Your Identity and Agency at Conferences

UPDATE: Read the lively discussion that ensued on Twitter…
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Conference Name Badges

Have you ever seen a set of badge ribbons like on the left?  Impressive!!!  How about on the right?

I remember getting my first SPEAKER ribbon.  It was pink.  I was eager to receive that ribbon almost immediately after receiving my acceptance e-mail.  I felt like I was joining a club, and wearing that ribbon would signal to everyone my higher status at the conference.

But like most new things the novelty eventually wore off, and I came to wonder why I even wear those speaker ribbons anymore.  I definitely grew detached from the ribbon as a status symbol.  I also know of some accomplished speakers who got upset when they didn’t receive their speaker ribbons.

There are benefits to identifying with communities, including to advance a sense of belonging and closeness particularly at large conferences.  But something doesn’t sit well with me with the badge on the left…  What is the person trying to say or project about themselves to other attendees?  Is there a correspondence between the number of ribbons one has and their importance?  And just as communities can bring people closer, they can also project barriers or exclusivity that keeps people out.  I don’t know, help me put my finger on what’s happening here.

I imagine a conference, somewhere, someday, where every speaker, attendee, volunteer, and everyone else receives one and only one ribbon that simply says LEARNING, like the (edited) badge on the right.  A conference committee making this decision would project a strong and positive message about their conference:

  1. The conference is designed and intended to be a collaborative learning experience, one where everyone learns from everyone else.
  2. The conference discourages a top-down model of professional learning provided by a sage-on-a-stage-with-a-microphone-and-podium-and-speaker-ribbon.  (Okay, I took some artistic license with that phrase… but the parallel to the “sage-on-a-stage” teaching model in the classroom is apropos).
  3. Learning very often happens from conversations among attendees, sometimes even more than learning from speakers.
  4. Speakers also learn from attending conferences.  For instance, if a speaker presents during 1 out of 8 sessions at a conference, it seems odd that their ribbon would emphasize the way they spend 1/8 of their conference speaking and not the other 7/8 of the conference attending and learning from other sessions.

Perhaps most importantly, the conference committee would recognize that the same dynamics of identity and agency that influence students in the classroom also exist among attendees at conferences.  We know that the way students view themselves influences how they engage with learning in the classroom.  Perhaps it is time for conferences to leverage the field’s understanding of identity and agency to improve conference learning outcomes among attendees.  Swapping out all those colorful ribbons for a single LEARNING ribbon could be a strong and visible first step.

 

**Note: To learn more about identity and agency, consider:

 

Questions for NCTM about the Math Forum decision

math forum

Full disclosure, I am running for the NCTM Board.  So when NCTM announced their new policy that effectively ended the Math Forum, I tried envisioning the issue from the Board’s perspective.  The rest of us are not privy to the internal data used by the Board in making their decision, so we cannot fully understand their decision nor can we say we would have acted any differently if we were in their shoes.  That said, there are some dots that remain to be connected.  I am certain that the NCTM Board did not take this decision lightly and that they acted with the best intent.  I would invite them to answer the following questions to “connect the dots” for its members:

  1. There is no stopping the migration to online teacher professional development.  Capturing the next generation of young, tech-savvy teachers is essential to a long-term solution to NCTM’s membership challenges. If not the Math Forum, then what better service will NCTM offer in its place to advance online professional development?
  2.  Steve Weimar tweeted that the Math Forum had $1 million in grant funding for a couple more years, and the current staff chose not to relocate to Reston.  NCTM’s statement also invited the Math Forum staff to reconsider and continue their employment in Reston.  Given all of this, why would NCTM not hire new staff who were willing to work from Reston?  This is to say nothing about Steve, Suzanne, Annie, Max, and the rest of the team who would be difficult to replace… but wouldn’t a more lean Math Forum be better than no Math Forum at all, and still be consistent with NCTM’s explanation of their decision?  In this sense, discontinuing the Math Forum might signal that the NCTM Board does not actually see a place for a Math Forum-type service within NCTM moving forward, not merely that the current staff did not want to move to Reston.  Barring a solid answer to question #1, this would be rightly concerning to current and prospective members.

I do not intend to criticize NCTM’s decision here, because such criticism would be premature until we know the full facts.  But NCTM can help themselves by sharing those facts and convincing current and prospective members that this was the right decision.  I hope they will – Matt Larson’s webinar on Wednesday would be a most opportune time, and I hope you will tune in.

Should the #MTBoS Become an NCTM Affiliate? Follow-up…

From my previous post, Tina Cardone asks:

Exactly!  Yet the #MTBoS has many characteristics of current affiliates-at-large: passionate and active participants, conferences, member meetings (albeit online), robust discussions and learning among members, organization webpages (here and here and here), getting-started welcome/introduction to the community, even an occasional yearbook.  But NCTM’s Bylaws lay out these conditions for gaining official affiliate status that the #MTBoS does not meet, notably a formal elected or appointed leadership structure (which I would argue is antithetical to the organic, leaderless nature that makes the #MTBoS so strong).  Except for the leadership structure, the #MTBoS is otherwise far more active and robust than most official, geographically-based affiliates.

