Where to even begin? This is not your average conference… actually, I wouldn’t even use the word conference to describe it. Deeper Learning is a powerful two-and-a-half-day learning experience for educators. Over 1300 educators from around the world convened this past week in San Diego at High Tech High to dig deep, connect, and do work that will support deeper learning outcomes for students.

Educators were encouraged to unpack the historical underpinnings of compulsory schooling and reflect on existing systems, structures and supports that aren’t working. Attendees also heard countless examples of schools and educators that are making progress and rethinking what learning can and should like for young people. And at the core of each message shared were two facts: first, that this work starts with understanding who our students are, truly hearing them, and focusing on creating equitable and powerful learning experiences for them; and second, that this work is imperative.

While words can’t even being to describe the energy and awesomeness of Deeper Learning 2018, I spent time thinking about what makes this conference so different (and why you NEED to go), and wanted to share a few reflections…

… and pictures. Get ready for lots of pictures.

What Makes this Experience Different?

1. Student voice. Students, students and more students. Don’t believe deeper learning environments can benefit or “work” for all students? Listen to even one of the students at Deeper Learning and your mind will be changed. Performances, speeches and reflections from students across the country make Deeper Learning truly unique and special. There was an EdCorps farmers market where student-run businesses showcased and sold their original products. Even better was that students didn’t just stand up on stage and recite the six deeper learning competencies–they embraced them, and reflected them through what and how they shared. Adults: take note and get out of the way for even ten minutes — we can all stand to learn a lot from our youth.

2. No preaching, and the only thing they sell here is Deeper Learning. Deeper Learning is a learning experience FOR EVERYONE (presenters included). Have you ever been to a conference where you feel like the little bird getting fed by mama bird, and you don’t get a chance to share or speak up? Deeper Learning is not that. Everyone in attendance is participating and learning — there is no one expert or voice. The people here are doing the work and not just talking about it. There were about ten dens (intimate chats with Deeper Learning leaders) that allowed for organic conversation and questioning. Some of the most inspired, creative and committed educators I know choose year after year to come to Deeper Learning. We all engaged in deeper learning ourselves (as every second of experience is a reflection of deeper learning practices and models), and walked away with a transformed understanding of what is possible (trust me, ask anyone who has attended before).

There are also no vendors swarming the halls pushing a product on you, just amazing student work and rich conversations. Deeper Learning is designed by and for educators who want to do the work–not to sell you a platform or product.

3. Inclusive and engaging. I’ve been to my fair share of conferences and events where I spent the entire day in rooms filled with people but still felt alone and isolated. At Deeper Learning, I engaged with new and familiar faces. The communal dinners and events intended for everyone – not just a select few – made for new connections and conversations that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The sessions and spaces are also highly engaging and interactive, which also creates ample opportunities for attendees to connect.

4. Shared keynote. This year one of the main keynote speeches was split between four people (Carlos Moreno from Big Picture Learning, Gia Truong from Envision, Ron Berger from EL Education and Lindsay Hill from the Raikes Foundation). This made for a highly engaging and dynamic opening to the conference AND made sure there were many, diverse voices represented. The final day, Jeff Duncan-Andrade (Associate Professor @SFSU and Founder of Roses in Concrete Community School) spoke, and quite literally moved people into taking action to benefit students.

5. Tears, laughter and JOY. If you don’t like to laugh or smile, Deeper Learning isn’t for you (just kidding, remember it’s for everyone). The stories and shared experiences were incredibly moving and powerful. I’m not embarrassed to say I cried at least once every day, and laughed just the same. Presentations were highly engaging and concise. The Deeper Learning team made sure to build in ample time for reflection and debriefs so attendees could process what they were taking in. They also made sure we were entertained! There was a band, a series of live student performances and no lack of humor. It’s a deeper learning love fest!

6. Well-managed sessions and programming. The format of the conference makes for really rich learning experiences that give you a taste of everything, but also allow you to go deep. The first day you start in a common session and then move into shorter workshops. As I mentioned earlier, there were also short sessions called dens that allow participants to ask questions and chat with Deeper Learning leaders. The second day, attendees participate in a deep dive and really spend time on a particular topic. Deeper Learning deep dives end with an adult learning exhibition (of course modeling the type of learning and sharing of learning we hope to create for students).

In addition to these big differences, there is also innovative work being displayed and shared that is worth mentioning.

Deeper Learning Highlights

1. Deeper Learning Puzzle Bus: Stanford d.school’s K12 Lab is experimenting with how they might apply the international craze of escape rooms to the educational imperative of helping students get better at crucial deeper learning skills. Educators not only experienced the bus, but also got to create a deeper learning puzzle of their own.

2. Student panel: One of my favorite panels was comprised of students who shared their experiences in deeper learning environments. Students shared about being shadowed for the day by their principal to show them how they learn. Students talked about what it is like to share their work to a public audience, and how it helps create more beautiful work and makes them feel proud of what they create. Students (namely a 3rd-grade rockstar from Thrive Public Schools) shared how high quality PBL experiences make learning meaningful.

3. The food and the people: There, I said it. The food and the people were amazing. But seriously, Deeper Learning is set up to make attendees feel ready to learn and ensure they are well-nourished (both mentally and physically). Some of the most creative, inspired, and motivating educators I know are at Deeper Learning, and there are non-stop opportunities to be inspired and wake up to new ideas!

Want to learn more? Email me at [email protected] or reach out to the Deeper Learning team. I know they can’t wait for you attend next year, March 27-29th, 2019.  I’ll see you there!

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