Why So Somber?

First, I want to thank Heather Hoerle, Amy Ahart, Satira Bushell, and the rest of the NAIS staff for a tremendous conference.  When I spoke with them late this afternoon, they reported that not one single complaint, via email or face to face, was registered. When one considers the number of speakers, participants and guests, the size of the convention center, and the scope of the conference (Oprah was here!) that statistic stands out.  As Willy Loman would say, “Isn’t that remarkable?” 


What is also remarkable is that each time I attend one of these conferences I am struck by how similar my concerns as an educator are to the thousands of educators who descend on the conference.  Not only am I struck by it, but also I am comforted by it, for I realize that the challenges that I face in Ohio are similar to the ones educators are facing in California, Texas, Virginia, and New Hampshire.  This year, not only were the concerns similar, but also the mood.  Sobriety, even somberness, pervaded the conference, and I don’t believe that the weather–mainly temperate for Chicago this time of year, but rainy on Thursday and cold today–created the mood; rather, I suspect the hard, challenging economic times that all our schools are facing is the culprit.  There were many seminars and workshops dedicated to financial sustainability, for that subject is very much on all our minds.  In spite of that reality, however, I think that this present challenge, which has caused so much uncertainty and heartache in our schools, has also given rise to another phenomenon that was actually wonderful.


As noted, neither Heather, nor Amy, nor Satira registered a complaint, and I attributed that to the superb work that they did to plan this conference.  Registration ran smoothly, sessions began promptly, venues were clean, easy to access, and comfortable, and every seminar I attended was thought-provoking and well done.  What’s to lament, save the rapacious prices at Au Bon Pain–$6.50 for oatmeal, $25.00 for soup, a sandwich, potato chips, and a drink?  Are you kidding me?  But, as noted, I also suspect another cause for our satisfaction with the conference: the dire economic situation caused us to walk among one another with more awareness, more understanding, more humility, and more of a sense of shared purpose and understanding.  No school has gone unscathed, and we all seemed sympathetic to stories of budget cuts, firings, and changes in our schools that will be felt for a long time.  With that as backdrop, it was hard to complain.  I suspect that all of us are a bit more sensitive, a bit more caring, a bit more sober now, for we are returning to communities where a great deal of work is left for us to do.  This conference, even though it has never been such, was no boondoggle; rather, it was one where a group of educators came together to ask honestly how we can weather this storm, steer our crafts safely into port, and prepare for sunnier, brighter days; days that will come, but that are difficult to see on the horizon at present.  That lack of vision gave all of us pause and made all of us gentler, kinder, more generous, more sympathetic, and more empathic.  In short, we revealed our humanity, hunkered down together, and shared ideas on how to ready ourselves for the gales ahead.  I wish you safe travels home and thank you for your attention, and your good work.





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