EduChange: A Conference with a Difference

This is a somewhat overdue post about the EduChange Conference (EC15.org) that took place on the 21st and 22nd of August this year.

EduChange was promoted as

‘unlike any education conference you have been to in Australia. In fact the EC crew created a list of all the things that we don’t like about education conferences and strive to do the opposite. EduChange is less listening, more doing. It’s less short term inspiration, more real application. Less theories, more stories. Less awkward networking, more team collaboration.’

So I was really excited to have the opportunity to go along and find out what it was all about.

The conference was a two day affair, held at the NAB Village, in Melbourne Australia. Unlike the the often barn like conference venues I visit, this was a modern, well designed and welcoming space, with natural timber, warm, calm colours and plenty of natural sunlight. It was the perfect setting for EduChange.

The Arena

The vibe was positive from the moment I arrived. Outside the venue, I was warmly greeted by smiling and excited volunteers in bright orange EduChange shirts who directed me towards The Arena where the days events would be held. Instead of the usual registration process, we were asked to fill in a bio, briefly describing ourselves, our educational role and passions as well as our contact details. We were also ushered towards a booth where a photograph, to attach to our bio, was taken. These were all displayed along the glass walls at the entrance to the arena, allowing us to see who else was at the event and find people with common interests that we may wish to collaborate or network with in the future.

From the friendly greetings to the wall of ‘Collective Genius’, the message was clear – everyone at the conference was important. We weren’t there to be treated as passive consumers, listening to the wisdom of education gurus. Instead, there was an assumption that we all had expertise to offer each other.

Wall of Collective Genius

Bio form

Day One followed an interesting format. Rather than keynotes, we listened to a series of ten minute presentations from speakers telling stories of change projects that they had worked on in their education context.The topics were wide ranging, from individual school concerns such as increasing parental engagement, and increasing engagement in mathematics;  to system wide concerns such as how to spread good practice across a system; to social justice issues, such as how to provide a great education for society’s most marginalised students.
Each speaker would finish with a provocation, asking the conference for suggestions to help further the impact of their project. We discussed these provocations with the attendees around us, and wrote our thoughts on post-its which were collected and provided to each presenter at a later point.

Shortly after arriving, I’d run into two colleagues from my PLN whom I greatly admire, Matt Esterman and Steve Brophy. They are both deep thinkers who often challenge my thinking through their blogs  and Twitter conversations. It was with Steve and Matt that I discussed each of the provocations, and thus I found that part of the event extremely worthwhile. I enjoyed the thoughtful and at times critical nature of the conversations.

I wondered, however, what the experience might have been like if I’d been sitting with people I did not know, or didn’t gel with. Would those conversations been as productive or would we have been restrained in our discussions, bound by a sense of politeness or unwilling to reveal too much of our thoughts to strangers?

Prior to the conference, organiser Summer Howarth had told me the conference was all about drawing on the collective genius of the room. I wasn’t sure what she meant, but this format of responding to a provocation and providing suggestions that might add value to the work the presenter was doing was a brilliantly simple way of doing that. I’d love to see it applied to other events, like teach meets.

we had to take a selfie at one point on Day 1

Day Two of EduChange was all about doing. There were about 50 different workshops and events running throughout the day that people could attend. These included activities such as a mindfulness session in the main, participating in the Saturday morning Twitter Chat, #satchatOC, as well as design thinking workshops, a maker space, and the chance to pitch educational ideas to an expert panel, made entirely of school students, who would then provide their feedback. Many of the attendees came to the event in teams, with a project in mind, and used this day to work with people who could help refine, improve and develop their ideas and project plans.

Unfortunately, that morning I had what turned out to be a bad reaction to missing some medication. After an hour I had to leave the conference due to extreme dizzy spells, and spent most of the day lying down at my hotel. As a result, I couldn’t run my own part of the event, which was to record an episode of my podcast, The Teachers Education Review and have attendees share their stories of change, and of course, I couldn’t witness how Day Two took shape. However, the Twitter Feed from the conference was buzzing all day, and it seems that many people left inspired with a visions and plans for their own change projects.

Did EduChange live up to its promise of being unlike any education conference I have been to in Australia? That was certainly the case for me.

Well done Education Changemakers for bringing a great new style of conference to Australia, one that respected and celebrated the expertise of everyone in the room, and inspired so many people to make a difference.

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