Teaching and Learning

My Community of Weavers: Day 1 at #SXSWEDU

David Brooks, Executive Director of the Aspen Project, kicked off SXSWEDU with a call to all educators to build a community of weavers, and not rippers. According to the program guide, Weave: The Social Fabric Project, operates with the premise that social fragmentation is the central problem of our time—isolation, alienation and division. Weave seeks to work with people that are rebuilding communities and creating social capital to spur a movement to repair the national fabric—to identify and celebrate these groups, synthesize the values that move them, and help forge a common identity.

These are some key ideas that resonated with me during Brooks’ talk:

When you’re down in the valley, you can either be broken, or broken open …

Pain that is not transformed gets transmitted.

The soul gives us moral responsibility. It yearns for social righteousness

I’ve never seen a program turn around a life. I’ve only seen relationships turn around a life.

The thing the heart desires more than anything is fusion with another.

During the panel discussion after, I felt drawn to Darius Baxter, who at 25 years old, was already co-founder and Chief Engagement Officer of GOODProjects. Darius believes that leading with love, with the heart is critical to get out there and solve problems. He said that we need to see the story of justice in every aspect of life.

Darius also discussed the need for Localism in education. He reminded us that we experience America differently based on where we live. Southern hospitality is different than New York City hustle and bustle. Urban, rural, and suburban lives are different as well. Schools need to recognize that and innovate for their own needs. Standardized approaches don’t work. Won’t ever work.


After the keynote, I attended Fact vs Fiction: Why Media Literacy Matters. In this panel talk, the focus was on why people need to be media literate in order to be considered literate in today’s society. Being an active citizen is a key of civics, and people have to understand media to fully participate as an informed citizen. Therefore, media literacy skills can and should be taught in every subject area, and should start in elementary school. Media literacy is a solution-based strategy to deal with information flow and disinformation. But just focusing on truth/false is limiting. Students need to learn the nuance of information and how we process/understand/make information.

Unfortunately, teachers need training so they understand that critical thinking isn’t the ONLY component of media literacy. Create and Act are also part, since we live in a participatory culture now.

The panel discussed how “Fake news” has become a cultural joke. Don’t like something? Just call it fake news. This is different than propaganda, which is an intentional spread of misinformation to shift beliefs and actions.

I also learned about NewsGuard, a Chrome extension to help identify “fake” websites using a rating system algorithm.


In the Unlocking Time to Fuel Student-Centered Learning session, the focus was on how the structures of time in a school impact and impede student learning.

Everything in school is time-bound:
– District/School calendar
– school bell schedule
– academic programming (master schedulule)
– staff time/responsibilities outside the classroom

Given that, is it any surprise that many students feel like they’re “doing time” instead of learning? How can educators change the mindset to not doing time, but doing learning? The shift needs to happen at all levels of school AND also in the community.

When you’re “doing time” there is no opportunity for “flow.” The traditional school bell schedule pretty much ensures that once you get started in deep learning, the bell will ring and you have to get your brain to move to a different concept/place for the next class. What adult could function well in that type of environment?


My last workshop for the day was Engaging Communities in Rethinking Schools. There were some great food for thought statements on the slides, such as:

“For many years school improvement efforts have been “done to” communities – not “done with” them. That is slowly changing.

Authentic community engagement begins with a mindset shift: listening first, then working in collaboration with parents and community stakeholders.

“It takes careful planning and purposeful action to build partnerships that involve school, family, and community.” – Joyce Epstein

Authentic engagement is not information sharing or feedback gathering, it is meaningful collaboration and shared decision-making

When engaging stakeholders authentically, conduct outreach early on and report back about how feedback was used.

Healthy Feedback Loop –
– Cultivate strong relationships (build trust)
– Seek Feedback (diverse array of stakeholders)
– Listen and Learn (analyze feedback trends and share out)
– Take Action (incorporate feedback into decision making)
– Share Back (help stakeholders understand how feedback was used

Healthy feedback loop visual

Kenya Bradshaw, VP of TNPT, said that many schools/districts place a false sense of urgency in the work we do and then say there was no time for community engagemen. She called “bullsh*t” on most of the excuses, reminding educators that we know the budget cycle and predictions way before cuts need to be made, and that most change initiatives are discussed behind closed doors long before they are brought to the stakeholders most impacted by those changes. And she cautioned that change initiatives won’t stay if you don’t engage the community – it will leave with changes in superintendent, school board, and/or other senior leadership.

Bradshaw asked, How/When are students included in processes? We do stuff TO students in education, most often without involving them in the process. When done well, authentic engagement has a positive impact on student outcomes, as shown in various research studies cited in the presentation.

Teachers posing for a groupie.

The focus on authentic engagement seemed to be the theme today at SXSWEDU, not only in sessions but in my connections with colleagues I haven’t seen since last year’s event… or others I just met today. I’m looking forward to more authentic engagement tomorrow. And seeing that it is almost 1am, I think I need to get some sleep so I’m ready for that!

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