For years I have wanted to come to SXSWEDU. I use to go to YouTube and watch Dr. Christopher Emdin's when he blew the roof off the sucka by integrating the entire Tribe Called Quest album into every ounce of his keynote. I knew then that it was a conference of doers and researchers who have a passion for teaching, learning and having a good time.
I wasn't disappointed.
SXSWEDU was filled with forward-thinking, futuristic, collaborating, brilliant walks of life from all around the universe.
To assure I got the most of this experience, I strategically arrived in Austin on Sunday morning. I have learned through many conference experiences that if you are not familiar with the host city or the conference itself, it is imperative to arrive at least a day early. This helps the conference goer get an understanding of the city's culture and to map out a conference plan. I got a chance to see Lake Travis with my Leanlab Education co-worker Karnissa Caldwell and attended the pre-networking event.
One of the first connections I made at the Early Bird Pre-networking event was the incomparable Barbara Bray I first met Barbara at ISTE17 after following her authentically positive work on Twitter. The connection assured me that SXSWEDU was the place to be as Barbara has always been way ahead of the masses. Barbara's book, Define Your Why: Own Your Story So You Can Live and Learn on Purpose is an excellent piece of work that dives deep into being your authentic self in everything that you learn and do.
After scanning the sessions and networking events, I knew there were three events I did not want to miss. The first was Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education. This session shared the brilliance of Sam Seidel, Michael Lipset, and Tony Simmons who wrote a book of the same title of the session over a decade ago and created a new edition of the book this year. Hip Hop Genius: Remixing High School Education features the story of the High School of the Recording Arts in Minnesota that David "TC" Ellis started 22 years ago. The session also featured Lamya "YK"Andrews, senior student from the High School for the Recording Arts who shared her story of growth and accomplishments through rhyme.
A bonus encounter happened as I walked through the hotel conference lobby. I literally bumped into one of my Ruskin High school classmates, Dr. Usamah Rogers. Dr. Rogers is the Deputy Chief of Strategic Initiatives at Dallas ISD. Dr. Rogers presented on Confronting Inequities to Close the Achievement Gap. Her session explored initiatives for breaking down barriers to post graduation success that disproportionately affect low-income and minority students. Ruskin High School prepared us for greatness.
That same night, the second event that I marked as "can't miss" was the Big Picture Learning Leadership Journeys. All I can say about this event is if you ever get a chance to attend, be like Nike and Just Do It. This event is one that will tickle every part of your imagination and touch your soul with valuable lessons from amazing leaders from across the country. This event is so brilliant that even the Secretary of Education of the United States, Dr. Miguel Cordona and his staff attended
The third session that I bookmarked was NFT's & Blockchain in Education. This session was on the last day of the conference, however, you could not tell. The session was standing-room only as Michael Cohen, Vriti Saraf, and Kwaku Aning shared the present-future: Web3, NFT's, and Blockchain and defined each so eloquently that a 1st grader could understand. There is a growing buzz in this space and I am quite sure SXSWEDU23 will have many more sessions on the intersection of Web3 and education.
The SXSWEDU experience was one that I will always treasure. The excitement of learning by all walks of life and at all ages was a true treat. There were so many connections made and every one of them had a passion for education. This one of a kind conference is one that you should definitely add to your conference bucket list. See y'all in 2023.
There were two courses left for me to take to complete an Education Specialist degree in Educational Technology; Research Problems in Instructional Technology and Statistics for Behavioral Sciences. I began the arduous process of enrolling into the courses only to see that the statistics course was already full. A smile appeared on my face as I had been dreading having to take the statistics course. The horror stories from former students and my own issues with anything that looks and feels like math had me terrorfied to take the course, however, I realized it was what was between me and the degree I was seeking. No spots ever opened for me to take the statistics course so I decided to take the semester off and to enroll in both courses the following fall.
Four years and a pandemic later, I returned to the University of Central Missouri to complete my last semester. I was very excited to come back as I knew I would have some additional time in my schedule to study since I was working remotely. The excitement of returning to school was short lived after speaking with my advisor. The advisor informed me that there had been many changes in the Educational Technology program. Instead of the six credit hours that I needed to graduate four years ago, I now needed ten hours to complete my program. I was livid.
