By Devin Vodicka
Last week I was fortunate to attend the ASU-GSV Summit in San Diego. The conference tagline was “BC to AD” (Before Coronavirus, After Disease) and the gathering brought together educators, ed tech leaders, and funders with a futuristic lens. For me, this was the first national conference that I’ve attended since COVID and I came away with three main takeaways:
Takeaway 1: There is no substitute for in-person connections
After roughly 18 months of working from home and spending the majority of my working time on a screen, it was refreshing and energizing to see friends and colleagues in person. Reuniting with long-time contacts was fabulous and many of the people that have become close collaborators in the pandemic were met for the first time.
Informal conversations in hallways and other unplanned interactions felt novel and full of possibilities. While I am an introvert and have often felt like conferences are overstimulating, I was so pleased to be back in proximity with an innovative community of learners and leaders. In addition, through the pandemic I have felt a growing movement to increase collaboration and that sense was reinforced by the openness among event participants to work together for the greater good.
Takeaway 2: “Whole-Child” is on the rise
Katie Martin and I facilitated a workshop called “Building from the Pandemic: Ensuring forward progress from what we’ve learned” in which we went through various protocols to promote reflections and then move into expansive thinking about the future. When we asked questions about what has worked and what has been challenging the conversation very quickly centered around overall wellness and promoting physical, social, emotional, and academic development in ways that take into account the challenges of our current context.
In addition to this workshop, I participated in a panel discussion moderated by Robin Lake with the title “The kids are not alright” and there were numerous sessions that addressed the importance of relationships, advisory, and wellness. At a conference that also emphasizes the accelerating influence of technology in education and in our lives, I have not previously seen such a strong focus on the whole-child. This gives me hope that we may be seeing positive momentum in the development of an educational approach that will help learners to know who they are, thrive in community, and actively engage in the world as their best selves.
Takeaway 3: We are not yet in the “After Disease” phase of this pandemic
In spite of the interest in moving into a post-pandemic orientation, it was clear from the experience that we are not yet through the COVID era. Participants were required to show proof of negative COVID tests prior to entrance and there were numerous precautions in place. Overall attendance felt lighter than in previous years and evening social engagements were less pervasive than usual. As much as we had hoped that this would be a fall with full reopenings in schools and society, it now looks like we will need to be patient and flexible.
I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in events that bring people together to connect, share, learn, and dream together. I am hopeful that our combined efforts can help us get to the other side of this pandemic so that we can continue to come together for the benefit of all learners. As we do, we must remember to take a collaborative and human-centered approach. After all, it is in community that we learn who we are and how to make a positive difference in this world.
Check out the book Learner-Centered Leadership: A Blueprint for Transformational Change in learning Communities for more insights, reflections, and suggestions.
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