Monday, March 6, 2017

A Tale of Two Conferences


     After my whirlwind week at the TCEA conference in Austin, I headed south to San Antonio for three days to attend the Abydos International Writing Conference (fka NJWPT). The contrast between the two large gatherings of educators was made more striking because they were back-to-back for me and because I presented at both. While TCEA popped with innovative sessions and emerging education technology, Abydos reassured with interactive sessions about research-based best practices. Newest and greatest vs. tried and true. Free wifi at one, no wifi at the other. Massive vendor hall at one, small book sellers at the other. Educators and leaders looking for the "next big thing" at one, educators looking to learn from experienced teachers at the other.
      Because my world has become quite blended, in more ways than one, I presented about blended models at both conferences, one as a digital learning specialist and one as an Abydos writing trainer and certified English teacher. The sessions had very different audiences, and I had very different goals for the participants. At TCEA, I co-presented with our Raising Blended Learners Project Manager about how our district launched blended learning in 9th grade classrooms this year. At Abydos, I modeled a 9th grade English lesson using blended learning models to personalize and invited the participants to engage as students within the models. Both sessions yielded discussions and contact from participants via email and Twitter the week after, which confirms my belief that many educators, not just English teachers, are looking for better ways to address the current challenges of teaching the diverse needs of students. Both conferences reinforced the literal blending of my former position as a secondary English teacher and trainer with my current position as a digital learning specialist supporting blended learning implementation in English classrooms.           Though at times it seemed like two worlds were colliding, I was struck by how the two concepts intersected to create a common ground based on the purpose of both: to successfully meet the specific needs of each learner. Blended learning models can do this through efficient data tracking and student agency while Abydos strategies can do this through rich and authentic language instruction in a workshop classroom. Helping teachers design learning environments that maximize the benefits of both models will be the bulk of my future work as we scale our Raising Blended Learners grant implementation over the next two years, and I look forward to this next level of blending.