Educon 2.8: Learning about a missed opportunity

I attended Educon 2.8 once again this year, hosted at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.  It was great to be in the building once again.  Chris Lehman and Zac Chase provide inspiring leadership and watching this school grow and change has been fantastic.  The school feels more like Ontario schools than other US schools that I hear about, although I must confess that it is the only US school I’ve had the opportunity to visit!

I really enjoyed talking to teachers and parents this year, and spent a fair bit of time asking them questions and loitering in the hallways to get a sense of what was new at the school. You’ll know, if you’ve ever attended Educon, that sessions are about conversations, not presentations, and it’s a place of rich dialogue and networking.

I attended one session that really got me thinking and reflecting on my past practice at school last year as a vice-principal.  It was called The Privileged Voices in Education, facilitated by Audrey Watters @audreywatters and Jose Vilson @TheJLV.  I chose to listen rather than talk. The conversation ran the gamut of sensitive and passionate topics: race, privilege, access, voice, agency, challenges with getting people involved politically, and the fear of corporate interference and what that could mean for students.  There were students, teachers, parents, and administrators in the room.

It’s my nature to begin to shift to action oriented thinking and a few people started to talk about some of the things we CAN do to help give ALL students and parents a voice in education. The issue of our complicity was raised – both from the point of view of those who are silent in their daily lives, and those who don’t even feel privileged enough to join in the conversation — such a complex issue.  We were prompted by Jose toward the end of the session to be reflective about our complicity, and this is when I realized that I had missed an opportunity last year at my school.

Edward Johnson PS received a grant for technology last year, which I’ve written about before. We got the grant because we had a parent on school council who volunteered her time to search out grant opportunities and follow them up.  We also likely got it because I knew what to write, how to phrase that proposal, and could even support the school in the implementation of a great space and make it work.  Our school isn’t a school that is lacking…we have a supportive community of parents, and lucky students who are comfortable and privileged with their opportunities.  I’m suspicious of corporate funding, because I often think it goes where it is NOT needed most, and yet I wanted to support the parents and bring the best to my school and my students.  Was I complicit in adding to the gap between rich and poor schools?

I could have done it differently.  I could have partnered with a school just a few blocks away and done some work to share what I know about writing that proposal with other parents, teachers and administrators. We could have split the money (it wasn’t huge, but $20000 is definitely sizable) and partnered the two schools to be co-learners in this venture.  Was I complicit in promoting gaps between schools that ‘have’ and those that ‘don’t have’? Not intentionally.  Could I have taken action to encourage a partnership that could shed some light on a school in need and help build capacity there?  Yes definitely.

I hope I get another chance to approach this differently another time.

One person in the room provided some interesting insight for people wondering about the intention of corporate support in education realm.  Find out how much they are investing in the grants themselves, and then try to find out how much is spent in marketing the grants.  Interesting….