iNACOL and the Present of Education

This educator from Tennessee shares how what he learned at an education conference connects back to his school at home, and has a direct impact on his students

By Team XQ

“Can I Come and Speak with You?”

She was visibly upset and crying when she stopped me in the hall. “Can I come and speak with you?” she asked. I was trying to recover from being out of school for a few days to attend my first iNACOL symposium. I expected to use my planning period to catch up on my mountain of paperwork, but how could I say “no” to a student that was obviously in need of my help?

Educational and Inspiring

At iNACOL, I was really excited, because not only was I going to be attending one of the largest and best educational conferences in the nation, I was presenting as well.

I decided to forego many of the fascinating sessions to help my XQ family at their own session about designing the next Super School. It’s an educational and inspiring experience to listen to them present about the transformative work they are doing. I also love speaking with other aspiring school builders.

I was so glad I attended. Anne Mackinnon was speaking with a pair from an existing school that was going through a redesign. The representatives from that school were struggling to incorporate what they were hearing from our presenters (which were all from new schools). Anne saw me and knew every detail about our school and our process of redesigning an existing school as well. She asked me to move to their table and work with them.

A Tight-Knit Group of Passionate Educators

That is the power of the XQ family. It is not just a job or a group of people. It really is a tight-knit group of passionate educators. We know each other’s stories, share each other’s struggles, and are proud of each other’s triumphs. Anne knew exactly what our school was about, what our philosophy is, and the challenges we face. It was great working with that pair, and I heard them saying so many things that I remember myself verbalizing just a year or two ago. Just being part of their process brought me so much enjoyment.

The next day was a bit more nerve-wracking as I was presenting in the afternoon, and it was lingering in the back of my mind. The session was packed, and I was surprised to see several members of the XQ family join my session. It is a little intimidating when you see author Dr. Monica Martinez walk in. I knew I had to be on my game. Others from the XQ team along with fellow school builders joined as well. Such an outpouring of support really bolstered my confidence.

So, after such a hectic yet inspiring week hearing about project-based learning, blended learning, student-centered approaches, etc., I was back at the daily grind of school and trying to get caught up. That is when the crying young lady caught me.

The Greatest Example

As we sat in the empty classroom, she spoke, cried, and shook. She began to recount many of the troubles she was having. It seemed like no matter where she turned (home, school, friends, etc.) she was being bombarded from every direction. She said she sometimes thought of harming herself, and even went on to tell me that she often felt like she did not even belong in this world.

Those are very troubling things to hear from a teenager, and my heart just broke for her, but there was one thing she said to me that really made me think. She said that some days she does not even want to come to school, and lies in bed for a long time until something stirs her to get up, get dressed, and go to school. The reason? She had to be there for her class project. In class, she and her fellow students are working to help a woman that they feel was falsely convicted and has been in prison for over 20 years to be released. The student said to me, “I had to come to school because that lady needs my help.”

The iNACOL symposium was brimming with practitioners, researchers, and evidence about how this type of learning was what our students need. But here, sitting in front of me as an emotionally tattered mess, was quite possibly the greatest example.

The Desire to Keep Going

Here was a girl going through so much that she did not know if she even wanted to live, but because she is helping someone else and affecting real change, she had the desire to keep going. Who knows, maybe it even saved her life. I began to wonder what would have happened to her if I would not have allowed them to do a project where they got to help a real person. What if I was going to give a quiz or do a worksheet that day? Would she have come to school? Would she have even gotten out of bed that day at all? Would she even still be alive?

What Our Students Need

I know that some people question the role of socio-emotional learning in the classroom, doing real-world projects, student agency, student voice, the learner-centered approach, and passion. I was a believer that all of these things are important before iNACOL, but after my talk with this student, I am more convinced than ever.

I am not sure exactly what will come out of all of the students learning with this project. Will we learn everything we need to adequately cover all of my state standards? Can we really help this woman get out of prison? But I do know one thing. Every day when that girl shows up to my class still breathing, it is just further confirmation that this type of learning is what our students need, not for their future, but for their present.