The Power of Story: An EdxEDNYC Reflection

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to moderate a breakout session as part of the EdxEDNYC conference. This is a New York Department of Education Conference that originates from the collaborative and innovative spirit of educators at Hudson High School for Learning Technologies in New York City. From all-things technology education to social-emotional learning, the conference is transformative in that it brings together so many diverse educators with unique experiences and perspectives. 

I was thrilled to moderate a conversation pertaining to school leadership and the power of story in creating culturally relevant school cultures. In preparing for the 1-hour conversation, my goal was to talk less and listen more. Knowing my audience would be composed of educators not only from across New York City but the entire United States, I wanted to take advantage of the time to learn from participants. 

At times being a teacher from Toronto can be a bit of an ego boost of sorts. In many ways Toronto seems to be at the centre of the Canadian narrative. As the country’s largest city and the world’s most diverse city, living within the Greater-Toronto-Area and teaching within an urban board can provide a false sense of importance at times. With that, it was quite humbling to connect with educators from the metropolis of NYC and others from Los Angeles, Austin and other major US hubs.

One teacher shared part of her story as a district technology lead in NYC. In sharing, she spoke about the challenges of a responsive use of technology. Similar to ideas I’ve shared with colleagues about bandwidth and devices students are using, she has worked to support teachers with not just technology but design thinking so that learning is accessible by all. I could relate to her work both as an administrator and in my past life as a system resource teacher for 21st Century Learning. What differed was that she was responsible for 250 schools in her district and those schools came with unique narratives. I couldn’t believe the scope of her work and felt her exhaustion. She explained how she felt leadership didn’t understand her own struggles at times as she navigated turbulent COVID impacted educational waters. 

Learning of her experience was so powerful.

Another participant shared how she leads a BIPOC program that explores financial literacy and relationships with money through Hip-Hop while another educator shared her struggles in a LA high school where although mindset has changed, action seems to have paused. At the centre of all the sharing was a story. 

The power of story was truly the common thread.

The educators who leaned into the safe place all acknowledged the significance of knowing our learners and the need to relinquish control over what teaching and learning is. In fact, as we spoke about current challenges, this idea of story will need to be at the centre of any new norm that we embrace. Whether it be the important work of dismantling anti-Black and BIPOC racism or recognizing the complex impacts of COVID, story will matter.

It will have to start with the adults in the building. Like students, educators have been through small and big “T” trauma during this time. Life before has impacted COVID and COVID has impacted life now. We will have to pause and revisit key thinking and doing in service of educators and students alike.

For me in Ontario, so much good has happened but much work still needs to be done in regards to knowing your learner, culturally relevant pedagogy and assessment as an enabler of deep and meaningful learning. There will be a need to rumble with vulnerability with empathy and grace as teachers must discover who they are in service to students. We must fully understand students, look at how and what we teach and recognize assessment as a journey to learning. I believe this will be the way in which we build upon learning over the past 15 months.

Intentionality always mattered but now more than ever. 

My thanks to EdxEDNYC for the opportunity to share and connect with so many wonderful educators and for allowing me the privilege of being part of their conference. 

I hope to be part of the event next year!

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