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Festival of Learning – Not just another conference: Reflections of a jaded conference attendee

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FOL2018 BethBI have attended a lot of conferences. When I say a lot I mean A LOT! In my career as an educator I have attended and presented at over 100 conferences. Some were good, some were bad, some were mediocre at best and some, like the Festival of Learning 2018, were brilliant. I would count the Festival of Learning as one of my top 3 conferences. Attending this conference (thank you Teaching and Learning for sending me) was a struggle. I was teaching full time and had to get into downtown Vancouver and back to Surrey everyday and focus on my students. To be honest, I was feeling skeptical and jaded about attending when I realized I was teaching at the same time. What would this conference give me? How would this conference be any different from other conferences? Will I take anything away that I could actually use in my classroom? Will I be stretched too thin to learn? Over the three days of the conference I laughed, questioned, struggled, reflected and came out the other side invigorated, motivated and inspired. Exactly what a conference should do for educators.

The first morning with keynote speaker, Jesse Stommel set the tone for my entire experience. He started with “What motivates you to teach?” It stopped me in my tracks. I think as educators we don’t reflect on this question as much as we should. I hit pause. I really thought about this. The theme of the conference was ‘Handle with Care’ and I began to think about this as well. I was reminded about studying Nel Noddings and her work on the ethics of care in graduate school. How soon we forget, I realized! Jesse made me remember to pause, to reflect, to work with compassion and bring that to our classrooms. “Learning happens in tangents, diversions, interruptions…” Jesse stated. He talked about scaffolding learning to build a structure for our students and WITH our students to facilitate growth and learning. To be better teachers we must study pedagogy in higher education across disciplines. It shifted my focus when I drove back to Surrey to teach. I looked at my students with fresh eyes and more compassion. Thank you, Jesse Stommel. In one keynote speech, you reminded me of what my motivation really is…the success of my students!

The keynote on day 2 was a panel of students and academic leaders and another inspiring morning. It felt like a continuation of Jesse Stommel’s talk focusing on student needs articulated by students themselves. They told us. And we listened, in rapt attention. Advice to heed; value other ways of knowledge gathering, through lived experience; look at new ways of knowing from a First Nation perspective; create welcoming spaces for all learners, really listen to your students to let them know you are actually hearing what they are saying. The most poignant moment for me was when one of the students said “I am more than just a student.” Hmmmm….I think we, as educators forget this sometimes. I championed KPU by speaking about our classroom/gathering place in Cedar 1015 where our ELS students have a place to belong, study, eat lunch and learn with our weekly Lunch & Learn talks. We learn a lot about our students during these informal gatherings and it helps in the classroom.

Day 3 keynote was  Monique Gray Smith, an author, educator and brilliant public speaker. Her wisdom in reminding us to pause and connect is where relationships start, with our students and with our colleagues. She said “words to your students can be medicine for them, so be careful what you choose to say.” From just that statement I went to my class in the afternoon and practiced. I was shocked at how choosing my words could shift the culture in the class. I gave more space to the students because I listened more carefully before I spoke – thank you, Monique. She also stated that post secondary is a privilege and we, as educators must contribute to the wellness of our students and fellow faculty members to influence their hearts and minds. Reflecting on what you learn everyday was also a message she repeated…another excellent reminder for all of us! A highlight of Monique’s talk was when she honoured all of the teachers in the audience by having everyone stand up with years of teaching, from new teachers (teaching for 1 year) to experienced veterans (teaching over 60 years!). Brought tears to our eyes to see the wealth of knowledge in the room – we need to honour that more often! I was also grateful to have her give me a copy of her book, ‘You Hold Me Up’ a picture book focusing on teaching young people about reconciliation. Beautifully written and illustrated.

I attended other sessions throughout the conference, OER a Student Perspective (enlightening and inspiring to begin creating more open access materials); Transformative Music Education at KPU brilliant work from our own KPU faculty on open inquiry; Consulting with Care – Supporting Faculty Development and program enhancement (presented by faculty from Vancouver Island University) focusing on taking what is great about a program and enhancing it; and OER-Exploring the Experiences of Educators with PhD candidate Michael Paskevicius, interesting data on our definitions and work with with OER. All fascinating but I wanted to focus on the keynote speakers.

As jaded as I came into the conference I left with a new sense of wonder, excitement and motivation to be a better teacher and colleague. I am looking to collaborate more, share ideas across disciplines, share my experience in teaching across KPU and at outside conferences. Thank you to the Festival of Learning 2018 in helping me renew my love of teaching AND learning!

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