Harvard University hosted a day-long Critical Conversations and Bold Ideas program last week which attracted over 1,000 people. Arne Duncan (U.S. Secretary of Education), Geoffrey Canada (founder of Harlem Children’s Zone and part of Fortune’s list of the 50 greatest leaders in the world in 2014), and Howard Gardner (senior director of Project Zero and author of the groundbreaking theory on multiple intelligences) were among many top educators and influential people who spoke at the event.
In my opinion, the highlight of the event was their 8 For 8 session. What is 8 for 8? It is a presentation where 8 people discuss their big ideas for impact on education within a time limit of 8 minutes. In a little over one hour the audience heard eight well-known Harvard professors present eight diverse ideas for improving teaching and learning. The topics covered a wide variety of topics, with titles such as, “Getting Unstuck,” “The End of Average,” and “Linking Family Engagement to Learning.”
I want to see the 8 For 8 format at a future teachers’ conference. Most conferences have sessions that explain how to implement a program or how to use technology in the classroom or how to reach a certain student audience. What is often missing is the science behind WHY these things work in the classroom. I want to know the research behind what these teachers are doing. Another absence from most conferences is plain-old inspiration. The people I remember the most after leaving a conference are the ones who inspired me, who had that one story, one video, or one quote that makes me want to go back to school and do something – ANYTHING – that is going to make a difference. Inspiring people make me want to change everything I do and start over from scratch.
Forget just seeing the 8 For 8 format – I want to mimic it at the next conference. I want to make it happen. Maybe we can cut it down to a 5 For 5 session that lasts just 30 minutes. I want to poll all 200 teachers in my school and ask them who from our school they want to hear, and then ask those top five people to talk about something heartfelt and meaningful and personally important when it comes to teaching and learning. I want our five speakers to just pack those five minutes with as much data and research and quotes from students, but most importantly I want each five minute segment to be filled with heart and conviction and inspiration. I know we have five people who can do this. I bet we have ten or twenty people who could do this. I think a homegrown 8 For 8 is just what our school needs right now. So tomorrow I’m going to go to work on this. I’ll keep you updated as to where it goes…