So my two questions are:

  1. Should these conditions for affiliate status be modified – modernized – so that a robust online community like the #MTBoS would meet them?
  2. What value would NCTM bring to an online, #MTBoS-type affiliate anyway?

Despite having similar goals for math education, to some extent NCTM competes with online communities for members.  Members and non-members alike are speaking with their feet – they can get good instructional resources, access to professional communities, and other benefits for free online, therefore they do not join or renew their NCTM memberships.

Again, to their credit, NCTM has recognized and sought the involvement of online community leaders, has provided them with space at conferences, and has supported them (unofficially) as the “R&D wing of the NCTM program committee“, to name a few.  NCTM is changing its membership structure to provide greater value to its members, building out new online resources and member benefits, and sharing more clearly with members how NCTM advocates for all students and for the field of math education in many ways.  So they get it.

I am a huge fan of NCTM and the work they do in supporting teachers and advocating for math education.  For the record, I do think there are solutions and I believe strongly in NCTM as an organization!  I know that the current and previous Boards have wrestled with these dynamics, and perhaps they have even contemplated my 2 specific questions in this post.  Even if they have and came to a different conclusion, I suspect that bringing the #MTBoS under the NCTM umbrella as a recognized affiliate should be one part of a comprehensive solution.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Should the #MTBoS become an NCTM Affiliate? Why would they?

To his credit, NCTM President Matt Larson transparently detailed some of NCTM’s challenges in his recent President’s Message.  His honest reflection about both the past and the future of NCTM is a must-read for NCTM members as well as interested followers and stakeholders.  Tina Cardone has also blogged with some inside perspective on NCTM’s challenges and opportunities.  (Full disclosure, I am running for the NCTM Board in October).

NCTM knows they need to reverse their declining trend in membership – 112,000 members in 2000 but 60,000 members at present.  While I have no inside information for how NCTM explains their declining membership, it seems likely that the emergence of online communities like the Global Math Department and the Math Twitter Blogosphere can explain some of the decline, insofar as they have provided cost-effective alternatives and expanded access to both professional communities and instructional resources that teachers no longer need to buy via NCTM memberships.

One of the sayings is “NCTM is it’s members”, and part of that member base is the more than 200 state and local NCTM affiliates.  Most affiliates are geographically-defined, like the California Math Council or the Greater San Diego Math Council.  But there are also several Affiliates-At-Large that have a non-geographic focus, like the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) and the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA).

So, what would lead the Global Math Department or the Math Twitter Blogosphere to become an NCTM Affiliate?  What value would being an NCTM Affiliate bring to these groups?  For all I know NCTM may have already contemplated this question – I do know they are seeking input from and listening to their members in a variety of ways.  But even if they have, I suspect that grappling with this question and developing an honest answer may help NCTM understand its membership challenges more deeply and provide guidance for how to rebuild its member base through providing better value to its affiliates and members alike.

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UPDATE 9/11/17: Tina Cardone asks:

Exactly!  The #MTBoS has many characteristics of current affiliates-at-large: passionate and active participants, conferences, member meetings (albeit online), robust discussions and learning among members, organization webpages (here and here and here), getting-started welcome committee, even the occasional yearbook.  But NCTM’s Bylaws lay out these conditions for gaining official affiliate status, and the #MTBoS does not meet them.

So the questions I am asking are:

  1. Should these conditions be modified – modernized – so that a robust online community like the #MTBoS would meet them?
  2. What value would NCTM bring to an #MTBoS affiliate anyway?

Despite having similar goals for math education, to some extent NCTM competes with online communities for members.  It seems members and non-members alike are speaking with their feet – they can get good instructional resources and access to professional communities online, therefore they do not see the added value of NCTM membership and they do not join or renew their NCTM memberships.

Again, to their credit, NCTM has recognized and sought the involvement of online community leaders, has provided them with space at their conferences, and has supported them (unofficially) as the “R&D wing of the NCTM program committee“, to name a few.  NCTM is changing its membership structure to provide greater value and are building out new online resources and member benefits.  So they get it.

I am a huge fan of NCTM and the work they do in supporting teachers and advocating for math education.  For the record, I do think there are solutions and I believe strongly in NCTM as an organization!  I know that the current and previous Boards have wrestled with these dynamics, and perhaps they have even contemplated my two specific questions in this post.  Perhaps inviting the #MTBoS under the NCTM umbrella as a recognized affiliate, and adding value to the #MTBoS that would be more difficult for them to provide for themselves without NCTM, could be one part of a comprehensive solution to NCTM’s membership challenges.

Conference Innovations

Idea concept with row of light bulbs and glowing bulb

Some of my most exciting and engaging work with state and local affiliates has been with amazing leaders in designing (and re-designing!) conference experiences.  Previously I have blogged about What Most Conferences Get Wrong and GSDMC’s Learning Lounge, striving to rethink what it means to “attend a conference”.

