If I were not afraid…

Way back in May, Todd Williamson tagged me with the meme “Five Things You Would Do If You Were Not Afraid.”  That’s a darn hard meme to answer.  Admitting fear is like admitting weakness, admitting you have flaws.  Ick….

Well I finally got around to finishing it.  This post doesn’t have five things, just one…the “one” took a long, long time.


I have always questioned whether or not what I do in a classroom is worthy of being shared with others.  I never feel competent as a teacher, and don’t have much confidence in sharing details on what I do with my kids with folks face-to-face.  I tend to see everything I do in the classroom as flawed in someway and not good enough.  Writing about what I do on this blog is becoming easier, but face-to-face in a workshop/conference setting….yikes…especially in light of all the special shiny projects that are usually shared in conference sessions as the epitome of what every teacher should be doing.

I do think that I have some good great ideas to share, and I think so do all the other classroom teachers out there who tend to believe that it is only the folks speaking with the loudest voices that are the ones  worthy of being heard.  As I have gone to conferences over the last few years I have become increasingly aware of the fact that many of the best presenters are sitting in the audience listening, instead of speaking.  How many times have you heard that it was not the sessions that proved to be most valuable, but the hallway time between sessions or the “happy hour” afterwords.  I don’t want to take anything away from the organizers and presenter at the conferences I have atended, they were wonderful, just not what I was looking for.  What am I looking for?  I have moved past the point of needing sessions on “stuff.”  Websites, tools, methods, etc.  I can get those from the internet.  Many times I have arrived at sessions and have been dismayed to realize that I was only going to get what I have already seen on the internet…right down to the powerpoint.

Last year I started thinking about what could I present at a conference?  What kind of conference would I want to present at?  This year I thought a little more about what it would take to be able to pull off an informal conference with more of a focus on classroom teachers and classroom teachers as presenters.   A conference that focuses on the processes in classrooms and not the end products.  A conference in which anyone with a great idea would feel comfortable volunteering to present.  A conference that has a primary purpose of not teaching, sharing or giving, but reflection, motivation, and inspiration.

If I was not afraid, I would find some like minded folks and organize a conference…one with name that could be improved, but one that had a really cool acronym and theme music 😉

PLEASE keep in mind that the following are just some rough thoughts–I know there are holes–please don’t poke more;) I also know that it sounds a lot like other conferences, but hey, I am still working on it!

The Innovation and Collaboration in Education (ICE) Conference:

When Henry Ford first started the Ford Motor Company he was known for not selling cars, but ideas.

Ford didn’t say, “do it like this”, he said, “I wonder how it could be done better”.

The ICE conference is about tinkering with the big ideas in education so participants leave with a deeper understanding of learning processes, not just end products.

ICE does not serve as a showroom for finished projects and grand collaborations, but as a place for dialogue about ideas and the processes behind them which can be applied universally to all projects, grade levels, and subjects.

Presenters will primarily be classroom teachers who are familiar with running a program that lasts a full school year, or how the topic they are presenting fits into a day-to-day, full year schedule. Other presenters such as tech specialists, school consultants, and administrators will present topics that they have implemented in year round programs and will share their ideas in a way that a classroom teacher can find useful in their room everyday.  Sessions will be in a variety of formats.  Some sessions will mimic the “hallway” discussions that occur in between sessions at other conferences, some will allow participates to help brainstorm an amazing new idea or work on an awesome collaborative project, and other sessions will allow for a more in-depth examination of an idea.  The ICE Conference sessions will allow educators to collaborate on how to best bring innovative ideas to a classroom and sustained them for an entire school year. There will be seven types of sessions during ICE:

  1. Formal sessions in which presenters will not just share a tool, or a special project, but focus in on a skill or part of their teaching and the units and tools that were used to sustain growth in that skill throughout the course of a year.  Any type of project that is presented will be the type that is sustainable for an entire year.  Ex., so not sessions on creative writing activities, but how to develop creative writers throughout the year.
  2. Poster sessions in which presenters will show how they incorporate things such as poetry, art, dialogue, digital story telling, etc into units throughout the year–not just a single project.
  3. Brainstorm sessions allow a person to bring an idea or project that they would like to create, improve, or need collaboration on, and participants would collaboratively work on it.
  4. Nuts and Bolts Session—ok, so maybe there is room for one time slot on just “tools.”  Nuts and bolts is a round robin time slot that allows people to present and take questions on a favorite tools(from podcasting to puppets) that they use in their class.  People are free to travel from station to station.
  5. Un-conference style sessions on day 2 based on ideas and needs from day 1
  6. Classroom Wisdom– Every great teacher does things that does not get written into a lesson plans.  Things that are at the core of a successful class but are difficult to place into an official presentation. These topics are probably best not meant to be discussed in a formal atmosphere but in a dialogue with a small group.  Topics can be as diverse as how to grade with out giving tests, how to involve all students in discussion, how to set-up a failure free classroom, how to spark creativity, classroom management without coercion, creating a risk free class, creating an atmosphere of trust in the classroom, and getting kids to “break out of their box.”
  7. Small group break-out discussions—conference participants often come with very specific questions not covered by sessions and don’t know who to ask or how to find someone to help them. Other participants also come with areas of expertise that they might not be ready to present in a more formal manner or might be more of a niche expertise. In the morning of Day 2 participants will be able to post questions and/or areas of expertise on a board.  Later in the morning participants will be able to pair up or get into small break-out groups to answer posted questions or ask a person with an expertise questions.


9-9:30                Keynote

9:45-10:30       Formal Presentation

10:30-11:15     Formal Presentation

11:30-12:00    Special Super Secret Session Run By Conference Organizers

12-1:00             Lunch

1:15-2:00         Formal Presentation

2:15-3:00         Formal Presentation

3:15-4:00         Poster Session

4:15-5:00         Classroom Wisdom

7-10                   Mandatory Happy hour 😉


8:30-9              Post a questions/areas of expertise for PM informal break-outs.  Based on Day 1 and Happy
Hour discussions, create ideas for PM unconference sessions

9-9:45               Formal Presentation/In-depth session (runs during both AM slots)

10-10:45          Formal Presentation

11-11:45           Small Group Break out discussions

11:45-12:45     Lunch

1:00-1:45         Un-conference based on AM Q’s

2:00-2:45         Formal Presentation

3:00-3:45         Brain Storm Sessions—Participants bring a project they need help with or pitch an idea for a project they need collaboration on

4:00-5:00        The ICEys–the best thing participants/students did during the year (Everyone who was not a presenter shares!)

Cost for 2 day conference for 50 people with one night accommodations $250

If it was a one day conference:

A One Day Conference

8:30-9               Welcome

9-9:30               Keynote

9:45-10:15       Formal Presentation

10:15-11:30     Formal Presentation

11:45-12:15     Poster Sessions

11:45-12:45     Lunch

1:15-2:00         Nuts and bolts

2:15-3:00        Classroom Wisdom

3-3:45                Brain Storm Sessions—Classroom procedures

4:30-5:00        ICEys–the best thing you do during the year

For the record, it was a post from Bill Genereux that made me start thinking about this topic, and then a  tweet and skype conversation with Karen Janowski that really go me thinking about this again and motivated me to finish.  Make sure you click on their names and check out their blogs–two people who have really inspired me over the last couple years.

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