I enrolled in all of the classes that were necessary for me to complete my goal, although the statistics class was full and I was on the waiting list. I was happy about this and decided that I would shorten my load to six credit hours for the fall semester by dropping one course before the semester began. As I opened my Macbook to drop the class, I had been automatically enrolled into the statistics course. I looked at the course load; ten graduate credit hours.
Knowing that four graduate credit hours is considered full time, I knew that ten credit hours would be a challenge. Nonetheless, I wanted to expeditiously complete the degree. I took a deep breath, opened another tab on my computer, and clicked on the link to visit the school bookstore. I ordered the statistics book which was out of stock and immediately emailed the instructor to see what I could do until my book arrived. The instructor shared the information that I needed with me and my book arrived a few days later. This is when the reality of my decision to take ten graduate credit hours punched me in the face like a heavyweight champion.
The statistics course started out as simple concepts that were easy to understand. I did very well on the first exam and I began to gain confidence in my abilities to do the work. The Special Projects course allowed me to create a website for parents to assist them on how to help their children use the edtech tools provided by our school district. This was something that I was already tasked with at my job so I was able to kill two birds....well you now the rest.
The third course I was taking was Seminar in Edcuational Technology which consisted of researching, listening to interviews, writing papers and a group project. I love group projects, however, in an online course it can be tricky. When you are in an online course and you don't have a relationship with anyone in your group, you have to try to build one. I reached out to my team and set up a virtual meeting for us to create a plan. I created a collobarative slide deck for all of us to input our information on and we began to build.
The day that our group project was due, I forgot.
I had other big assignments due in other classes and it totally slipped my mind. Around 11:30pm of the due date, I went online to check my email when I saw a plethora of emails from my team. The project was due at 11:59 that night. I had done the research for my portion, however, I did not have the information on the slide deck. Expeditously, I added the information but I also realized that I was sinking from all of the weight of the numerous papers, quizzes, and other assignments.
The Left Hook
Research Problems in Instructional Tech hit me right on the chin. The entire semester was spent writing a three chapter journal article on a topic of your choice. Choosing a topic was the easy part, but doing the research stretched my thinking. Finding quality resources and assuring that everything used was cited correctly was also a challenge.
Many thoughts ran through my mind on how this work was too much for me to do. Daily, I was having conversations with myself about how I was going to get everything done. Each course was demanding so much of my time and I also worked full time. One day I was talking to one of my coworkers about my struggle with completing all of my work. He told me that I should quit procrastinating and get the job done. I agreed with him and went about my day. That night, I could not sleep thinking of our conversation. What I realized is that I wasn't procrastinating; I was working full time and taking ten graduate hours!
That was the night that I knew I was going to survive. I was going to take the jab, the cross, and the left hook; hit the canvas hard and get back up, I completed my last assignment two hours before I walked across the stage to complete my Education Specialists Degree in Educational Technology. Anything is possible if you believe in yourself.
I love reading. Sadly, I did not discover this love until my 30's but I truly believe that if you are still breathing, you can always learn something. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sista Souljah had me reading at stop lights. That was the book that made me crave reading. Santiago? Yes. I loved that book. A couple of decades later, I look forward to crisp fall weekends where I can have a glass of red wine, a nice blanket, and a good novel.
I love traveling as much as I love reading. Mainly because traveling allows you to have new experiences and to learn new things. However, the pandemic has grounded me from flying the friendly skies. Although I can't move around physically, I have a first class ticket to go anywhere my mind chooses to take me with books. Books have given me the "getaway "that I have needed in these stressful days of being home most of the time. I escape the couch and travel to unknown locations with every page.
As I read more, I will share my book reviews. Reading and discussing books has become a hobby. Got books you love? Feel free to share what you are reading.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with my mother which sparked the title of this blog post. Thanks Momma for the inspiration.
45 is like a poison. He spews poison from his mouth like venom from a snake. 45 is openly racist and I love it! Thank you for saying the things that so many say on their back porches after they say hello to me at work.
