#educon and a bed of roses

I had a great weekend at #educon in Philadelphia this weekend, but I also had a 5 hour drive home afterwards. That’s a lot of time to think, and a lot of time to catch up on Voxer. There are some very big, philosophical ideas rolling around in my head post-#educon.

1. Mentoring and coaching keep coming up as subjects in other things. Why are teachers struggling in their early years as teachers? Why is it a challenge to get quality PD in a school or a district? How can teachers get the help they need to incorporate difficult topics, on which they don’t have the background or resources, into their teaching plans i.e. Ferguson?

More and more, I look at the model of the profession I am leaving — the US Army and the profession of arms — and I am thankful for the model there of mentoring and coaching that exists both as a part of the culture and a part of the doctrine. I am thankful for writing and discussion on this, within the profession of arms, examples that include the recent and incredible piece by my friend Ray Kimball (@KimballRay) “It takes more than rank to be a mentor” for Army Magazine, that not only help continue to foster discussion on the topic, but help to put into words the practices we otherwise take for granted in the military regarding this.

After #educon, and a couple of #edcamps, I think that mentoring and coaching in education will remain a windmill of mine. I don’t see how I can take my eyes off of that mythical target. Education needs — NEEDS — to fix its approach to mentoring and coaching for junior teachers, and needs to learn to embrace not just coaching beyond year one but mentoring throughout the life of every teachers. Mine will be just one voice, I know, but mine will be needed.

2. I can and should do more to help teach how to be a better presenter and facilitator. After 25 years as an intelligence professional and 20 years as a career Army staffer (and trigger puller), I am skilled at both. And I understand the difference between the two, the time and place to use each, and have spent countless hours coaching and teaching others in these crafts.

While 5 or 10 years ago, things like #edcamps or education conferences might have seemed like a novelty, their future roles in both education and their potential role in the professional development of many in doubt, those days have passed. #edcamps and education conferences are here, and they are a part of the future; they represent layers in the collective training that educators now look for as a part of their professional training, that principals and administrators count of for the growth and development of their teaching staff.

A presentation is not a facilitated event, and a facilitated event is not a presentation. I’m not sure why this is so difficult for people to understand.

But, to a T, every one of these events has had someone get up there and tank it. Someone who had gotten up there and been obvious in demonstrating that they are making their first effort as they are executing the task of presenting to or facilitating an event for others. And I have to say — given the importance of these events, this just isn’t right.

And I have the solution for this. It’s not even a new one. They need to be prepared. These same #edcamps and educational conferences need to invest in their own future, but growing their own future presenters and facilitators. Plan for and deliberately make time and sessions for preparing future presenters and facilitators.

I am going to work with a few people to develop one for #edcampNOVA. And refine it for #edcamp South NJ, whatever that’s abbreviated as as a hashtag (insert South NJ joke later). And I want to work with Travis on his #edcampSJ to see how I can work with someone far away, to do the same. But I also think this need to be done at the education conference level too.

I don’t accept that people who have been doing presentations or facilitation for a long time, are doing it right. I saw that at #educon. There were some big names at #educon who either were having the worst of days, or did not know how to conduct a presentation or how to facilitate; they just have a known name on the internet. I would question any T who says that they are a great presenter or facilitator; those are whole other actual professions. And we are learning every day, right?

3. There still isn’t a silver bullet for improving parent/teacher relations, but there’s still a want and need for ways to improve it. Once again, I went to a great session of school/home or teacher/parent relationships, and how to bring them closer. This was, without a doubt, the session in which I heard the most passion from the participants. This didn’t surprise me; it’s a topic on which teachers and educators are often the most passionate, I’m discovering.

Those who attended had real problems, and they were there to work together to talk about ideas to find real ideas to advance progress on them. No magic bullets, just hard work towards improving their situations. And it was a great session.

But here’s the thing: outside that session, from other sessions to the panel talks, so many other people talked about this same topic. How important it is. How frustrating it is. How they wish they had some pixie dust to fix it. Or some silver bullet, to kill this beast.

There is none. It’s only hard work if you do it. And what works this day, this week, this month, or with these students and these families, can’t be expected to work next week, next month, next year with other students, other families. Hello, Sisyphus — every teacher and every school is going to have to struggle with this rock, rolling it up the hill, only to watch their progress lost when conditions change. It’s a never ending struggle. Things change.

But it is important. And the more important it is, the more one needs to put effort to it. I get that. It’s why I went to the session, to lend my voice, my ideas, my brainpower to it. Because those same struggles — trying to reach out to and influence some part of the population that is seemingly cut off and non-communicative — is the same exact problem set we faced in places like Baghdad. Teachers don’t use billboards and radio spots, but the ideas are the same.

I only wish teachers would realize that there is not pixie dust and not magic bullet. And stop talking like there is.

4. Events like #educon remind me that I am drawn to education because I see the need for reform. Not because I am some crusader, or someone looking to make money off of it. I see it like a race car, and it needs to be tuned. Not that I have the answer, but as I stand around with others looking at it, it’s pretty clear to me that there is no actual mechanic.

Fine. Reform and change are hard work. But they certainly don’t scare me; let’s talk about it. Accepting that we’re doing it right is to accept stagnation, and that’s foolish. Let’s move forward, boldly, deliberately, with purpose and intent. Let’s decide what we need to be doing and where education needs to be, rather than wait to see where we fall and land. Because I’d rather fall onto a bed of rose, than onto another pile of shit, thank you very much.

Art La Flamme is a retiring US Army Officer who could tell the people what he’s done in the Army, but then he’d have to kill them. He does admit to having graduated from the University of San Diego with the BA in Political Science, and from the National Intelligence University with a Master of Science degree in Strategic Intelligence before he enlisted in the US Army and deploying seven times, four of them to Iraq. He has attended Command and General Staff College, and the US Army’s Red Team Leader School at the University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies. Art also has been active with the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning and Army efforts on leadership, mentorship, and coaching junior officers. He is married to Kristin La Flamme, an award winning fiber artist, and they have two incredible kids.

@artlaflamme — originally published on artlaflamme.com

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