Here are 2 of my latest ideas to democratize, personalize, and collaborify (is that a word?!!) the conference experience:

  • Ignite auditions – There is no shortage of undiscovered talent out there. The Ignite format can have a dual purpose of exciting attendees about influential ideas and also featuring new talent already in our community who are eager to get discovered.  Inviting auditions from anyone willing to record their own Ignite would open the process by which program committees select Ignite speakers and would improve the process in a variety of ways.
    1. Good ideas and new talent should be promoted wherever they may be. I am not keen on the idea that talent gets discovered only when they know another person of influence or authority, say someone on a program committee.
    2. The overall quality of the Ignite presentations will become stronger when there are more presentations from which to select.  I am not implying that the quality of current Ignite presentations is weak, just that a broader selection pool can make the final lineup even stronger.
    3. Prospective talent may not think of themselves as worthy or strong enough to be an Ignite speaker. Rarely is self-selection the best way to find talent.

NCTM could support affiliates’ conferences, some of which host their own Ignite sessions, by sharing the audition videos and/or connecting emerging leaders with other conferences.

  • “Online seat” on program committees – Members of NCTM’s program committees are appointed by the President, typically through recommendations or connections with NCTM Board members and other leaders. Identifying talent for appointment to committees is an explicitly defined duty of Board members, for example.  To be clear, I have served on 3 of NCTM’s regional and annual meeting program committees and the members have all been incredibly qualified and talented – I am not being critical of program committee members themselves in the least!  But I see no reason to limit the involvement of the broader community in reviewing proposals.  One of the 12 seats on program committees could be an “online seat”, pooling the ratings of anyone willing to review proposals online.  Those reviews would then be considered alongside the other program committee members’ reviews for the committee to make final acceptance decisions.  The training that NCTM provides to new program committee members could easily be recorded for online seat participants.  While the reviewing platform would need to be modified to enable reviews from anyone, in my view those modifications would be worth the increased opportunities for involvement, transparency in the proposal review process, and developing a pipeline of future program committee members interested in supporting NCTM.

My framework for imagining new conference innovations is to find ways to democratize, personalize, and socialize the conference experience.

What do you think about Ignite Auditions and an Online Seat on program committees?  What other conference innovations would interest you?

My NCTM Board Statement

While I am a better teacher because of my NCTM membership, NCTM has also provided inspiration and opportunities that ignited in me a passion for leadership.  This is why I feel humbled to be running in the NCTM Board of Directors election this fall.

NCTM allows 400 total words for candidate profiles, which must include employment history, professional activities, and other information.  That left me with about 250 words for my candidate statement, when I really needed 2,500.

Fortunately this blog gives me unlimited words (well, limited only by your attention span for reading this).  So here is my full profile, and below is my candidate statement.  In future posts I will unpack some of my claims and recommendations.  I would love to hear from you about my statement and to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing NCTM.

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As a classroom teacher, I benefit from NCTM’s high-quality resources and instructional support to its members—and so do my students. NCTM’s membership challenges have parallels to student engagement challenges we encounter in the classroom. Just as we know that each and every student has valuable contributions to make, NCTM must be more inclusive in seeking and leveraging contributions from each of its diverse members to benefit the entire community.

We need at least one NCTM member in every school so we can reach all student and educator populations—NCTM’s focus on equity demands it. Customizable, à la carte member benefits will reduce financial barriers and add value for all members. To make NCTM accessible to more educators, we should consider K–12 Institutional Memberships so member schools can offer their teachers customizable, teacher-led professional development. Educators want on-demand, just-in-time support; NCTM’s library of resources should be more easily searchable, customizable, and socially collaborative.

NCTM should amplify members’ voices and value their contributions in innovative ways. On the membership page of NCTM’s website, new and current members should be able to get involved immediately with NCTM’s community, perhaps by reviewing proposals through an “online seat” on program committees or by collecting student work samples for use in NCTM publications. Year-round collaborative growth opportunities will support educators and provide additional opportunities for involvement.

My top priority is to keep NCTM grounded in the work of dedicated classroom teachers and teacher educators striving to reach each and every student. I humbly welcome the opportunity to serve you.

#iTeachMath Sub-Communities

twitter-bot

Well, as previously discussed, the Twitter Bots are humming away!  In the first week 72 people followed the main @iteachmathAll Bot (retweets all #iteachmath tweets).  I sent one tweet to announce the Sub-Communities with Twitter Bots, no other publicity, so a very encouraging first week – seems there is actually a need for streamlining how people follow hashtags.

The challenge now is to build up a critical mass within each sub-community to sustain effective conversations without the “echo chamber” effect of many unanswered tweets.  To support that build-up, the first step will be to populate the 3 sub-communities by school level: Elementary, Middle, or High.  Once each of these 3 sub-communities are thriving, we can begin populating the more specialized grade-level and course sub-communities.  So right now, please do the following:

  • Follow one (or more) of these school-level accounts: @iteachmathElem, @iteachmathMS, @iteachmathHS
  • When tweeting something particular to one of these 3 levels, start including the hashtag #iteachmathElem, #iteachmathMS, or #iteachmathHS – in addition to #iteachmath or other hashtags as space allows.
  • Share this widely!

These sub-communities will strengthen the responsiveness and efficiency of our interactions with each other, particularly for newcomers… so let’s take #iteachmath to the next level with sub-communities.