Thank you for sharing your ignorance on institutional racism and also having advisers that do the same.
Thank you for mispronouncing a plethora of words when you speak. Your actions show young people the importance of education.
Thank you for being so ignorant that you don't realize that foreign powers are using you for their benefit. Your actions and the actions of those in your camp are putting our entire country in danger. This is a teachable moment for us all. Lord please keep us safe.
Thank you for not paying your taxes and not serving a day in jail for not doing so.
Thank you for sitting back and allowing police officers to continue to get away with murder with not one word from you.
Thank you for overtaking a presidential debate so that your opponent could not get a word in.
Thank you for giving a "call to action" to hate groups across this country.
Many thanks to you as your actions have awakened us.
Americans are no longer assuming the law but are learning the laws of this country because of 45.
TikTok teens are using their power to make change even when they are not old enough to vote becuase of 45.
We as American have become so lazy. We vote when we feel like it instead of every time. We don't read to learn, we read to pass a test. Learning new things only happens when we make mistakes and the mistake of 45 was HUGE.
For the last 3 days, my team and I have spent over 36 hours interviewing some of the brightest and most innovative educators. They were all applying to help their fellow teachers to grow their practice with technology so that they can be even better teachers than they were the day before.
One interview question that we asked was for the interviewee to share some of their most innovative creations they were working on or have done with their students.
WE WERE BLOWN AWAY.
Our teachers have taken their educational technology practice and created some of the most breathtaking lessons I have ever seen. From interactive African American Museums built from scratch to websites created for parents and students, to innovative hyperdoc lessons that included all of the tools that we have taught them the previous school year. Our teachers are doing some amazing work and are willing to share their creations to assure that we all are doing what is best for students.
Sadly, we could not hire all of them but the lessons they taught our team in humility is one that all should admire. One teacher interviewed very well, however, after the interview, decided to remove themselves out of the running for the position but decided that they will help the teachers in their building regardless. Many have sent emails thanking us for the interview and sharing those same setiments as to helping teachers regardless of the outcome.
Our teachers have shown professionalism and grace throughout this process and for them we are so thankful.
I love social media for learning. The other day, as I sipped my morning java and cleaned out my email inbox, I noticed an article on LinkedIn with the following title; Google Has A Plan to Disrupt Hire Education. I hurriedly clicked the link (which you can do as well on the title) and was pleasantly surprised at the information. Google has come up with a 6 month certificate program for tech jobs that are in high demand. The best part of the story is that each student will pay $49 a month to complete the program.
The jobs that were listed ranged in a median salary of 66,000-$92,000 and all I could think about is the ungodly amount of money colleges charge students for the right to learn. Thanks to the pandemic and companies realizing that they do not need students with college degrees per say but with the skill sets to do the jobs that are going unfilled.
Now don't get me wrong, I believe that a college degree is important for specific jobs. Doctors I believe should go to college, however, a majority of careers in the 21st century can be learned Online. The ability to have the world at your fingertips opens up so many opportunities for those with access.
After reading the article, I immediately shared this information with our CTE Director. We are losing so many kids during the pandemic. Most have refused to login for many reasons: 1. They may not have access or 2. They may be bored with school and see no reason to attend. I think most of the reason is the latter.
The Rethink Learning Summit was meticulously designed to assure that teachers could understand best practices for online teaching and learning by not only subject matter experts who have been teaching and learning with edtech for several years but also flowed so seamlessly in an online envirornment that it almost seemed like it would actually work better than in-person. It was almost scary. These International Society of Technolgy In Education Superstars have presented nationally for several years on best practices of teaching with technology and are by far the most qualified to prepare us for our new normal.
From Dr. Desiree Alexander to The HyperDoc Girls, this edtech "dream team" of presenters were so authentic in their teaching and learning that you could follow along and teach and learn right beside them. Each session was engaging. I did not "sit and get" at ANY of them. Each presenter had virtual manipulatives or breakout rooms, or music, or interactive slide decks that made me crave for more.
