ASCD Final Reflection

Its Monday night and time to wrap things up and reflect on the whole ASCD conference. Prior to the conference I shared my inclination that large expensive conferences might be an obsolete form of professional development. I always think about the scene in Goodwill Hunting where he tells the ponytailed Harvard grad-student that he 'wasted $150,000 on an education he could have got for $1.50 in late charges from the public library'. I think that situation has relevancy to the annual ASCD conference. Our district spent close to $10,000 (from a grant) on this undertaking. How many books could we have purchased? How many hours could we afford to pay our entire staff to collaborate? How many in-house training sessions could we have organized to set up each teacher with a high functioning PLN? Do large conferences like this simply subsidize teachers and administrators that are too lazy to self-direct their own professional development?  

The first half of day one was nearly a total loss partly due to the lack of organization, my mistakes, and poor presentation skills. If WiFi is down for more than 30 minutes someone should be fired. After we went without an Internet connection for half of the first day I was jaded. The long line to "register" was another immediate sign of disorganization.  I should give them more credit I guess.  There was 10,400 people attending over 400 sessions and it went pretty smooth.  I pulled an arrogant, idiot move by leaving during the introduction of the first keynote speaker Freeman Hrobowski because I thought the guy introducing him was Hrobowski--who I knew little about until I read about him that night. The introducer called a hashtag a “pound sign” and my nerd hackles shot up. Shame on me. I heard Hrobowski was fantastic. 

What was not fantastic was being read to in the next session. I call for legislation against reading text from a presentation slide, enforced by corporal punishment executed by the suffering audience. The highpoint of the entire conference luckily occurred at the end of the first day, so I ended on a good note.  Will Richardson’s session From Old School to Bold School was the total package for me. He is a fantastic presenter. His message was challenging and provocative--this is the draw of a national conference for me. I want to be blown away. I don’t want an idea to refine what I’m doing, I want an idea that forces me to completely rethink everything I’m doing. I don't want to spend this kind of money for incremental professional adjustments.

The second day was very similar to the first.  There was very little that I found useful with one saving grace--Maya Angelou. It was a great honor to hear her speak. Mother Angelou is a national treasure; a "rainbow in the clouds" for us all. Most of the garbage sessions (sorry, at this point my professional filter is getting thin) were about Common Core--they were sooooo boring. Mind numbing may be a better description. Common Core is all over the place these days.  ASCD surely wanted to delivery sessions on hot ticket items, but engagement has to be considered.  This isn't the tax code, its education for crying out loud.

Today (day three) I got a late start, possibly due to my overall lack of enthusiasm. I missed an early shuttle and arrived late to the session, which was full. I wanted to wait around and hear Van Jones talk about a green economy and educational opportunities, but we had to meet back at the hotel by 11:00 to check out, so the day was a total loss. 
Despite my muckraking negativity I did enjoy the conference overall, and I deeply appreciate being included in the group from my school that was fortunate enough to attend. As I reflect I realize that the real value in this conference were the great speakers/presenters, not the content.  I think a good deal of my sour feelings stem from the fact that I was not a good attendee of ASCD.  I had overly high expectations. I chose sessions poorly and more importantly I’m a self-directed learner with a huge appetite. It sounds arrogant, but I’ve heard many of these ideas before. I’m sure many of the 10,400 attendees experienced amazing growth, but the best idea I heard all weekend came over lunch with my principal, and was completely unrelated to any session (a whole other post).  I probably learned more on Twitter and Google Reader this weekend than I did from my sessions.  Did I just waste $1,000 on an education I could have got for free at home?  In the spirit of Will Richardson's book Why School?, I think I can summarize my feelings with "Why Conference"?


  1. Hey Justin, sorry I missed you. I presented at 8 on Sunday, signed books after and did a press luncheon after that. Would have loved to have connected and talked results-only learning. Sorry you were disappointed.

    1. Hey Mark, I wouldn't have been disappointed if I were in your session! I tried to branch out and work with the members of my school to cover certain session we wanted exposure to as a district. I bought a copy of your book, so I felt better about missing your session. My school has a ASCD debriefing tomorrow, and I plan on talking about your book and ROLE. Congratulations again on your book and success with ASCD. I think its a good organization, but like I said, I'm just not a very good attendee of this type of conference. Thanks for the comment!

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