DENVILLE, NJ - The loosely-structured "unconference" involved educators from Morris County School of Technology, Morris Hills High School, Morris Knolls High School and Randolph High School. Other schools provided advice for all subjects and the day concluded with a keynote on empathy and sharing stories.
Randolph High School Principal Debbie Iosso explained that many sessions were facilitated by the teachers.
“They start out really as discussions which is great because then it goes where that certain group wants the discussion to go,” Iosso said. “It’s not necessarily prescribed or scripted, which is why I think teachers enjoy it so much”
The conference follows the “Rule of Two Feet” so teachers can leave a session early and drop into another session if the topic interest them.
Iosso attended several sessions for administrators where they reinforced the importance of validating teachers and including them in the big decisions in the school. “One of the points that was made was that we don’t ask teachers enough to be part of big decisions.”
In 2016 Randolph High School joined with Morris County School of Technology for the conference, but included Morris Hills and Morris Knolls this year.
“Last year,... we had such a good time and we enjoyed it so much that this year we invited Hill and Knolls. So it’s really the first time we had four schools,” Iosso said. “We’re kind of hoping it catches on, because if we did this with even more schools and had more offerings, it’s a really nice time for our teachers to interact without having to send anybody away to a big expensive conference.”
Another benefit of involving over 550 educators was the selection of sessions through the day, Iosso mentioned. Topics ranged from “Teaching Personal Finances: Best Practices” to “Shakespeare on its Feet” to “Organizing a Hackathon” with every subject in between.
The day concluded with a keynote address from Maryann Woods-Murphy. She told her story of moving to Salamanca, Spain without knowing Spanish and how living abroad encouraged her to begin multicultural programs in NJ schools.
“Living abroad taught me the experience of going from an insider to an outsider, and then an outsider to an insider,” Woods-Murphy said. “And then finally, I developed greater empathy for those people who… were not included in the conversation, because I had never had that experience before.”
She described her takeaways from living in Spain: “People are different and special; everyone has a story; I can learn more about the world; I can be a hate-free zone and what I do affects other people.”
Woods-Murphy led an exercise with six educators demonstrating that each had a different opinion of school while they were in school. Each personal school experience drives how they teach students today.
With children coming from so many different home situations (such as divorce, mental illness or unemployment), completing assignments and receiving help from parents cannot happen, Woods-Murphy explained. She encouraged the teachers to take time to build relationships with students and understand their stories with a few simple guidelines.
“Everyone has a story -- try not to judge; Be proud of all you are doing to heal the world.” she concluded. “Remember that there are things you don’t know. Make a safe space in your classroom to build relationships, share life experiences, make connections. Care.”
Some event supporters included: