecraft use in my classroom to the next level, or the meandering photowalk from the depths of the parking garage to the highest point of the four story school building rooftop playground.  Some of those details are now difficult to see as my memory fails me regularly, others are only valuable when emerged in the experience itself.   What remains are those big ideas, those "Half Dome" landmarks that impact my view on the classroom and my instructions.

Looking back two things still standout to me and come to mind regularly...

First: Courage and Connection

Courtyard Connection
During the session I had put on the board titled Subversive Education (I'll tell about that coming up) , backed away from the circle of seats I had adjusted, sat a lone lady. I spoke encouraging words for her and others to join the circle for the session. Most did... she did not. As we got to the heart of the session many of the group were agreeing on one specific topic but not that one unlikely vocal teacher who sat outside the discussion. She got major pushback from the group as a whole but this teacher had the courage to speak against what most in the session were sharing about and brought up some very valid points. I admired that despite the pushback, she still spoke. For me, her subversive perspective on one of the topics in the session was beautiful!   

As I ate lunch in the courtyard outside, I saw that same teacher, again off on her own, eating lunch.  I wanted to learn more about her and the courage I felt she demonstrated. I approached her and started up a conversation. I'm an introvert and connect better one on one and feel a bit awkward in large social setting even though I push myself to participate in them (& why I picked the title of an upcoming blog of mine On Being Social Media Awkward). As I did, one of the educators I respect the most, Genein Letford, came out and I invited her into our conversation. As Genein and I learned more about this special education teacher, I could see the courage she had and knew this was how she taught. With courage. As much as I feel Genein and I may have shared with her about things, I was incredibly inspired by her story and courage. Although there is so much more to the story and the conversation, I will leave those details on the "valley floor." Those in the session may remember her for taking a not so popular stance. I'll remember our conversation and that she spoke up with courage and that was truly why I posted the Subversive Education session at EdCamp LA. She was the model of disruption and looking from a distant vantage point the details fade, but the monument of courage and connection stands.

Second: Subversion/Disruption 

I whole heartedly believe in the concept of disruption. I see the value that disruption creates. I see the beauty that comes from subversion. My quick definition of subversive education/disruption is a teacher, a group of educators or an organization going against the norms (norms like pacing guides, standards, and the enforced requirements) all in the effort to create a more powerful learning opportunity for their students. It's not about opposing things, but about providing innovation that leads to deep learning and potentially systemic changes. After all... if all we do is follow the same path set out before us, innovation would not occur. So I taped up (on the outside of the session boxes encouraged by Sean and Vicki) on the EdCamp LA board "Subversive Education: What cool things are you doing that don't fit the standards or Common Core?" Selfishly I wanted to have this session to confirm what I suspected, that I wasn't the only one experimenting with new strategies and pedagogy in this transition time between standards. I wanted to know what other efforts where happening to innovate and positively impact kids lives and educational experience... but happening "somewhat underground." 

The session started with me sharing about a non-education speaker I had listen to a few weeks prior at the 2014 OC Business Outlook (I believe I was the only k-12 teacher among thousands at that event). He had told stories about small start-up companies disrupting the way things worked for the big corporations and how the big corporations could "deal" with these small disruptors. I was so inspired, but I'm not sure it was how the speaker intended. I didn't hear his message from the big business view, I heard it from the view of the disruptor. I figured that if we, as small "classroom start-ups,"could innovate and disrupt, then the education world would have to shift from the same old thing and change just like the shift small start-ups named Google, Apple, YouTube and others did to the world of information and technology.  

To lead the sharing of risks in the Subversive Education session, I told my personal stories of having a class pet that wasn't allowed. No big deal. I was hoping to start small and lead up to a climax of education changing discussions and idea generation. I spoke of trying to podcast with my students several years before and having our district place a sticker on my personal Apple computer that I brought in to use to produce the student "Stories in History" podcasts. The sticker simply said along the lines of "This is Not An Approved Electronic Device and Must be Removed Immediately!" along with some other district rules for power use. I know neither of these I shared were massive disruptions, but both had the intent of providing a positive experience for my students.  

The session was off and running with many of the other amazing teachers sharing stories of subversion, some big and some small. The discussion went in many directions all with the continued hope of sharing about educational lessons that didn't follow the norms or standards, but that these dedicated educators knew were good for their students. It was empowering to know this was happening all over. I hope if you read this, you too will share your story of disruption and subversion with others. I also hope to see Subversive Education sessions cards pop-up (on the outside of session boxes of course) on session boards at other EdCamps! After all... it is the Un-Conference and perfectly disruptive itself!

* I'm thankful for the time I spent at EdCamp LA. It was a valuable investment that has paid off over the last two month in my classroom and my teaching spirit. I'm so thankful to the educators and contributors who took their time to organize such an awesome event. If you haven't attended an EdCamp I hope you'll consider it soon. Most importantly, I hope you'll become a disruptor of the norm, working to innovate the educational experience we provide for our most valuable resource... our kids!

For Info or Support in Starting Your Own Subversive Education Session at Edcamp, Please Contact Me @TASFair or @ScottBedley on The Twitters.

Look for the upcoming blogpost on CUE14 and a disruptive topic Optional Homework... Seriously? Thanks again for reading and pardon any errors and formatting issues!