All Articles Education Live from #ASCD15: Grit, mastery, accountability

Live from #ASCD15: Grit, mastery, accountability

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The 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show is underway in Houston. ASCD Emerging Leader Jennifer Orr is on the ground, bringing SmartBrief readers coverage of the event. Stay tuned for daily show recaps. Also follow live event coverage on @SBEducation and via #ASCD15.

The first day of ASCD’s annual conference was intellectually stimulating and wonderfully fun. As one person, I could barely skim the surface of the conference, but it still managed to make my brain dizzy with so much learning and thinking.

Early in the day my brain was stretched by Sarah Lewis, the author of “The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.” She is an art historian and has spent her adult life at Harvard, Oxford and Yale. That’s quite a list. Lewis spoke to a packed hall about the ideas in her book.

Grit and mastery are words that are thrown around quite a bit in education these days. Both words have a lot of baggage at this point. In a conversation with Lewis after her talk, she shared her thinking about that issue. She believes we need to rethink the word mastery. She suggested that mastery has a sense of the incomplete built into it. She talked of a ‘mastery mindset’, a way of thinking that views near wins as compulsion to keep learning and trying. Mastery is not the end, it is, in her words, “an ever onward almost.” She contrasts mastery with success which she describes as accomplishing something once rather than doing it again and again.

As to the idea of grit, Lewis believes we need to complicate it. My interpretation is that the challenge with this word in education is that we use it to describe a short period of time. We focus on students’ grit in one class period or on one project. Lewis speaks about grit as being much bigger picture, as an ability to continue to work on a goal over time.

After lunch, the Ignite sessions were a highlight. This session included 10 five-minute presentations. Ignite sessions are limited to five minutes because they consist of 20 slides that automatically move forward every fifteen seconds. As a result, it’s a fast paced experience. The theme for the 10 presentations was accountability, another word that has a lot of baggage in today’s educational climate.

Three education students from Western Kentucky University presented together (an astounding feat given the constraints of an Ignite presentation). They focused on personal and community accountability. Eric Bernstein spoke about how different accountability looks in high-achieving schools, full of art, music, theater, athletics, and in schools that struggle, where the laser focus is on reading and math to the detriment of any other subjects or activities.

Educators in Virginia would have enjoyed Laurie McCullough’s presentation on the state assessments there. Work is being done at the state level to create more authentic, individualized assessments. Allison Rodman had the best title, Wholed Me Accountable. She spoke passionately about all the things we do not currently measure that matter, such as feeding hungry students, noisy classrooms where active learning is happening, and kids getting messy in the classroom. It was astounding to listen as these phenomenal educators shared a wide range of thoughts on accountability in powerful five minute bursts.

On a side note, the Ignite model is a wonderful one for so many different things. Kevin Scott who moderated the session suggested using it as a way to share all the administrivia at staff meetings. That’s one of many possibilities.

The possibilities at the first day of ASCD’s annual conference were also many. Given the size of the Houston convention center (it is definitely Texas sized) both my brain and my body got a workout today. I’m sure tomorrow will be just as thought provoking and thrilling. Stay tuned for another live report.

Jennifer Orr is an elementary-school teacher in Fairfax County, Va. She was selected as a 2013 ASCD Emerging Leader and was a panelist at ASCD’s fall 2014 Whole Child Symposium on teacher leadership. Connect with her on Twitter at @jenorr.