Thursday, May 22, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: Spinning Right Round and Finding One's Path

Tuesday was a gorgeous summery day, and the Map Room a nice spot for the evening, with its big breezy windows. We started with pizza and chatting; the music turned off and mic came on a little after 7:00.

Unfortunately, some element of the sound system was picking up a television signal, and presenters and audience found themselves having to compete with television programming--and not just any programming, but Alvin and the Chipmunks, culminating in a soul-destroying rendition of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round." But let's just repurpose that disorienting (if theoretically hilarious) element of the evening into part of the theme that emerged: I'd call the theme for this installment of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk "Identifying that which disconnects us, and recapturing our path."

Adam Heenan asked how high school teachers can help students develop an active voice in their own  education. He detailed some factors leading to students' rudderlessness (standards, testing) and described his solution: helping them apply the methods used in advocacy-organizing to their school experience.

Questions from the audience for Adam included, among many:
  • What are the implications of students who stand up to the "machine?"
  • Could there be a high school Local School Council [an LSC is usually made up of parents, community members, and school leadership]?
  • What if the students don't want to engage in this way of thinking, but are more comfortable being told what to do?

Lisa Clay asked why we persist in doing things that we know are bad for us. She explored the notion that, if self-defeating behavior is composed of a trigger, a routine, and a reward, focusing on changing the routine will yield the best results, since we humans are designed to develop and repeat habits. Lisa approached the question as it applies to nutrition (why do I eat sugar when it makes me feel awful?), but ended with an invitation to consider the concept's application to education contexts. 

Questions from the audience for Lisa included, among many:
  • Sometimes bad habits just happen, without a specific trigger. What then?
  • How do you get yourself to want to change the routine, or have the wherewithall to do so?
  • How do we get buy-in from friends and family when we want to change a habit?

Throughout the evening, I asked audience to submit their own edu-questions they'd been chewing on, which I posted to the wall on butcher paper so people could brainstorm ideas after the formal presentations. This activity didn't get much attention, which is all right, because everyone was talking with each other instead, sharing ideas, which is the point, after all. Attendees represented a fertile mix of teaching and communications disciplines--classroom teachers, informal educators, people in advertising, body/movement therapists, and so on.

However, I'm interested in the butcher-paper questions: 
1) Who won: Karen Lewis or Rahm Emanuel?

When I read this question aloud, the classroom teachers in the room kind of snorted and laughed--they didn't see this as a real question. But the submitter, a "layperson" in terms of edutalk, told me he found the whole situation confounding and inaccessible, and he would have been interested in responses. I think this is really telling. Talk about these issues can become very insular, knotted up in impenetrable thickets of history and context. When a critical mass of people--well, voters--can't access information or reasoning, that gap ultimately contributes to a disconnect between education policy and good practice.

2) What does respect for teachers look like?
This question got a bit of interaction, but merits more.  Maybe someone will explore this in a future H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk!

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