This past weekend, I was able to attend a FREE conference for educators in Houston, TX called TCCA Evolve brought to us by the Aldine Independent School District.  I went with a colleague from my district, Statia Paschel, and it was an all around, amazing experience.  We were able to meet other educators in our Professional Learning Networks (PLN) and grow it at the same time.  There are things we are going to implement in our classrooms immediately, so we do not forget the jewels we learned.  It would be phenomenal if more large school districts offered something so amazing for educators.  We don’t make enough money to be able to afford larger conferences in other parts of the country, so attending a conference with an incredible keynote like Ken Shelton, without need of asking for a P.O., is liberating for those of us hoping to be change makers in a system that desperately needs us!

So let’s start with the incredible keynote.  Ken Shelton, an African American, shared about his adolescent years in school in California.  Thirty years ago, much to the dismay of his high school counselor, he was the only black student in his AP and Honors courses. He shared about the positive and negative impacts educators had on his life, especially the educators in his own family.  He led us to think deeply about the labels we use to code children and how they may hold our students back from the earliest of grades.  One thing, as a new first grade teacher, that stood out to me was putting kids into “intervention” classes when really they may need more support.  When people go through intervention it is because they are doing something self-destructive, so the negative connotation at an early age is sending the wrong message to our students and their parents.  They need more support. We can offer that.  Another strong message from Shelton was about equity in education, having courageous conversations (yes he said that and it validated my heart’s cry), and how are we using our technology to ensure that students of color are getting the mentoring and relationships they need to succeed.

His messages were so timely and necessary.  I felt so privileged to be part of this and grateful to Aldine ISD for making this available to us without charging a price that would mean more financial sacrifice.

The sessions I was able to attend fired me up to put the things Ken Shelton challenged us to think about, in practice.  I can’t wait to Mystery Skype and use Buncee to help students become the leaders in their own, creative learning. I can’t wait to find out what all the other teachers I met are doing in their classrooms, too.  I was able to partner up with a fellow friend and Flocabulary MCE, Amy Storer, and co-lead a session on Flocabulary and how the impact of this edtech tool has changed the course on so many of our students’ lives.  We were all challenged to implement these new ideas into our lesson plans in the next two weeks (or they are more than likely to be forgotten).  This is so true! I truly see the value of this kind of professional development to drive real change in our current systems.

Attending the learning sessions was great, but meeting and conversing with fellow educators was my favorite part.  Getting time to share with my friend Statia, to the teacher I sat next to during the keynote, and the educators who were excited to be part of our Flocab session, and finally being able to collaborate more with a friend who lives hours away: these are the most memorable parts.  I am not into technology because I love technology.  I am into edtech because it allows for relationships to grow.  Edtech used well can make academic content relevant for our students and shape their thinking into more empathetic people as we meet their social emotional needs.  It can also help foster relationships with our students and the other educators we meet that challenge us to grow, along the way.  Talk about a win-win! Every PD should be filled with these relationship takeaways for it to truly stick in our brains as we put the things we learn into practice.

There was one more amazing experience I must share!  I have never been to a conference with so many African American educators and leaders!  This has to be more normal for real change to take place in our education system.  It’s not just our students of color who need to see representation to succeed, it’s also our fellow educators of color. Ultimately, for all of us to succeed and continue to change our system, we all need to be learning and listening to one another.  I’ve been to some good conferences, but this element has been missing from them all. So well done, TCCA and Aldine ISD.  Well Done!  See you next year at TCCA Fearless 2019!

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