The ASCD Empower18 Conference kicked off Friday, March 23 in Boston, Massachusetts at the Boston Convention & Exposition Center. Approximately 7,500 attendees from 40 countries arrived with palpable energy and an eagerness to learn and network with colleagues from around the globe. Boston seemed fitting for this annual conference, since it’s the city where US public education started.
ASCD Empower18 provided attendees with high-quality professional development, letting them customize their learning paths at the conference by offering diversified session types including Poster Presentations, Learning Labs, Student and Practitioner Panels, Reflection Pools, EdCamps, and Successful Schools Showcases. The conference honed in on the six ASCD areas of focus: Transformational Leadership, Global Engagement, Poverty and Equity, Redefining Student Success, Teaching and Learning, and The Whole Child. The main focus of the conference, the whole child approach aims to ensure that every student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. This is what ASCD stands for, and what they hope attendees heard, felt, and took away from the conference to implement in their schools and districts.
CEO and President of ASCD Ben Schuldiner welcomed attendees to the conference on Saturday before the opening keynote by saying, “We need to stand up and support the whole child, and I hope you meet people here to feel supported in your district and around the world.” Keynote speaker Dr. Jill Biden then took the floor and connected with attendees on a personal level. A natural teacher, she found herself using her experience in the classroom to help her adapt to becoming the Second Lady of the United States. “As educators, we find a way to lead through the chaos. We don’t do this because it’s easy, we do this because we love it.”
Attendees flooded the breakout session rooms on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday excited to hear leaders in education speak on a wide variety of topics. Speakers talked about how they turned challenges into solutions, how to create a culture of compassion, student safety, igniting leadership within yourself and your district, leading your students even after the bell rings, and many other compelling topics.
Additional conference highlights included the two other keynote speakers along with some musical entertainment. Sunday’s keynote presenter, Manuel Scott, author, speaker, and servant leader of Ink International Inc., motivated the room by asking educators to start moving from the why to the how. How do we educate the youth of today? How did others help YOU when you were struggling? “Everything starts with your relationship with your students. That’s how you reach them,” he said. Wrapping up the day up with some fun, The Romantics entertained and buzzed the crowd of attendees Saturday night during the conference gala.
On Monday, keynote speaker General Colin L. Powell, USA (ret.), spoke about his time in the army, comparing it to being a teacher. “For 35 years, I was dealing with young people. They were called soldiers.” Soldiers in the sense that he felt responsible for training them for real life.
Attendees left the conference with more clarity on the challenges their district or classroom. As a result, attendees were also armed with direction on their next steps. Everyone left thinking of “the whole child” and how they could better connect with and reach their students. Attendees also felt supported in an unspoken way, which is why people go to conferences. Education and edtech conferences help attendees connect to one another and be together as educators, and we need this now more than ever.