I have just returned from a week in Milan, where I was a Learning2 Leader at the first Learning2 conference to be held in Europe. Being a Learning2 Leader (henceforth L2L) means that you help to run the conference, you run a three hour extended session (twice), you offer a TED style talk, and you are an important part of the image of the conference. But you remain just a teacher, not a big name keynote.
So how was this experience? I have been to a couple of L2 conferences before, once in Singapore and once in Addis Ababa. Each time I have attended Learning2, it has really felt like a project. A project whose goal is to provide a space and an environment where educators can meet and begin to explore ideas. The conference is high energy, very social, and as the name suggests, is about learning.
For the first couple of days I was there with just the other L2 Leaders, the organizing team from the American School of Milan (Carrie Zimmer and Stephen Rieach and their amazing crew), and the L2 organizing team (Jeff Utecht and the incomparable Simon May). During this time we all pitched our extended session ideas to the group for feedback, and then we all did the same with our Learning2 talks. These sessions were an exercise in making ourselves vulnerable to the group, but the learning and growth that each of us experienced in that short time was remarkable. I am a cynic, but the support and honesty that we provided one another made me a believer.
As our preparation and interactions became deeper, I noticed that themes were beginning to emerge. As we pitched our extended sessions and L2 Talks to the group, I began to see that although we were presenting different concepts, those concepts were all connected by similar words and ideas.
The sense of community that existed at the Milan conference was evident on many different levels. It really felt like one community shelled inside another, inside another, like babushka dolls. Starting with the L2L dinner the first night. That's a joke, my plane was late, I missed the dinner, and everyone had a grand time in my absence.
Jeff and Simon did a great job cultivating a sense of belonging to a learning community. I also think that everyone in the presenting/planning group being a veteran of previous Learning2 conferences creates this sense of community from the very outset.
Our extended sessions talked about community, the community that your learning space can foster, the community that blogging can develop, the learning community that a connected educator can be a part of.
From the very moment we all met up I was connecting with new ideas, new people, and new schools of thought. All of the learning that happened in Milan was amplified and shared through Twitter, so it is inevitable that you come away with a whole host of new connections, both digital and in person. I met and worked with people who work in Seattle, Switzerland, Singapore, Ecuador, Yorkshire, the Netherlands, Milan, Hungary, Paris, Warsaw and more.
Learning2 is deliberately very social. There are so many distinct forums for social learning and sharing such as unconference times, evening drinks, cohort meetings, and the extended sessions themselves are built around providing attendees time to dialogue and explore ideas with one another.
Empathy was a cornerstone in our process as a team trying to make the conference into something genuine and memorable. In trying to figure out what our extended sessions were going to look like, in helping each other to perfect our L2 talks, in our interactions with our extended session participants, the Design Process, with its empathetic origins, surfaced repeatedly.
There will be three Learning2 conferences in the 2016-2017 school year. Take the chance, go see how this blend of PD might work for you.