I’ve been attending a bunch of conferences this summer, both as a presenter and as a learner.  As I’m typing this, the blue sky and fluffy clouds are to my right out the window of a 737 as I travel back from Salt Lake City.  I didn’t see much of the city these past two days, but I did learn quite a bit from the 24 hours that I was in attendance at the School Improvement Summit Conference.

I heard Michael Fullen speak on the power of motion leadership.  One of the comments that he made in his keynote address was that “hope is not a strategy”, which I found so powerful.  I know so many schools that put hope as the core of their school improvement plan.  They “hope” their test scores will rise.  They “hope” that school culture will finally turn around.  And hoping isn’t going to cut it.  It’s not a plan.  As educators, we are in the business of using strategic planning, assessing and evaluating to help our students grow.  The other powerful thing that I learned from Michael was that practice becomes practice.  Learning from others throughout the process of our practice allows our practice to become better.  Thus, our students and our teachers grow and change and rise because we practice our practice.

And while these insights were valuable to me, I think the best thing of this whole trip was the hour-long address from Heidi Hayes Jacobs.  She discussed the power of the Common Core Standards and how they can be leveraged to move our country forward.  Heidi provided information on how to access the Core Standards and use them across and through grade levels.  No longer does a grade level teach without it linking to the other grade levels along the way.  They all interweave together to create a seamless link across grades.  She also explained that this weaving also takes place within the standards themselves. Each standard has a conjunction of “and” so that teachers are educating students on a topic AND how to apply or use that topic later on.  These standards have been designed to focus on the process, not the product.  They answer the “how do we get there?” questions that everyone has been asking.  And they do it in a way that prepares our students long-term.  How can we possibly expect to be able to teach students everything they need to know, when our knowledge-base itself is changing so rapidly?  What is here today could very well be obsolete in 2 years.  Instead, we need to be process driven so that students can use their process skills to help them to adapt and learn new ideas and strategies easily and apply them quickly.

What a powerful conference to attend and I was just as honored to present about how arts integration can be used to support these standards as they come to fruition around the nation.  But as you know, by attending a conference you learn much more than what is on the conference schedule.  If you have conversations with the people sitting around you, you can also learn a lot of information.  For instance, in the short amount of time I was in Salt Lake, I also learned that:

* The Great Salt Lake is 90 miles wide and 70 miles long and is the largest body of salt water in the world.
* It is highly discouraged to step foot into the Great Salt Lake due to the high density of salt in the water. From above, it actually looks like you could walk on the water.
* In many places in Utah, schools are cutting funding for professional development days altogether as a way to save money.  Therefore, teachers are not receiving any professional development at all during the school year.
* In British Columbia, schools are organized by both district and by province.  So one area could have 20,000 students and other area could have 1500 students and all are overseen by the British Columbia government (talk about budget difficulty!).

While I’m looking forward to my major conferences for the summer being over, what I learned from them was well worth the crazy schedules.  What conferences have you been attending?  Please share with us what you’ve learned so that we can all extend our learning together!