My ASCD Conference Adventure

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Aveson Charter Schools
With Sebastian Cognetta of Aveson Charter Schools.

I have been attending and presenting at the ASCD Annual Conferences for over a dozen years, and typically I have the opportunity to slow down and enjoy the moment. This time, it conflicted with my children’s spring break so I hopped off the plane in Atlanta from our vacation late Saturday night just in time for my two Sunday sessions. My highlight reel is grounded in what I learned along the way:

1. Support people and institutions you believe are doing powerful work on behalf of students.

Started my morning presenting with Sebastian Cognetta, Director of Aveson Charter Schools in Alameda California. This K-12 charter school was created nine years ago around personalized mastery learning. The illustrative examples and advice he shared from his students and faculty showcase that this instructional model is possible and worthy of the attempt.

2. Partner up with a colleague to push and expand your thinking.

I dashed off to a taco place for lunch with Mike Anderson and his wife Heather. He and I met one another this summer at an ASCD author’s retreat. The comments he was making to the group were both thought-provoking and respectful around the needs of the whole child. I went up to him after and we chatted about our common interest in making learning more joyous and energizing for students. We committed to chatting over the phone every few weeks to help the other develop an idea. And it has been fabulous (and self-indulgent) to have someone else take a look and grow my idea and expand/shift my thinking.

3. Get geeked out with your heroes.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs has been an inspiration throughout my entire career and here I was collaborating with her in between conference sessions to get ready for our session. And then I was on a stage, hanging out with her, co-presenting. At the end of the session, she said something to the audience like, “You inspire me so much.” And then everything else faded away. I inspired her? I stared at her blankly. In this moment, I needed to remember that. Your heroes may be feeling the same way about you and that was (and still is) stunning. That is as true for her and me as it is true for the impact you have in your classrooms and buildings.

4. Remember that a handful of committed people can change the world (or a system, classroom, organization).

Spent some quality time with Jill Thompson, Allison Rodman, Craig Gastauer, Sebastian Cognetta, Crista Anderson, and Debby Atwater scheming about how each of us can continue to shift learning partnerships in our organizations to become more self-directed, purposeful, and engaged in work that matters to our students and ourselves.

5. When inspiration strikes, use whatever is at hand to capture the thinking.

ASCD Conference
Jill Krieger, Mark Reude, and Katelyn Miner holding up our inspired napkin!

From capturing an idea on a napkin with Jim Rickbaugh and Jean Garrity to growing that concept over breakfast with sugar packets and coffee cups as manipulatives with Jill Thompson, Craig Gastauer and Allison Rodman to a second napkin with the Manchester High School building administrators to a rough PowerPT slide it was magical how that one conversation grew into a workable concept. That PowerPT slide got even better when we presented the idea to a group of teachers and Bena Kallick who clarified it and made it better. Maybe you will get a sneak peak of it later if you are interested …

6. Keep good company.

I have been privileged to have Jay McTighe in my life as my hero/mentor/sensei/colleague/friend for over a dozen years. His generosity, patience, and candor has continued to sharpen my thinking about the work and maintaining a balanced life. He was one of the reasons my family and I picked up and moved to Virginia Beach — because life is short and you don’t have any guarantees about how long you have to chase your dreams. I know that better than most, but that may be the subject of another blog post.

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