DEN Leadership Symposium Boston, Massachusetts

What a terrific evening here in Waltham, MA on the campus of Bentley University for the start of this year’s Leadership Symposium. 75 educators from around the country have come together to discuss education, pedagogy, philosophy, and where we go from here.

The evening kicked off with an indoor bar-b-q and trading of state gifts. From crab claws to tote bags to local beverages the STARS mingled and swapped personal stories. New DEN members were treated to an explanation and many renditions of the DEN Finger.

Then it was time for our opening remarks from Lance Rougeux and Steve Dembo. Using Presi, something I must learn more about!, Lance took us on a brief history of education, highlighting Horace Mann, a Massachusetts Senator and an American education reformer, John Dewey, an American philosopher and educational reformer, and Jonathan Kozol, another Massachusettsite educator and activist. Lance shared a quote about the wonderful innovation of the blackboard.

Although first invented by James Pillans, Headmaster of the Old High School of Edinburgh, Scotland, Mr. George Baron, an instructor at West Point Military Academy, is considered to be the first American instructor to incorporate the use of a large black chalk board into the presentation of his math lessons in 1801. Thanks to such “out of the box” thinking on the part of a few instructors, the benefits of chalk and blackboards became clearly apparent.

Schoolhouses across America that could afford the slate material adopted the medium because it saved teachers re-writing and allowed them to educate larger numbers of students easily. Large-size slabs of slate boards were ordered and shipped across America via the ever-expanding railroad systems.

Even single-room schoolhouses in far rural areas of the country began enjoying the use of this innovative teaching tool. By the mid-1800s, a blackboard was to be found in almost every school and had become the single most important educational tool. The parrallels to the iPods, iPads, 1-1 laptops, etc. are difficult to miss.

Which is why education and education discussions should not be limited to tools, no matter how transformative. Our focus must be on teaching and on the relationships between teachers and students and teachers and teachers. As I read today in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Great thinkers respond to the question of where they studied by saying WHO they studied under.”

I am looking forward to an amazing week of thinking, discussing, and community. I hope we can be agents of change in our schools, our communities, and our world. Together know we can!


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