Five Insights from SXSW Education Conference

SXSWEduThis year’s SXSW Education Conference in Austin, Texas brought together thousands of education professionals, stakeholders, and innovators from across the country for its four-day summit. Fifteen different content tracks spanned topics including Early Learning, Instructional Strategies, Assessment, Learning Spaces, and Data Analytics. This diverse programming coupled with a wide array of workshop formats provided an exciting platform for learning and interacting with cutting-edge developments in education.

Following are just a few of the takeaways our team gleaned from this year’s conference:

  1. Design Thinking Can Flourish in a School Setting. Design thinking ideology, made popular by Stanford University and IDEO’s founder Tim Brown, can be applied within school leadership teams to develop creative solutions to complex (yet common) school challenges. Administrators from the Bricolage Academy in New Orleans used their story as a case study on how to apply this iterative thinking to address school issues like parent engagement and cultural alignment.
  1. Innovation in Education Is Needed from P-12, Not Just K-12. During the conference’s early learning summit, Dallas ISD School Board Trustee Mike Morath and U.S. Secretary of Education John King both emphasized the need for innovative strategies to support educators and families on the earliest end of the education spectrum. Morath underscored the critical need to support parents in the education process, stating, “Parents raise children, not schools.”
  1. “Common Core” Debates Boil Down to a Common Theme. A heated discourse between education leaders demonstrated that while there is much controversy surrounding common core curriculum and testing, there are defensible arguments supporting a standard set of achievement metrics for students and schools. How to effectively achieve this at scale, and with what types/frequency of testing, continue to be the key sources of debate.
  1. Acton Academy Models Student-Centered Learning. A reception at Acton Academy offered attendees the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with its middle and high school students. Through student ownership and accountability, the school helps students find their unique passions and pursue them with purpose. The franchise-based school model engages parent leaders from across the country to open new academies focused on facilitating the “hero’s journey” for every student.
  1. Best Practices May Be Common Sense, But Not Common Practice. A lively charter school vs. district discussion revealed that while charters may have been early adopters of some personalized learning strategies, charters and districts each benefit from sharing best practices with the other. A key takeaway: Funders can convene these groups (or even the schools within districts or charters themselves) to facilitate idea sharing, problem solving, and collaboration.

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