Reinventing the Education Conference: Co-Creating Professional Development and Social Connections in Real Time

By: Lydia Dobyns

We find ourselves, as humans, at an extraordinary time. We are being pushed, pulled, and challenged to be bigger than any one set of circumstances. Global Pandemic. Racial Justice. Economic Turmoil. These serve as the 2020 backdrop to our roles as educators in every state. Whether, in five or ten years, 2020 is cited as the beginning of broad-scale U.S. school transformation remains to be seen. What we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt, at the least, and possibly change forever, how we think about teaching and learning.

We’ve created a virtual gathering called “Beyond NTAC” as an opportunity for Imagining Beyond the traditional work of school from July 13-16, 2020.

This moment demands we, as educators, reflect on what we value most, shift our focus there, and let go of things that matter less. COVID-19 has forced students, families, and educators to take immediate action outside the traditional school experience. The killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have catalyzed outrage at the racial discrimination non-white Americans routinely experience, specifically Black Americans. These events, amid broad economic uncertainty and growing inequality, have put a spotlight on the policies, procedures, and teaching practices that don’t meet the needs of students in today’s world, and often do damage to learning and development.

We feel it is our moral imperative that our core values and beliefs serve as the anchor to our organizational responses. We don’t want to inadvertently recreate what is not working in the in-school experience to “not work” in a distance-learning environment or to merely bide our time until we can return to “normal.”

While reopening schools continues to dominate local and national media coverage, most coverage focuses on minimizing health risks and wondering how districts will pay for what’s needed. When and how do teachers and school leaders convene to reflect, learn, and plan for this next year? In a few weeks we will come together, virtually, to learn, reflect, and design school experiences that feel especially aligned with our current reality.

I can’t think of a more compelling set of reasons to be part of a school network; together we are better able to face challenges and recognize opportunities.

We’re channeling our nearly 20-year school design expertise into a four-day gathering designed to showcase conference best practices (thoughtful, provocative keynotes, deep dives into specific content areas), offer Braindates with fellow attendees, and utilize Slack for easy connections. The sessions are designed to feed your soul, stretch your brain, and help you grapple with uncertainty. More than anything, we want you to emerge from our time together refreshed and invigorated, and maybe with new thought partners for your coming year.

We don’t, for a moment, believe that our invitation to come together is so that we can provide you with answers. Quite simply, the “new school” playbook is being co-written as I type. Our invitation to join the gathering is to bring your voice, your curiosity, and your passion and create a new normal together. We’re featuring sessions that explore Anti-Racism, Social and Emotional Learning, Creating Hope, and Supporting ELL. And that’s not even mentioning these renowned keynotes: Stephen Ritz, Dr. Tehia Starker Glass, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed.

I’ll be honest, when I heard that our team designing the “not in-person” NTAC shared that the name of the virtual conference was “Beyond NTAC” I immediately flashed on Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and grinned. My daughters (now 31 and 27 and truly fully grown) loved this movie. And as a parent who begrudgingly tolerated animated films, even I enjoyed it. I flashed back to a time when an intrepid group of “friends” came together to collaborate on a seemingly impossible quest. And I thought “that’s a powerful image for our New Tech Network virtual gathering.”

Won’t you join us?

For event information, see:

For more, see:

Lydia Dobyns is the President and CEO of New Tech Network, a leading design partner for comprehensive school change. She is co-author of Better Together: How to Leverage School Networks For Smarter Personalized and Project Based Learning. Follow her on Twitter @LydiaDobyns.

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