A few weeks ago, while the students got an extended break from classes, our faculty and staff went “back to school” at the annual ISACS Conference held this year at the Louisville Marriott Downtown and the Kentucky International Convention Center. Every seven years, this conference rotates into Louisville, which makes it so convenient for our faculty to get wonderful professional development from like-minded colleagues and national experts. We thought we’d each share our “Top 5 ISACS Conference Takeaways” (in no particular order).

Suzanne’s Top 5 ISACS Conference Takeaways:

  • While these are generally in no particular order, this first one is the biggest takeaway I had. At multiple sessions, despite being on very different topics, I kept hearing the message “uncomfortable does not equal unsafe.” Unpacking that a bit, speakers focused on the notion that we are human and discomfort is inevitable, so stepping into that discomfort is not only okay but in fact how progress happens. One analogy shared is that when students work out or go to preseason sports practice, they might feel a bit sore afterward; likewise, it’s actually normal and fine to feel that way mentally and emotionally, too. This all resonated to me in relation to the Outward Bound experience I was recently on with students, during which the very first activity involved the idea that stepping outside our comfort zones is necessary if we’re to grow. No one likes feeling uncomfortable, but I think it’s key that we encourage students to lean into it and remember that it doesn’t mean they’re unsafe.  
  • “Leadership is not a position or a title; it is action and example.” I attended a session on helping students maximize their leadership ability. Leadership is a focus of our Wyvern Retreat Program in the 11th grade; moreover, it’s something we want to help students cultivate throughout their four years and that is often difficult for them to get a handle on.  For our elected School Committee representatives, athletic team captains, club presidents, etc., I’m looking forward to trying some of these tactics out and helping the students become more effective leaders.
  • Another fascinating session was on unraveling gender bias, using research on male and female students participating in extracurricular debate to approach the larger question of whether female and male speakers are criticized differently for how they speak, and then whether this informs a more global conversation about socially-constructed expectations for speech and argumentation.  
  • Author Dave Mochel (who among other works, wrote one of our faculty summer reading options, Good Life Practice: A Quick Start Guide to Mindful Self-Regulation, did an excellent presentation on healthy adult habits, which I think are vital for us to practice, in order to benefit our students by a) being our best selves and b) modeling these positive habits. He shared ideas on “thriving,” advising that we need to work with what shows up rather than railing against it; practice what we seek; and be helpful rather than right. A concept I found useful for adults and students is the notion that we choose almost everything in our lives; we may not feel like it’s a choice because the alternative is extremely unpalatable but it is, nonetheless, still a choice. He also posited a fascinating theory of nice versus kind, which is that “nice” gives people what you think they want while “kind” gives people what you think they need. 
  • Finally, I was so grateful for the opportunity for the full faculty and staff to be at this conference together. Over breaks and during lunch, there were so many conversations about the ideas from each session. We’re going to continue to share those with one another at upcoming faculty meetings, to keep the value of the conference alive and continue to inform our teaching and our approach to teenagers with what we learned.

Reed’s Top 5 ISACS Conference Takeaways:

  • The two lunchtime keynote speakers I saw were both outstanding. The first, Steve Pemberton, certainly grew up with adverse childhood experiences (ACES), which were one of the things we focused on in faculty summer reading this year. A young man of color, he was also an orphan who never knew his biological parents. Living in foster homes, he endured isolation and abuse and immersed himself in books, reading, and school to survive. The biggest impact on his life were certain “lighthouses” – educators who cared enough to take an interest in him and steer him toward success. He is now a successful author and on the Board of Trustees at Boston College, his alma mater. His story is truly inspiring and his autobiography has been turned into a movie.
  • The second keynote speaker, Shawn Achor, spoke on the science behind positive thinking (his dad was thrilled with his degree choice). It was fascinating and affirming to hear that individuals who regularly practiced positive thinking techniques did markedly better in performance on tests and other cognitive measures. He had us do an “embarrassing activity” in pairs that clearly illustrated it is difficult to not respond to kindness with kindness. I only hope that everyone in the room took this message back with them to their daily lives!
  • One workshop I attended was on student leadership. As our longtime Middle School Student Council Sponsor, I wanted to see how we were faring and if I could pick up any tips from other schools. I was pleased to hear statements that very much fit with our philosophy, such as “Students should be stake-holders in the process,” and “We should serve them.” Leaders also need authentic tasks, not just planning events. I think this meshes very well with how we approach student leadership at St. Francis.
  • Another wonderful presentation was given by noted author Dave Mochel, who wrote one of our summer reading books, Good Life Practice: A Quick Start Guide to Mindful Self-Regulation. He illustrated numerous constructs of mindfulness with humor and compassion. He pointed out that human beings are “great under extreme pressure such as natural disasters and go above and beyond the call to help each other.” But when the crisis abates, we too often revert to our selfish tunnel vision. He also talked about the concept of “unstruggling” (as opposed to its more common counterpart), and accepting the discomfort we often feel and face: “Of course this is how I feel; it’s totally natural given the circumstances.” 
  • I also attended a session on “How Technology Shapes Learning,” which was  eye-opening. As a “veteran” educator, this topic interests me greatly. For the most part, the presenter, college professor Jill Walsh, was very much a fan of technology, but also presented several caveats to embracing technology without pause. She pointed out the robust research that shows that reading text in print is better than on screens, especially when it comes to long-term memory. She likened texts on screens to “books we watch.” Another helpful tip for parents regarding kids with screens was not only to make sure the screens don’t stay in their bedrooms, but to also hold “Social Media Fire Drills” to practice what can go wrong when social media use goes awry! That’s a new one to me but makes total sense.
  • PS – I also attended a session on the “History Behind Hamilton” – hey, we all need a break for fun now and again!  

It was a very fulfilling two days. We noticed how many of the workshops were centered on the four pillars St. Francis is using to center our growth and professional development on this year. It makes us proud to work at a school that is at the forefront of what is going on educationally in the world and was refreshing to recharge our batteries in such a fantastic way. Now, back to inspiring our Wyverns!