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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Report from Educon 2.5: Empathy, Relationships and Entrepreneurship

Mary Beth Hertz

K-8 Technology Teacher in Philadelphia, PA

Last month, I attended the unique and energizing conference, Educon, held annually at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Over the weekend of January 25th, innovative minds in education from all over the US and Canada converged on SLA to discuss emerging trends in education, share big ideas, grapple with issues and come up with solutions. The themes permeating this year's conference were Empathy, Relationships and Entrepreneurship.

The conference always includes a Friday night panel as a kickoff event, and this year's panel topic was Hacking Entrepreneurship, featuring a diverse group of educators and entrepreneurs both local and from out of state. Many of the panelists spoke to believing in oneself, pursuing dreams, not giving up and embracing failure. These conversations were carried throughout the conference in each session I attended and in the side conversations that happened in the school library or over a drink after the conference.

One could say that the entire Educon conference is centered around Empathy, just in the way it is structured as a conversation instead of a sit-and-get conference. Educators who attend Educon are there to listen and engage in a respectful and professional manner. Since the conference brings in people from a variety of school settings, there is also a lot of conversation around the similarities and differences between these varied experiences. Empathy was also apparent in the session offerings. This was evident in a session entitled, "A look at how Google Earth can foster empathy and broaden students' world view."

The theme of Relationships was apparent in a session centered around the inherent problems of standardizing education, and in the many sessions about student-centered learning. Even the session I attended about how SLA teachers approach standards-based grading came down to building relationships with students and the importance of turning grading into a partnership between the teacher and the student. A session dedicated to home and school connections emphasized the importance of schools building relationships with families.

Entrepreneurship was addressed in a multi-faceted way throughout the conference. For one, many people spent time grappling with the basic act of defining what the word means in the education sphere. Some conversations focused on the problems with bringing business mindsets into schools, and that promoting the idea of teachers as entrepreneurs is pushing good teachers out of the classroom. There was also conversation around the controversial Teach for America program that has a history of graduating a large number of educational entrepreneurs instead of classroom teachers. Others claimed that the word has been co-opted by business and that teachers can be entrepreneurs and still serve their students well. One person tweeted the question, "If I am innovative in my classroom, am I an entrepreneur or just a really good teacher?" While there was no definitive answer offered, it was admittedly a difficult question.

I always enjoy attending the Educon conference, and I am proud that it is held in my hometown. I look forward to continuing to grapple with some of the tough questions posed over the weekend, and to continuing conversations with the great minds with whom I had a chance to mingle.

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Christopher De Michele's picture
Christopher De Michele
Social Entrepreneur - Founder and President, Enrichment Resource Group

Hello Mary Beth,
Thank you for this peek inside EduCon 2013. I've heard of the event, however have not yet investigated its offerings. Now it's back on my radar - thanks to you!

As a thriving entrepreneur previously based in NJ, 17 yrs ago I began a quest to understand human development and performance - taking a comprehensivist view and an investigative journalist approach.

My journey was prompted by a passion to learn how best to support my nephew during some of his most impressionable years. Admittedly, my intention was to enhance his capacity for lifelong well-being while nurturing his character, competencies, and communication skills - including self-esteem, self-reflection, empathy, resilience, creativity, critical thinking, ethical performance, courage & risk tolerance, inspiration, kindness, etc.

What kept showing up in my research (including 100+ video interviews with experts), and what is revealed to us through horrific news stories of troubled youth and families (bullying & shootings) - is that foundational ingredients such as empathy and relationships are undervalued in our standards based approach to education.

Why? Because social emotional intelligences remain misinterpreted, completely misunderstood - or frankly, they are just plain scary to epidemic levels of adults who have not been taught how to interpret and best navigate our strengths OR face our "emotional triggers" and shadow sides.

As a species we are biologically mismatched for the current and coming pace of change. Technology must be embraced in our schools to enhance all studies, and be leveraged to enhance social-emotional self-awareness, empathy, and collaborative learning - as translated into critical thinking skills for improved virtual and face-to-face relationships.

If we don't get THIS right soon... and by right I mean - just how pragmatic SEL & SECD are for a healthy, productive, functional, innovative, resilient society - then we and coming generations are in hot water in both quality of life expectancy and workforce readiness. (SEL history & trends https://vimeo.com/channels/ergpresents/31629063)

These 3 vital aspects which you've highlighted in this blog are foundational if we are to provide safe, healthy, robust, and innovative environments - whole school, district wide.

I'm intrigued to learn if Educon communicated a theme on these 3 topics during the event, or was it more your interpretation and experience of the event? In either case it's reason for hope, and is evidence of your attuned social-emotional antennae!

Thanks again for writing and sharing your experience with us.

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