Sitting over a mug of coffee the morning after I returned home from Orlando, my wife asked me, "So, what did you learn?"
I reflected on my whirlwind forty hours at the Annual Conference of the National Association of Independent Schools and thought about all that I had learned; new approaches to student assessments, ways to manage the onslaught of technology in our lives, ways to use technology to enhance student learning, about nurturing student creativity and global citizenship and . . . what had I really learned? It occurred to me. The energy, enthusiasm and focus on connectedness at the conference had really taught me about the true power of collective professional learning.
Fifty years ago, Bob Marley and the Wailers sang "Who feels it knows it." Before going to the conference I certainly understood that professional learning is driving education forward as possibly the world's most dynamic and exciting profession. Indeed, that is part of what drew me to Orlando. But amidst the chattering, twittering, smiling mass of educators and school administrators, I felt it.
It was clear that the conference organizers get this simple and important concept as well; that connection and the exchange of ideas between people is the wellspring of creativity, innovation and progress. (and, speaking as a history teacher, I'll note that it always has been.) They encouraged and facilitated exchange through an active conference Twitter feed (#NAISAC14), a community blog, social events, mix & mingles and countless other ways of getting all of us sharing. Meanwhile, the technology allowed people to come together in person through Tweetups or announcing sponsored gatherings.
I was having a blast.
What I felt was the great charge we humans get when we're surrounded by creative, productive energy, and it sends our learning curve rocketing for the moon. My brain buzzed. As the Information Age compels us to reimagine education from the ground up, we need this "open source" approach to school transformation. No single educator, single school or even single country is going to successfully recreate education on their own. We need collective learning. We need to Fail Forward, as one inspired conference presenter said, by fearlessly trying new things, reflecting, iterating and, above all, sharing our efforts. Blog it. Tweet it. Present it, in the full light of all its strengths and weaknesses. Ask others what they've been trying on in their schools and classrooms.
We educators can no longer be silos. The future of education is collective, democratic, life-long and omnipresent. Bravo NAIS for your vision and leadership, for bringing us together, and for helping us see that we Independent Schools are actually dependent . . . on each other, and on all educators around the globe. It's about learning; collective professional learning.