Today I’m going to reflect on day 2 of TeachFest 2013, the first full day with LearnZillion’s Dream Team teachers in San Francisco. Each morning started with breakfast under a huge tent near the pool. It was a great opportunity to mingle with teachers from all over the country.
After breakfast we all gathered in the main conference room. During the whole group sessions, typically led by Eric Westendorf, I felt a real sense of LearnZillion’s core values and authenticity. I’m sure that’s one of the reasons Eric and Alix, the co-founders were awarded entrepreneurs of the year by NewSchools Venture Funds. They actually said nothing about receiving this prestigious award during the conference. They are very humble and down-to-earth. Eric is featured in an inspiring video by NewSchools called Innovators in Education that you will probably like.
The LearnZillion name tags have their values on the back. LearnZillion’s core values are:
I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to do something like this at our schools?” I would like it if all our staff members would rally behind some core values that would help us build a common foundation for what our school community believes. What would we have on the back of our badges?
One of the community building exercises gave us a chance to discuss the idea of community. As I listened to a fellow Dream Teamer, I thought about what the schools I’ve worked at value and what we rally around. Sadly, it seems that there is so much emphasis on state testing, that I would say that we’ve typically had a strong emphasis on training students to pass the standardized tests. Is this what we want to pride ourselves in? In my experience, we have done well at improving test scores and have received awards and accolades for it, but I never really felt a lot of pride for that achievement. I feel much more pride for students for achievements like when they have work published in a magazine or have their art displayed at a local gallery.
In contrast to my experience, I see other schools that have a strong emphasis on a things like language/culture, the arts, technology, or environment. Many are charter schools. I’ve never worked at such a school. Can a strong school community be built without a specific focus, or can a broad purpose create a sense of community?
Sometimes I think our goals are too broad, such as “Every child prepared for college and career”, ”Academic excellence”, etc. I’ve read about successful companies such as Southwest Airlines with mantras such as: ”Customer service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and a sense of Company Spirit.” Why aren’t our school mantras more like this?
After great conversations, we watched Caine’s Arcade in which filmmaker Nirvan discovers a a cardboard arcade made by a 9-year-old boy, and how he used social media to bring people to his arcade. The short film went viral, thus Nirvan produced Caine’s Arcade part 2, in which he talks about the first film’s success and disucusses plans to promote creativity and passion based learning. The story is very touching, and many of us teachers were teary eyed when the videos ended. Then Eric Westendorf announced that we have a special guest. He introduced Caine and Nirvan! The crowd of over 200 educators erupted in standing ovation. It was truly amazing being there in that moment. That was probably the biggest highlight of the whole weekend for me.
The mid morning time we met in our content areas, mine Language Arts, and met our coaches and our teams. We did book talk discussions of our texts and wrote out all our notes. Then we had breakout sessions. I’ll talk more about breakout sessions on day 3.
In the evening, many Dream Team teachers took a tour of San Francisco, whereas some of us got tickets to the Giants’ baseball game. I went with some friends on the very crowded CalTrain up to AT&T Park. It was a beautiful evening watching the Giants Dodgers rivalry. The Giants won off of Buster Posey’s homerun in the bottom of the 9th. I had not been to a game in the City since I was in 6th grade. I saw the Giants win the pennant vs the Cubs that year. Luckily my dad and I didn’t stay around for the World Series. That was the year of they had a terrible earthquake.
Later when I spoke to Eric Nentrup, he told me that he had bought a Metallica hat from a kid for $20, after the game he found out that they were a collector’s item selling for over $100 on eBay. The other interesting thing Eric told me was that he had found a wallet at the stadium. When he found a phone number in the wallet and returned it to the owner, the grateful owner gave Eric two $100 dollar bills. What an amazing night for Eric!
That pretty much wraps up day two of TeachFest. Stay tuned for day 3 coming soon…Here’s the video version of this post: