I first brought my students along to present at the Kern CUE Tech Fest in 2014 and attracted about 20 participants. My presentation team consisted of 7 students classified as Tier 2 or Tier 3 behavior intervention students. I had a few of my fellow teachers warn me about taking those students on a trip. The words, “You don’t know how they will act in public” still ring in my ears. I had run professional development meetings with similar students and knew this type of event was the catalyst my class needed to take ownership of their learning.
In the Kern CUE Tech Fest presentation, I stood at the front of the room and began to share the work my kids were doing before releasing students to work with participants. The innate ability every student has to teach and lead stood out to me when one of my students taught a college professor how to create 3D models. Our district expelled this particular student in middle school, and yet here he was as a high school student showing a professor how to create 3D models for math.
If we as educators grow and improve our craft when we present at conferences, how much more would our students benefit from the same experience?
This fall I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop at the Kern CUE Tech Fest with eight of my students from Emerson Middle School and teacher Cattrice Toles. I broke the session up into 15-minute segments where participants rotated across stations managed by students. The conference was a big deal for my kids; they will be the first to tell you that our school has a poor reputation in the community for crime in the surrounding neighborhood. My students often lament, “We are known as the ghetto school.”
I pitched the conference to the kids as an opportunity to show what our school is really all about. I told my students, “You are the only kids presenting in a session at the conference, and it will be the best session there.”
I didn’t say that to be presumptuous in any way but as a matter of fact because a session led by eight kids would be much more interactive and engaging than a session led by me. I enjoy presenting and speaking in public, yet there is something special when you are watching your students lead by example.
I consider my students presenting as living proof that a learner-centered pedagogy works.
I never pre-select my students for being gifted and talented, but I always select some students who have not been successful in previous years for either behavior or academic reasons. In the conference session, you would not have been able to distinguish between my ‘gifted’ and ‘non-gifted’ students because each had something unique to offer. It may or may not have been the best presentation that day, but my students were glowing when one of the participants tweeted, “One of the best sessions I have ever been to!”
One of the best sessions I have ever been to! Love the work your kids are doing🤓👍🏼
— Ms. G’s Class (@JediTeacher08) October 22, 2017
Edward Gonzalez is a classroom teacher at Emerson Middle School in Bakersfield, California and a lecturer at California State University, Bakersfield. Edward is currently in the Doctoral Studies Program in Educational Leadership at CSUB where he is researching educational technology issues in his community. You can follow him on Twitter @EddiesClass and on his website www.EddiesClass.com.