Submitted by Lori Jeschke, CAfLN Executive – Symposium Chair
A Reflection on CAfLN 2017 – What I learned because you (Damian, Ken and Lorna) were in the room.
Whenever I get to be in a place where I can learn from others’ practice, experience, and expertise, I am mindful of something that Sandra Herbst asks learning leaders to consider – “What might someone have learned because you were in the room today? …the question itself presumes a stance of positive presupposition and a sense of community. It suggests that we are all responsible for the learning in the room” (2016).
As I reflect on this past year’s CAfLN conference in Saskatoon, I want to highlight what I learned about learning and servant leadership because Damian Cooper, Ken O’Connor, and Lorna Earl were in the room. For most us, the mere fact that we get to be in the same room as leaders such as these is both humbling and exciting! What we see very quickly from each of them is that they walk the walk and talk the talk of assessment for learning. These three leaders in the area of assessment live out their stance in their interactions with others, in the way they present what they are learning, and in how they lead.
When I picture the start of the conference on that beautiful day in May, the room was filled with student art work and abuzz with student music, conference participants finding their seats at tables, conversations filled with anticipation, and registrants making new connections or rekindling old ones. I remember looking around the room for the three founding members of CAfLN. They were not in the front of the room at a fancy table, nor were they in a side room waiting to be formally introduced. No – they were, as the Latin word asside suggests, side by side with the registrants, moving from table to table around the room, sometimes sitting beside someone for a bit, sometimes sharing a chat over a cup of coffee, but always connecting, recognizing, and celebrating. They were genuinely excited to see every person in the room and wanted to hear about who they were, what had brought each of them there on that day, and what their hopes were for going forward. What I learned was the importance of every learner in the room and how noticing people through conversation, a hello, sitting beside, and participating as a learner sends a powerful message.
I remember the ‘fireside chat’ that started the day. Damian, Ken, and Lorna were seated in chairs – not at the front of the room but on the side. Conference participants had the opportunity to ask a question or pose a thought and each one of them were eagerly awaiting the conversation. One of the first participants was one of the student conference attendees. I remember how the three of them leaned forward intently as the student talked. The message in how they listened and responded was one of affirmation for the student’s voice and thoughts. They addressed each of the participant queries with respect and delight. What I learned was the importance of every voice, of providing opportunities for those voices to be heard, and how we celebrate the messiness of what learning is all about.
I remember at the end of the conference day, we heard from teacher candidates about their internship experiences and in particular, what they had learned about assessment. There were three students sharing in three large circles. These students were vulnerable about their practice in front of educators from across Canada. I was watching the faces of Damian, Ken and Lorna as the stories were shared – they were leaning in, they were sitting amongst everyone else in the circle, and they were beaming. I remember one of the students asking a question and Damian responded. I thought to myself, does this student have any idea of what is happening here? She is getting to ask Damian Cooper questions about her practice of teaching and assessment! Who gets to do that as a teacher candidate? As I watched her face during his response and questions, I knew that she was aware of the gift that she was being given and I smiled to myself thinking how very wonderful that we get to have this student impacting learning of educators and students. The other people in the circles were also getting to learn from and with Damian, Ken and Lorna. What I learned was the importance of sitting in circles, of sharing about our practice of teaching and learning with fellow colleagues, of asking questions, and of learning from one another.
These are just a few snapshots from the past year’s conference that remind me of the authenticity of Damian, Ken and Lorna’s stance as learners and leaders of learning. They each bring a genuine curiosity and joy for learning. They continue to invite and engage as many educators as possible in the pursuit of what is best for all learners through assessment for, as, and of learning. I am reminded of a quote by Jason Silva (2016), “We have a responsibility to awe!” The CAfLN community is so fortunate to have opportunities to learn with and from Damian, Ken and Lorna in our own journey as educators! I am truly in awe of their work and their leadership, and grateful for every opportunity to learn alongside each one of them!