All Articles Education Live from #ASCD15: Renewal and inspiration

Live from #ASCD15: Renewal and inspiration

5 min read


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.

My brain is swimming after two and a half days at the ASCD annual conference. The sessions and the conversations have given me so much on which to reflect over the coming weeks. This morning I engaged with Robyn Jackson and Allison Zmuda in their session on student engagement. Jackson wrote “Never Underestimate Your Teachers: Instructional Leadership for Excellence in Every Classroom” and “Never Work Harder Than Your Students and Other Principles of Great Teaching” (a personal favorite), among others. Zmuda is the author of “Breaking Free from Myths About Teaching and Learning: Innovation as an Engine for Student Success.”

One of my biggest takeaways from this session was the four keys to engagement they shared. These are questions that are in the minds of our students of which we must be aware. Jackson and Zmuda have labeled each of these questions as well.

  1. The first question pertains to clarity: What am I aiming for? If we want students to be engaged in learning, we need to be sure we make the answer to this question clear to them.
  2. The second is about context: Why should I care? Some would call that relevance, same idea. There needs to be a reason for the learning or why invest in it.
  3. Third is culture: Who is invested in my success? As Salome Thomas-EL said in a later session, every child deserves to have at least one person care about them.
  4. Finally, challenge: How is it working for me?

These four questions and their labels are helpful reminders to me as I plan lessons and think about my classroom environment, both physical and emotional. Materials and more information from this session are online. In addition, Zmuda and Jackson both have websites full of other resources, information and thoughts.

Taking a step back, last night ASCD hosted Peter Yarrow (formerly of Peter, Paul, and Mary) as a speaker and singer. If, like me, you grew up listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary, you should be incredibly jealous. He is at this conference because he is still an activist and still working to improve the world for everyone. Currently he’s doing that through Operation Respect, an organization that fits well with ASCD’s focus on the whole child. Operation Respect has developed the Don’t Laugh at Me programs for students in second through eighth grades. They include curriculum and music and it’s all available online.

Not only did Yarrow speak and perform last night, but he participated in a session this morning. He kicked off the session speaking about the power of singing together, not only at a concert but in our classrooms. Doing so helps us feel close together and brings a sense of unanimity of spirit. Rather than just say these things, he had us sing together and feel the truth of his words.

He was followed by Courtney O’Connell. She spoke about the need to go all in in education when it comes to innovation. We need to retain and encourage our innovative teachers. She also said innovation is contagious. People see good things happening and try themselves, they spread ideas and strategies naturally. I was also struck by her comments about big ideas happening at the intersection of expert insight and educator expertise. Bringing those two together is a challenge, but one worth working on.

This session ended with Salome Thomas-EL, an exceptionally inspirational principal. I’m not certain I can do his words justice by any means. He had us yelling ‘amen’ and in tears. He spoke of the need to celebrate students’ achievements and the need to offer them intellectual capital. He taught students to play chess. Then realized that anyone carrying a chess board around is assumed to be smart. These kids didn’t just carry chess boards around though, they played and played unbelievably well. He described one little girl beating Arnold Schwarzenegger when he was running for governor. This was after Thomas-EL warned Schwarzenegger not to play her! His passion, love for his students, and belief in them and in us as educators was powerful. His words will stay with me as I fly home tonight and return to my classroom and my students tomorrow.

I leave Houston renewed, reinvigorated and inspired to return to work thoughtfully and passionately. I am grateful to ASCD, the exhibitors, and all the amazing educators who made these days so powerful. I’m already looking forward to next year in Atlanta!

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.