The North Texas Visioning Conference, hosted by the Allen school district July 22 and 23, had a lot in common with most education conferences Mel Fuller attends. For example, there were sessions presented by teachers about what is happening in their district or classroom.
"But the thing that makes this conference different is that it's nine school districts that are focused on doing what's right for kids, being professional and not being worried about how the strategy will impact a test," said Fuller, a Northwest trustee and the Richardson school district’s executive director of college and career readiness.
Northwest and Richardson are two of those nine schools that comprise the North Texas Regional Consortium. Fuller hopes the conference is a step toward changing for the better the way children in Texas schools are educated.
"It was a great conference, especially since it was the first one put on by our nine Consortium ISDs," Fuller said. "It really had the feel that we were doing something that is going to change the way education moves forward in the future."
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Northwest has earned a reputation for taking an innovative approach to education. Fuller said the school board and many district teachers have talked about the importance of having a growth mindset – an educational approach that is described in the book Mindset by Stanford professor Carol Dweck.
"The premise is that if we have a fixed mindset, we really can't ever change and get better at whatever we do," Fuller said. "But if we have, and adopt, a growth mindset there is so much we can learn from one another."
Northwest teachers have taking a growth mindset to heart by seeing how like-minded teachers approach a concept or lesson so they can learn new ways to teach that same material. The conference does something similar – at the level of a district sharing with other districts.
"So this conference is taking that a step further: Seeing what like-minded school districts in the North Texas area are working on, how to improve education for all students, and what can happen if we are all unified in changing the course of education in Texas," Fuller said.
The Consortium districts have previously spoken out together on the need to reform a system where, according to an open letter released by the nine districts, "standardized, high stakes testing is strangling our public schools and undermining any chance that educators have to transform a traditional system of schooling into an educational opportunity that prepares our students to be competitive on a global stage."
The Vision Conference featured a talk via Skype by Diane Ravitch, one of the nation’s lead reformers in trying to steer states educational systems away from their reliance on the standardized testing system. She said the Consortium’s stand in Texas has influenced the conversation nationwide.
"She also talked about what we all believe, that a test on one day doesn't tell us all that a student has learned," Fuller said. "That there is something inherently wrong with thinking we should standardize our learning for all students at all times."
Another of the conference’s keynote speakers, Young Zhao, "really wanted us to think about how our teaching can influence students’ ambitions and how education should engage students, which is better than focusing on just the facts and drill and kill concepts," Fuller said. "Students can apply and problem solve if we engage them in learning."