One Eyebrow Raised

I am fresh off Day 2 of ATI 2019, and as is common after a day of learning and networking, my brain is fatigued, my introvert batteries are seriously drained, and I forgot to eat dinner. BUT, I can’t emphasize enough how much today’s revelations are worth a little discomfort.

My decade-old career in higher education has provided consistent opportunities to attend workshops and conferences and while I always leave with at least a little something new to think about, I am often frustrated by their structure and underwhelmed by their content. But not today. I spent my entire day with an elevated heart rate and a constant wiggle in my seat–this might sound uncomfortable but it was oh so refreshing. See, there is something different about ATI. Maybe it is that the attendees are all from our state. Or maybe it is because the main topic is Open Education, an area I am passionate about. Whatever the reason, today’s conference was abuzz with a palpable energy of collaboration, connection, and shared purpose. Despite our disparate fields, titles, and levels of experience, the people in the room were joined by a tacit understanding that our students need more from their educational journey, and that we are the ones responsible to enact change.

Whispers of this solidarity emerged even on our first day together, but became much louder today after listening, no, experiencing, Jesse Stommel’s keynote, titled Inclusive Open Pedagogy. Prior to today, I had followed Jesse on Twitter, read excerpts of his work, and knew our group was in for a treat. I could not however, have imagined the degree to which he moved us, collectively, in the direction of our mission to make education accessible and affirming for all people. His four-word pedagogy, “start by trusting students” was precisely the simple directive we needed to ground ourselves in the work we are here to accomplish.

In just over an hour, Jesse challenged us to question our existing paradigms, with one eyebrow raised, not just to indicate criticism but also curiosity. He asked us to consider the assumptions we make about students before they ever enter our classrooms, and how these assumptions influence our pedagogy and design decisions. He asked us to acknowledge the larger systems under which we operate and the stifling effects such systems can have on learning: “The bureaucracies of schooling flatten students, reducing them to rows in a spreadsheet and their work to columns.” These are not sentiments an ethical pedagogue can ignore, and thus we are collectively called to action–gently, subtly, but certainly, and our work begins right now.

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