Amplifiers Create a New Story: Day 3 at #SXSWEDU

…I may ramble in this post. It’s 1am. I’m tired! Have a head cold. But wanted to share my learnings…


Do I really have to go home tomorrow?

It’s going to be hard to walk away from the synergy of woke educators at this conference, but I know that I have much work to do when I return to San Diego.

Not the work of answering emails and finishing tasks (although there is plenty of that as well), but the work of amplifying the conversations and ideas that have taken place here the past few days so that words don’t just stay words, but instead become actions.

David Hogg and Dan Rathers sitting in chairs talking

David Hogg and Dan Rathers

I started today hearing the voice of the new generation, David Hogg of March For Our Lives, rethink advocacy in this new era. He shared how he had never truly understood what empathy was until he saw his 14 year old sister collapse under the weight of finding out that four of her friends died in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. As.a teenage boy full of hormones, he didn’t know what to do with those emotions, but he knew he didn’t want shooting to be just another news story with no change/impact.

Advocacy is born from passion, from desire, from need. So often in education we stifle that drive or relegate to an elective, after school, or GATE program. Education says it is preparing students for the world of work, but when a teenager can say that he never felt empathy until his senior year of high school, then what have we truly prepared them for? What kind of future doesn’t require empathy?

When pressed as to what prepared Hogg, and others like him, to be advocates, he credited experience with speech and debate classes; theater, TV production, and journalism. The very nature of these programs built the skills needed for activism. Hogg learned that it is not his place to speak for others, because he has not shared their experiences. But he can certainly elevate their voices, spotlight them.

When Hogg was asked what his advocacy work had accomplished, he paused before explaining, “We’ve accomplished a little in an area where nothing is expected so we’ve accomplished a lot.” This ability to see progress, to chart a path and stick with it, and to amplify voices through empathy… this is how schools should be preparing students not for the world of work, but for the world of life. The world they’re in now.

There was also a panel of three female teenage entrepreneurs sharing their stories today, and although they weren’t activists like David Hogg, they had a voice that was being amplified through their start-up companies and non-profit organizations. But it wasn’t an easy journey to become a teen entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurship is like a varsity sport, one of the women explained. “We’re working on it during ALL our spare time..thinking about it all the time. We need adult mentorship outside of the classroom to help us find our way.

But instead, many received truancy letters for taking time out of school to pursue their passion. “Attending an economic summit in Boston shouldn’t result in punishment at school!” Reminds me of conversations yesterday as to what learning is valued, and how antiquated our current learning value system is. How ironic that students are penalized for being successful outside the school walls.

Instead of punishing them, the young ladies asked for mentorship, for people to help them amplify their voice and their passions. People who would offer personal reciprocity by sharing their own struggles; helping alleviate self-doubt; and asking tough questions along the way. Sounds like they were asking for support with the soft skills, the skills that matter most.

One of the women explained, problem solving is just as important as reading and math. As entrepreneurs, they are learning how to fail and grow early. They’re using their creativity to think outside the box to create positive change for society.

And yet, these opportunities aren’t well integrated in elementary schools because the hard skills are pushed more than innovation. Only the gifted, the affluent, or the lucky get to participate. It doesn’t have to be this way. Some ideas shared were to run a pop up shop for a day as part of an entrepreneur project or to have students pick an inconvenience and design a solution.

The advice given to one of the entrepreneurs is just as applicable to all the educators in the audience: You need to take the first step before you’re even ready to take it. A small step is better than no step.

Amplifying voices should be happening all over our schools. “Libraries are like the quarterback [you never knew you had],” so why aren’t school and district leaders leveraging the power we have in our buildings? The library, in many schools, is the biggest classroom in the school. What if we reimagined the space as a systemic gateway to change?

In the 30 minute Reinvention: Designing Future Ready Libraries session, Carolyn Foote articulated that students deserve access to inviting, accessible, collaborative, flexible, tech-rich and literacy centered libraries that support academic and enriching experiences. I’d add that those spaces also support student passions. They elevate the voice of the students by providing them with the resources needed to find and nurture that voice.

#dtk12chat crew posing for a photo

#DTK12Chat Live!

Like every other day, today wasn’t just about the sessions. It was about the connections made between sessions. The best part of Wednesday at #SXSWEDU is actually the #dtk12chat that happens live from the Hilton lobby. There were so many inspiring stories shared about innovation, transformation, and creative change. More importantly, new friendships were forged, and old friends were embraced.

Dan Rathers, in the panel conversation with David Hoggs, shared the line from a Barbra Streisand song, “Hearts can inspire other hearts with their fire.” Well, I certainly plan on bringing a fire back to San Diego!

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