Leena’s Journey: SXSW EDU- Is It Worth the Hype?

Leena’s Journey is a first-hand account on what it is like going from teaching to professional development. Join Leena Saleh on her journey since leaving the classroom. In this post, you will learn what it is like being at conferences and what makes SXSW EDU more special than the rest.

“For the past three months I have traveled across the country attending Educational Conferences from Florida to Ohio and Chicago to Texas.”

None however, can compare to the SXSW EDU conference in Austin, Tx.

During SXSW EDU you can walk around downtown Austin and feel the energy of the conference pulsing through the city. The session are unparalleled, focusing not only on best teaching practices but actually on the theories and development behind it — shifting your mindset.

I am a firm believer that every educator and facilitator tied to education should attend at least one SXSW EDU in their lifetime. There is something for everyone. When I say SXSWEdu is the embodiment of all educational conferences, I say this because the truth is, the conference does not feel like a typical conference. SXSW brings international presence to the conference so it is not uncommon to see international educators and companies in attendance. One minute you will meet an educator from Japan, then another from Mexico and then one right from your own back door. This is what sets this conference apart and makes it so invigorating. You are attending a conference that is not limited to just your immediate community, but at a global perspective.

I was exhibiting like I have at so many conferences before but this conference ran longer, which gave me the chance to attend sessions. I love being an exhibitor but I would be lying if I said I don’t miss the sessions. The eagerness and anticipation from the crowd, the buzz from the presenter. A colleague I met through another organization quite literally dragged me to the CZI panel featuring Betsy Corcoran and I was so grateful that she did.

The panel echoed everything I always believed in. Things I thought about when I started my education journey in my undergrad studies. Teachers want to thrive in the environments that they are in, they want their students to succeed and they want to evoke change. The panel emphasized the importance of the whole child. They discussed all the work they are doing with students from all walks of life and sharing the growth of the students and the happiness experienced by teachers.

The panel identified that the education system is in need of a fundamental change. The current system is so quick to throw a kid into a grid and let a computer dictate how and why a student should learn the way they learn. The student is reduced to a number chip on a table. Schools around the country are implementing amazing changes and progress from classroom to classroom but the system as a whole does not work.

I have been in many classrooms and met many teachers that are wholeheartedly dedicated to teaching and even so we are failing them. We have forgotten as the panel said, “that teachers have brains.” Teachers are burnt out, as the sole decision makers for up to 30 kids on a daily basis. Taking grades, teaching multiple content areas, interventions, SPED support, plus the new tech standards and anything that continues to be added demands more and more of educators. What has not changed are the resources provided to actually thrive in this environment. There are pockets of districts and schools around the country changing but at a rate of higher teacher burnout and more teachers leaving the profession than ever before. We need to do more and the system change needs to happen now. We need to change now for our future.

At one of the conferences, I was speaking to a teacher about the newest program launched in her district and what I could see in her eyes was frustration. Not that the program was terrible, or that it wouldn’t support or help to grow the students. But, from the lack of training. The teachers were handed this program, passed the books and forced to teach it. There was no training offer except for the optional training to be done on their own time. A teacher shouldn’t be looking forward to and counting down the days until break, so exhausted they can barely go to the grocery store, clean and catch up on life because their plate is so full. This fundamental change must take place across the educational system, not just in small pockets.

“It has already begun as the storm is brewing just waiting for the boom.”

Written by: Leena Saleh
Leena is a former educator who is passionate about STEM and preparing our students for the world we live in and beyond. For more content, visit her blog here.

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