Reflections on iNACOL 2016



This week, Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is playing host to 3,100 of the country’s most promising innovators in education. The annual Blended and Online Learning Symposium, sponsored by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), advertises this event as “the industry’s leading event for K-12 online, blended and competency-based learning” adding that it is a place where “experts, practitioners, educators, policymakers, and researchers gather and work to transform education.”

The symposium was kicked off yesterday with an inspiring speech from iNACOL President Susan Patrick. She asked those in attendance what it would take to change the face of education, urging schools to put students at the center and arguing that doing so would shift the way we think about what is possible for student learning. Patrick went on to applaud the work of iNACOL member schools that, through different entry points of personalized, online, blended, or competency-based learning, are “redesigning learning environments around students.” She praised schools for their work to promote personalized learning – giving students voice and choice in how and when they learn and how they demonstrate that learning. In a call to action, she challenged member schools to keep refining models because we still have systems where kids learning needs are not being met. Rallying the crowd, she asked everyone to repeat these three questions over and over again:

1.      Do you believe that all children can learn?
2.      Do you believe that no matter where students can come in, you can catch them up because they can learn?
3.      Can we hold high standards for everyone in the interest of equity?

Patrick’s remarks were a perfect segway to the keynote address from Craig Kielburger, Co-Founder of Free the Children, Me to We and We Day. Kielburger inspired and challenged the crowd’s thinking on leading worldwide systemic change in education through the use of social media by sharing his journey of providing holistic and sustainable education, clean water, health care, food security and alternative income programs in eight developing countries. He acknowledged, “We are raising a generation of passive bystanders, it is the greatest problem we face today.” He went on to say that “the most powerful people in the world are educators because they are the only ones who can shape the future.” Later in his address, he stated, “I dream of the day when kids won’t see themselves as a problem to be solved but rather a problem solver.” Since his early beginnings in 1995, Kielburger has built one of the largest social media followings in the world with 3.6 million followers, mobilizing thousands of youth to reach out and help others. 

In another inspiring afternoon keynote, Eduardo Briceño, Co-Founder and CEO of Mindset Works, introduced the concept of a growth mindset, the understanding that you can develop your abilities which in turn drives motivation, growth and performance. Teachers have the power to promote growth mindset in their students simply by how they offer them praise for a job well done. The difference between a statement like “you did a great job, you must be really smart” and “you did a great job, you must have really worked hard” may not be noticeable to a teacher until you think about this: The first statement implies to a student that if they couldn’t complete the task successfully, they must not be smart because they weren’t born smart. The second phrase subtly reminds students that it was through their grit and perseverance that they succeeded, a growth mindset. By harboring the power of growth mindset, all students can develop the ability to master learning.

Over the course of the next few days, the educators at iNACOL’s Symposium will learn through more than 200 presentations, panels, discussions, and networking sessions. If you can’t be there live, you can follow the work on Twitter at #inacol15.

This article was written originally for MultiBriefs Education.

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