I just returned from Nashville where I attended my very first iNACOL conference. In the weeks leading up to the conference, I pored over the conference website and reviewed the hundreds of sessions being offered. I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the iNACOL experience would be like. I knew that I would have an opportunity to meet and learn from experts in competency-based education and personalized learning. I was excited about attending a pre-conference workshop with Chris Sturgis, where my colleagues and I would dig into the Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. I was eager to learn from representatives of the Kettle Moraine, Dallas ISD, and Shelby County Schools, whose work I admired from afar. By the end of my four days in Nashville, everything I expected to happen at iNACOL, did happen. But it was the unexepected that made my iNACOL experience truly exceptional.
Here are just a few of the unexpected gems:
- I learned (almost) as much from conference attendees (like me) as I did from presenters. In every session where participation and dialogue were encouraged, I found myself having deep conversations with tablemates about pedagogy, resources, mistakes to avoid, and practices to try. I shared and (even better) received excellent advice during those exchanges.
- I learned that despite what we hear from politicians and the news media, education in the United States is cutting edge, constantly evolving, and designed for the future success of our students…and educators are superheroes! You cannot attend this conference without being amazed by the achievements of the school districts, leaders, and teachers in attendance. If this is a representative sampling of education in our country, then we are doing an excellent job.
- I learned that educators are generous. In the competitive world we live in, it’s refreshing to be among people who value learning for all children, in all communities, and in all countries above personal gains. Although nobody owns the work being done in education, it doesn’t stop some from using their success for personal profit, instead of helping others replicate that success. I am so grateful for all of the presenters who generously gave their advice, shared resources, and provided contact information to continue the dialogue.
- I learned that we all want the same thing. It’s one thing to say that we believe in “learning for all” but another to make it a priority. In every school and in every district there are naysayers, doubters, and blockers. We often spend more time and energy than we would like defending our actions and arguing in support of our decisions. Opposing attitudes and ideas will always be a part of the educational landscape; it’s a given. However, it was refreshing to be in a think space where those around me were optimistic and viewed problems as challenges that could be overcome. We are all rowing in the same direction.
Lastly, it was a gift to be able to spend four (uninterrupted) days, with my district team, focusing on the goals we have for our learning community. Putting distance between ourselves and our brick and mortar work space allowed us to time to learn, think, and reflect.
Overall iNACOL gets a five-star rating, and Nashville wasn’t too shabby either.
Ann Hadwen is the 6-12 Curriculum Administrator for the Exeter Region Cooperative School District in Exeter NH. She was previously an Assistant Principal at Sanborn Regional High School in Kingston, NH where she was part of a team that developed a nationally-recognized K-12 competency based learning system. Before becoming an administrator she taught social studies at the middle and high school levels in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She has a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Portland an M.A.T. from Simmons College, a M.Ed. from Rivier College, and is currently enrolled in an Ed.S. program at the University of New Hampshire. She is also a partner in Education Design Studios, an organization that holds an annual summer conference focused on CBE and personalized learning.