#acelconf15 – day two

Day two was the biggest day at #acelconf15 – five keynote / plenary sessions, two breakout sessions and then the national awards.

The day kicked off with more outstanding student performances. This is a great tradition at the ACEL conference.

Yong Zhao presented the first keynote of the day. An entertaining and humorous account of educational change. Interestingly, he had 145 slides for his one hour lecture (fortunately he just skipped through to important ones). His argument was around individualising education and the errors of testing/ranking. The keynote appeared (based on twitter and audience reaction) to have traction with the crowd. For me though, as it lacked any explicit practical take-aways (a highly desired outcome at this conference) or any real depth of analysis (as least from an academic’s standpoint), apart from making people feel good and inspired, I do wonder what people will make of it after the conference? Although he did spend some time promoting his books, so maybe those who bought copies will take up the ideas more.

A student panel followed and it was fascinating to hear the voices of these high achieving students and what they had to offer in relation to schooling. As a group they were articulate, measured in their thoughts, and incredibly human. The pressures of performing (in tests), the defaulting to subject rank when asked about their favourite subjects, and the linking of subject choice to post-secondary options were all reminders of the subtle ways in which education is experienced.

As pointed out by a few people though, it would be interesting to hear from students who were (by some measures) less successful in schooling and to ask what works and does not.

The second back-to-back keynotes were delivered by Ian Williamson (Melb Business School) and Jan Robertson.

Ian continued the entrepreneurial theme and the pursuit of innovation. Another engaging presentation and a number of very real examples drawn from Chicago. As an aside, it is interesting how many educators continue to argue that schools are not businesses yet we desire to make our schools innovative, entrepreneurial, and many other business topics / fads.

Jan Robertson delivered what was arguably the first (and only) scholarly keynote of the conference. There was a depth to her thinking and argument that required you to listen to her. No flashy slides, buzzwords, or catchy/tweetable quotes (by this I mean the easily tweeted and shared quotes). This was a solid argument that warranted attention around the moral courage of educating. While I am not sure it was appreciated by all in the crowd the message was a powerful one and should remain in participants minds long after the catchy phrases and slick presentations have faded from memory.

During the breakout session I attended two (yes, did not skip any today). The first was by Phil Lewis on the experiences of novice principals, and the second by a team from UoMelb and AITSL looking at how school leaders can drive the implementation of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers (APST).

The Lewis session drew heavily from his masters thesis and gave insights into the early experiences of principals. There is a lot to done in this space. The challenge (not just for Lewis) is to think through what it means to be prepared, to decouple that from first time nerves, and to break away from a strictly developmental way of thinking about career development. Experience does not equal expertise.

Standards are all the rage currently and the session on the APST standards was looking at effective strategies to implement them in schools. I am cautious of standards and the way they are used – particularly when coupled with the effect size / impact agenda. While I appreciate the potential they have I am troubled by the idea that effective implementation is seen as synonymous with being embedded in all aspects of schooling and teacher performance. There is a whole performativity that is being overlooked in the process.

Cathy Freeman was the final plenary session of the day. Unlike the slick keynotes that dominate this conference, she was incredibly human – vulnerable, fidgety, and natural in her discussion with MC Tony MacKay and audience questions. Reliving the final from the 2000 Olympics brings back many great memories for Australians, and despite years of attention, Cathy’s presence remains so incredibly human. The work that she is doing through the Cathy Freeman Foundation is also outstanding.

The day wrapped up with the national awards event. This was a lovely evening recognising the work of many educators and providing the opportunity to meet, share and discuss all sorts of matters. I was honoured to be awarded the Hedley Beare award for educational writing, but more honoured to meet and chat with a number of the new voice scholarship winners. Apart from making me feel a little bit old, it is inspiring to hear about the work of others.

Looking forward to day three of #acelconf15

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