The last session of the day is called the "Wine Down" by Brian Romero Smith who is a product of the school district that I work in. I first met Brian at ISTE in San Antonio in 2017. During our networking between sessions I found out that Brian, who is very close to me in age, actually grew up two blocks from me. I actually knew his sister. His session is where you learn how to take next steps in creating processes for your district from all of the excellent information you have taken in during the conference. It truly is the blueprint on how to get your distance learning into action.
Each session had a "built-in" break with music and the chats that went on during the session are what dreams are made of when it comes to online learning interaction. From a conversation to a whole conference, Knikole Taylor has built something so elegant, so important, that is should be shared with every educator in the world right now. The Rethink Learning Summit was an authentic space that made physical space seem unneccesary.
Note: Keynote Speaker Cutia Blunt
In today's times, the stress level is high. The unknowns of our current situation has me making decisions that I would not necessarily make in normal times. For example, my youngest son graduated high school and I was so so upset that his senior year went that way it did that I booked us a flight to Los Angeles in the middle of a pandemic. We practiced social distancing while we were there but in hindsight I thought to myself, "What the heck was I thinking"? It's been almost two weeks since we took our trip and we have not shown any symptoms of the virus but thinking about it now, that decision could have been deadly.
I did not take any vacation time while I was on the West Coast so I worked each day that I was there by writing curriculum for an Institutional Racism course and setup an app for a leadership conference that our district was having. The change of scenery was refreshing and I got to spend some time with my sister and cousins. The cool thing about working from home is working from home can take place anywhere on the planet.
So many things can happen when you work with a large group, especially during a pandemic. Sometimes you may not see eye to eye on things and tempers flare. I have been on edge at my job for weeks now. Even the California sun could not melt the hostility I've been feeling. I returned to Kansas City after eight days of sunny and seventy degrees to a 90 degree, breath-taking humidity in the air and in my heart. I'm mad for various reasons and it shows in my walk, my talk; all of my actions.
I began to have so many bad thoughts that I knew that I needed to "step away from the vehicle". After spewing the bad thoughts to my coworkers, I deleted my work email app from my phone for the weekend. I knew I needed to change and some respite. I planned to take some time off to completely unplug in the coming days.
On Saturday, I woke up at my "new normal quarantine " time of 10 a.m. and put my Apple music playlist on shuffle. I've been spending nearly every awakened minute that I have had lately on work things.
One thing that I live by is too much of anything is a bad thing.
As my playlist shuffled through hit after hit, my thoughts began to change. I began cleaning my house, singing, rapping, dancing as thoughts ran through my head about our current state of affairs. As I began washing a load of clothes, I decided to register to finish my last semester of EdTech courses to receive my EdSpec in EdTech in the fall. I did it and can't wait to get back to finishing my degree.
My mindset changed. I dropped everything again and sang and danced and rapped. I had dinner with a friend. I came back and sang and danced and rapped. Music helped me to get away from the negativity. Music helped me to remember that you have to take time for yourself.
By the time the night ended I felt so relaxed and idea after idea began to pop in my head. I grabbed my laptop and typed my ideas into slide decks as I dusted off some of my edtech Master's degree books. After the adrenalin rush, I sang, and danced and rapped until I fell asleep relaxed, calm, and positive.
When you get down in the dumps no matter how you got there, you have to find what works for you to pull yourself out. For me it is music. I had gotten to a point where the pressure of work and other people's negativity had taken over me like a virus. I had forgotten why I do this job, it's not about me and my feelings, it's about the next generation and the golden opportunity we have to transform school from being a place to a lifelong experience.
I try to leave my long post for my blog (www.andreacook.net) but I had to let this one fly right now. This is one of the hundreds of little cousins, nieces, great-nephews that I have
Kansas City Public Schools
. When I am at work, I'm thinking about them constantly with every curriculum that I write, with every teacher I train, and with every professional development that I design. This is heart work! If your brain does not allow you to do what is best for kids or you are so busy trying to sabotage the great things that are happening within our district, I implore you to please leave education. We do not have time to deal with mess while kids are suffering. -Real Talk. First posted on Facebook 7/1/2020