Teachers summit at Saint Mary's draws 500
By Lou Fancher
The collective groans and laughter of 523 Bay Area educators attending the second annual Statewide Teachers Summit at Saint Mary's College offered audible lessons for the digital era: technology is a tremendous and tenuous tool; people are the lifeblood of learning.
Gathered on the Moraga campus July 29, the statewide "Better Together" conference hosted by the college's Kalmanovitz School of Education, had local teachers and administrators connected by the internet to other host sites throughout California.
The screen accidentally went dark and twice interrupted keynote speaker and film and television actor Ernie Hudson as he shared remembrances of educators and the grandmother who'd never attended school -- but who'd shaped him.
Last year's inaugural conference drew 15,000 teachers from 38 locations to share ideas, build peer networks, learn applications of technology to curriculum, and develop resources to implement the California Standards that include Common Core.
This year, EdTalk speakers, EdCamps and breakout sessions on topics selected and led by teachers expanded the offerings at 40 sites. Each host site determined its own EdCamps according to local interests.
At Saint Mary's, sessions included Using Technology to Drive Student Inquiry, Gamification/Virtual Technology/Makerspaces, Incorporating Social Emotional Learning, and talks on restorative justice, dealing with data, behavior management in the classroom, integrating the arts into STEM and more.
But the biggest take-away from last year, according to teachers attending the conference a second time, was experiencing the synergy of hundreds of educators.
Teacher Terryl Miller, shifting this fall from her second-grade classroom at Los Perales to become a literacy coach in the Moraga School District said that "reigniting the spark that gets so depleted during a long school year" was special.
Cynthia Reiley, a first-grade teacher at Las Juntas Elementary in Martinez said, "It was a way to refresh. Knowing that there was a community of educators with the same questions and challenges reminded me that we're striving together."
And special ed teacher Lois Corrin, currently on leave but returning to East Oakland Pride Elementary School in January, said, "I felt appreciated being here. As teachers, we just have to do that for ourselves. We won't get that from the outside."
She said the collective sharing gave opportunity for her to remind other teachers to expect diversity in the classroom and recognize that not all students arrive "with the scaffolding of white, middle class parents." She appreciated that people of color gave the opening addresses this year--and that both speakers acknowledged the violence surrounding many school communities.
"That's my students' lives," she said. "You have to honor students where they are without shaming them. Last year too, a former superintendent talked about that, about leading by example."
Sturdy principles are only aspirational without practical applications and examples of how teachers can take acquired tools and lessons from the conference back to the classroom. The conference offered that too.
Miller used information she'd learned about Google Docs to create "KidBlog" with her students. "EdCamp gave me an idea and participants shared thoughts for how to make blogging work with this age of student. My colleague and I stretched our kids to meet reading, writing, and tech goals in a wonderful way that excited me and my students."
Reiley used the same technology to start an online peer-to-peer conversation about restorative justice. She hoped to continue the interaction and include school administration to lay the groundwork for broader understanding of less punitive methods for responding to student misconduct.
"It would give me hope if they attended the conference and we all had these revelations together," Reiley said.
The teachers said that gains from this year are yet-to-be-determined. But if history repeats itself, the overall lesson will remain the same: teachers, even without technology, really do matter.