Marilyn Perez: Educating ALL Students

Chris Lehmann opened Saturday’s Sessions at EduCon, a volunteer conference organized around late night meetings, Skype, Twitter and some really dedicated people. Diana Laufenberg, Marci Hall, Zach Chase, Tim Best, Brad Lattimer, Stephanie Dunda, Doug Herman, Matt Baird, Ann Marie Sweeney and parents working registration were among Lehmann’s shout outs for making the logistics of the conference work. Lehmann mentioned that they are still running a school while the conference planning amps up in the week preceding EduCon. It is hard to imagine the intensity of the behind-the-scenes work the students, faculty, and volunteers mentioned above commit to in creating conversations for the future. Lehmann mentioned students specifically, but I must admit I could not keep up with the list which was deep, but we acknowledge and thank them for making this happen.

Additionally, Lehmann thanked Steve Hargadon for putting a bunch of bloggers in a room a few years ago, and noted that Will Richardson suggested they should all get together at EduCon, and that Chris would let us do that. This conference happens because we believe that our students should outgrow us, because of the passion we have for committing to experiential learning. Lehmann says we believe differently that the solutions must include educators and students if we want to succeed. We must all be partner together, especially since school reform is the issue in the news.

That being said, Lehmann introduced the keynote speaker as “his boss.” “Is it good for our students, do you have a plan, and how can I help?” are the questions Perez asks when Lehmann calls her, and he counts himself fortunate to have her on the team. There is no one more passionate, according to Lehmann, about kids.

Marily Perez, who was last year’s Keynote Speaker, once again inspired us at EduCon 2.2 opening Saturday’s session. Perez is the Central Region Superintendent for the School District of Philadelphia. Our children are our future. Perez said that she grew up in the badlands, so she wants us to think about educating all students regardless of where they come from, their personal differences, their gender, and all things that matter to being who we are. Expectations for her, despite her circumstances, were that education is important.

Expectation that she sometimes heard growing up is that “you can’t make it there at Girls High,” but Perez knew that in a place where greatness is expected, your expectations exceed can’t. She notes that she frequently hears can’t in education, but we need to believe that everyone has innate talent and can reach potential. Teachers need to understand the power of their words. We need to tell them at a very early age that they can learn despite their circumstances, in spite of poverty, plague-infested areas. Perez notes that many of the schools she oversees are poverty-stricken, but she still expects a first-class education for ALL children, even though they come with experiences that most of us cannot understand or fathom. No one wants to be poor, yet many children in Philadelphia and elsewhere that are impacted by poverty. Education is the agency that transforms the quality of life for these children.

What we know with pedagogy and high expectations can create a system of order and learning. Order is important in their lives, and if they come to us without order, we need to show them systems of order that help them. Teach with rigor and high expectations and do not water down the curriculum. Teach with the notion that they can think, that they have homework so they can practice, but make it relevant.

High expectations = servitude, serving others, being able to accept demographics. It is not our job to judge; it is our job to educate. We need compassion, strong listening skills, and connections to students, creating engagement and community among all people: students, teachers, parents. Servitude is caring. A teacher’s role is to have a high ethic of caring, making decisions in students’ best interests. We need the courage to challenge the system to care enough to know that it matters and we should take the time to have a relationship with our students, their life, their experiences before they enter the school and after they leave. Love is costly, but servitude is about having a loving attitude, regardless of students’ circumstances, that we need to add value and not judge students because of their background.

What is schooling is having a high educational program. Can we teach students to think, can we provide a workforce that supports our economy. We need to have a schooling that helps our students be strong communicators, build strong global relationships, to contribute to developing cures for diseases and situations in society, to have a productive lifelong learning attitude. We need to change the world if we can shift our thinking.

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