At the entrance to the Howitt Middle School in Farmingdale, students welcomed the attendees to the free 2nd annual Long Island Connected Educators Summit (Twitter #CELI15) and ushered them to the tables with pre-printed badges. A table serving as an info booth and registration for EdCampLI that will take place on October 3rd was next. Tables around the corner offered typical morning refreshments, bagels, spreads, coffee, and hot water for tea. It was an important social treat. Many attendees who knew each other only from social media previously met at the cafeteria for their first face-to-face greetings. Group picture taking started immediately. Just that photo-op banner behind them was missing. Some attendees arrived alone, others in teams from as far as Massapequa, NY, New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
As a parent, I was first hesitant to register for a full blown “connected educators summit.” The title sounded intimidating, but a short Twitter talk with a parent/speaker dissipated my concerns. Her assurance that there would be plenty sessions offered for non-educators confirmed later, when the summit program was released.
In the auditorium, Dr. Brennan, superintendent of Farmingdale SD, delivered the opening keynote speech. A team consisting of teachers, an administrator, and a parent were answering questions from the audience. There were about 500 people before they dispersed in 12 classrooms. Students, after fulfilling their greeter roles, were encouraged to attend a session of their choice, or hop from one to another to absorb the atmosphere.
The conference part in the morning offered total of 24 topics in two sessions. Each session lasted about an hour. The topics ranged from educator-, or administrator-specific to general. I have been following the Parent Camp movement since last year and wrote posts about it here and here. So, I welcomed a session dedicated to Parent Camp. The debate was lead by a team of administrators and teachers from Bay Shore SD. It was a perfect teamwork. They shared their experience from the Parent Camp they organized last year.
The attendees consisted of parents, teachers, and administrators who were the most vocal. They all were visibly frustrated by the low participation of parents in school matters. It was fascinating to listen to what extent some of them go in order to reach parents. They visit other community meetings and events and invite local organizations to the schools.
The second session I attended was lead by Kristina Holzweiss (Twitter @lieberrian) teacher, librarian at Bay Shore SD. On her website, she gathered resources for Genius hour and brought few samples to demonstrate. Her list of resources was infinite and she concentrated on projects that could be achieved on tight budget. I identified with “Snap Circuits” right away. It reminded me the wired wooden boards we used in elementary school when I was a student. I could spend hours snapping circuits. No wonder the kit claims being for “ages 8–108.”
During the lunch hour of socializing, the unconference part of the summit was created ad hoc by attendees who wanted to lead a debate. Six sessions were formed and announced on the board. (Enlarge the picture). I was torn among “Using Art & Media in The Classroom,” “Making Thinking Visible,” and “Stakeholder-Student/Teacher-Parent.”
I landed at the last one. Two representatives from American Immigration Council, based in Washington, DC, shared their experience with reaching non-English speakers. They are often working on Long Island. Last fall, Nassau and Suffolk counties combined “received” about 2,500 of such students. Superintendent of a school district in New Jersey shared her experience with reaching families with kids who need special services. I shared my experience with the 3-prong approach across the four ZIP codes of the Malverne UFSD. Principal Pena (Twitter @PrincipalPena), Howitt MS, shared his experience with parents visiting classes. Not one day a year, for a rehearsed lesson, but give him a call. He also recommended other leaders in the room to “not let people leave the building without first tweeting what has happened in the classroom that day.”
The #CELI15 summit concluded in the auditorium with sharing the takeaways. Personally, I observed the dedication and energy of all the organizing crew. They all wanted to be there despite the snowy, cold Saturday. I can say the same about all the participants. The admins. and teachers (and parents, of course) wanted to learn new things and share their knowledge. Teamwork was the common thread of the summit. One particular example stands out in my mind—the “loud” team of Cantiague elementary school in Jericho, NY. Teamwork of teachers and administration is the most important foundation in reaching students and, consequently their parents. Not delegates, liaisons, or representatives, but each individual creates a link in a chain. The chain is as strong as each individual link. It is for the collaborative atmosphere, I recommend anyone to participate in any future Parent Camps or Ed Camps. I encourage especially parents to visit this type of conference-unconference. They’ll get a better understanding of how educators/lead learners are thinking and how they are transforming education in the 21st Century—regardless of specialization, titles, and “Master” bonuses.