“I want to be the best version of myself for anyone who is going to someday walk into my life and need someone to love them beyond reason.”
― Jennifer Elisabeth, Born Ready: Unleash Your Inner Dream Girl
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
I first heard of Education Nation sometime back in late February or perhaps early March when it received a mention during a Twitter chat. I had a look at the website and although it looked interesting, my professional development days and my (self-funded) budget had both been allocated for the year. Fast forward to FutureSchools (review articles here) and I received a response to a photo I put up on Twitter.
I thought, at first, that it was a cheeky plug for the Education Nation conference, but decided to send through an e-mail to follow it up. Imagine my shock when I was told that, yes it was a genuine offer to attend and review the event. I am very glad that I did accept the offer. Learnings from the conference aside (and there were many), the opportunity to meet people face-to-face that I had been speaking to and knew from Twitter conversations for the first time was an exciting opportunity. Overall, however, the Education Nation was, in my view, a success.
I do not think I can have a general wrap up from Education Nation without including the location. It was stunning. Day two provided better weather and a slightly warmer temperature than day one did. It made it very easy to go outside and enjoy the sunshine and the fresh air, to debrief from the sessions and recharge ready for the next one. The venue itself was interesting. The rooms utilised for the Rethinking Reform and Digital Dimensions streams were generally excellent.
They had a good view without being distracting, the rooms had reasonable acoustics and the audio levels were set well to make the speaker easy to hear. The afternoon sessions were a little frustrating as the sun would reflect off the water through the windows at the back of the room, flooding it with light, which made taking photos during presentations difficult due to over-exposure. The hinges on the door into Digital Dimensions also sounded like the Tin Man anytime someone entered or left, which was rather frustrating mid-session.
The Leader, The Educator, and The Learner all had their own challenges. The Leader was in a terrible room if I am being honest. In comparison to the other locations, it was a dungeon. The run of windows in the room were situated at head-height, if you were standing up, but were at the level of the footpath outside, meaning all that could be seen was active wear in various guises running past, which meant it was a more distracting room than the others. The light levels were also horrible for taking photographs, and the room had odd lighting, making it feel dim. The physical structure of the room also created a very closed-in feeling.
The Learner was in an echo chamber, or so it sounded. Additionally, the room seemingly had no climate control as I had heard people complaining about the temperature over the course of the event. The Educator was the last session of the conference and so the sun was quite low when during that session and so was in the delegates’ eyes, depending on where they were sitting, during that session. The view, however, was fantastic.
The signage could have been better. Each room did have a sign out the front indicating which one it was, however there needed to be a directional side immediately outside of the main rooms pointing to each of the other rooms, especially given that they were at opposite ends of the venue.
I did feel bad for the vendors, to a degree. The Playground was an awkward layout, with the mezzanine level taking up a fair chunk the floorspace, the main floor not being overly large, and with such a beautiful view on the deck outside. I had heard discussion from various quarters about the seemingly low attendee numbers, however, if there had been many more people in attendance, The Playground and food areas would have been very cramped and difficult to move around, and we would have seen more issues. I will not write further on The Playground here, as I have already written an article on it specifically.
For me, the speakers were generally very good. There were, of course, some whose sessions I enjoyed more than others, and there were a few speakers whose sessions I felt did not hit the mark, but on the whole. If you have read the previous articles reviewing those sessions I was able to attend. The feedback I had from the other streams was generally positive. The exception, however, was The Leader stream. From what I have heard, from multiple sources, other than two or three sessions the speakers in that stream generally missed the mark, were not speaking on the topic the abstract indicated they would be speaking on, were not engaging or delivered a lecture rather than a workshop.
One delegate in that stream that I was speaking with told me how that stream had been selected specifically as the one to attend as it fit right in with this delegates Professional Development Plan and the delegate had hoped to learn more about the mechanics of leading a school. The comment that I was given was that this delegate felt that overall it was a waste of time and the two professional development days he was allotted for the year were now spent and for no benefit. I encouraged this delegate to seek out one of the event organisers to give some specific feedback, more so than would be able to be provided on the feedback forms.
Other than that, however, I heard generally positive feedback on the speakers. Particularly enjoyed and seen as beneficial from what I heard were Brett Salakas, Corinne Campbell, Prue Gill and Ed Cuthbertson, The Hewes Family, and Leanne Steed and Elizabeth Amvrazis.
There is some expectation that the last session at a conference is typically poorly attended. I personally do not understand this. If you are investing significant money in an event, then you should be staying until the end to get maximum benefit from it. I know far too many people who have left conferences early to make a flight or train home. It is akin to leaving a concert before the house lights have come back on, or a movie before the end of the credits. That said, it was embarrassing to hear that no-one stayed for the final session of The Educator stream. I cannot imagine how Elizabeth Amvrazis and Leeanne Steed must have felt. I know how I would have felt.
The Great Debate and other Themes
The Great Debate was one of the drawcard events, I feel, for Education Nation. Looking back, however, I do not feel that it achieved much. Noone’s mind was going to be changed on the issue. Many would have taken Dr. Zyngier’s side, irrespective of what he said, just to be opposed to Dr. Donnelly, it was and will always remain a divisive issue and as many people commented on twitter, and as both Dr Donnelly and Dr. Zyngier commented during the event, we need to move past this.
There were some interesting themes that came through over the course of Education Nation. If you have read any of the review articles, then you might have noticed some as well. The most significant theme, in my opinion, was the call for a genuine national conversation about the purpose and goals of education in Australia. It came through in most of the sessions I attended and in most of the conversations that I had outside the sessions. It was pointed out to me on Twitter that we have had a national conversation, which is where The Melbourne Declaration comes from. I disagree that it was a national conversation, however. It was a meeting of Education Ministers to develop a document that says some pretty things which sound nice. A national conversation, however? No.
I do not know how we would go about starting something like a national conversation that would have any sort of actual relevance and use, other than setting up a Change.org petition, however, which does not seem appropriate, or a Royal Commission of Inquiry,which seems like a vast overkill. I would very much like to hear feedback from my reads as to firstly, whether or they agree with the need for a national conversation about education, and secondly, what platform could or should be taken to get it started and get it, the need for it, and the results, taken seriously and listened to.
There were some other themes that came through, I thought. More needs to be done to work with the families and students in our low socioeconomic areas, we need to be more positive about teaching and recognise the successes we have more often, initial teacher education needs to be improved and strengthened to better prepare beginning teachers for their new career and to stem the personnel drain that occurs within the first five years of a teacher’s career and finally, we need to share more with each other about practices which are and are not working.
Would I attend Education Nation again? Yes. Is there room for improvement and streamlining? Of course.
If you have made it this far and have read all of the previous articles in the Education Nation series, well done and thank you for staying the journey. Now, I am off to finish writing my reports.