Bonus: Conference to Restore Humanity Overview

Chris McNutt
June 28, 2022
An overview of our conference.

0:00:00.0 Nick Covington: At the beginning of the pandemic, schools reacted to the needs of communities in much the same way as other institutions by building a plane in mid-flight whose purpose was to navigate us to a post-pandemic normalcy. Teachers leaned into new dual roles as viral mitigators and classroom educators preparing safe learning environments for kids attending in-person instruction and navigating new remote learning environments often simultaneously, but as one headline observed in June 2020, the Coronavirus didn't break America, it revealed what was already broken.

0:00:33.2 NC: As we saw how the impact of the pandemic fell hardest on communities of color, disabled people and children ineligible for vaccinations, so too did the Coronavirus reveal the same disparities in accessibility and sustainability of our instructional models of school. This temporary on-the-fly response to the pandemic, characterized by hours of camera on Zoom lectures, breakout rooms and lockdown browsers has now incorrectly become solidified as our mental model for remote school that was exhausting and dehumanizing for students and teachers alike. But the early lock-downs forced another realization. With millions under lockdown, many non-disabled people are experiencing for the first time how it feels to have external barriers preventing you from participating in everyday life. Public and private spaces overcame years of un-responsiveness to disabled people to broadly and quickly accommodate pandemic life.

0:01:30.6 NC: Tens of millions of workers transitioned to work from home with 91% wanting to retain remote flexibility. Online shopping options proliferated to support local businesses, telehealth visits safely aided over-burdened health systems and entertainment moved in home as Broadway stage shows, musical acts and Hollywood blockbusters streamed online to support artists and performers. There's even evidence that reduced travel temporarily curbed carbon emissions and reduced air pollution in early 2020. Now, we have the opportunity and understanding to move from emergency pandemic remote school and its pantomime of learning to purposefully designed online education spaces that are accessible, sustainable, and representative of the communities they serve. It's time for the academic conference model to respond accordingly.


0:02:35.2 Chris McNutt: Hello everyone, and welcome to a June bonus update here from HRP, just talking about the things that we're doing as an organization, the things that we're excited about, and hopefully things you all can get involved with with the Restoration Project. First off, a big announcement I think from both of us that's been a game changer is that Nick and I are now full-time. We are basically working around the clock or from a progressive education, grow the movement, and on all the things that we're gonna go through here today. What you just heard was Nick summarizing the need for our conference model. Nick, do you wanna talk a little bit about the conference?

0:03:13.4 NC: So our conference to restore humanity, if you haven't heard about it yet, [chuckle] and you're just tuning into this podcast, it's gonna be taking place July 25th through the 28th, and it's gonna be entirely virtual. So the big reason why we wanted to build a conference model that looked like good... Examples of good remote instruction that we've been talking about for the last couple of years with the pandemic for precisely those reasons that I listed in the intro, it's accessible from a broad range of health perspectives, especially in terms of travel, flying conditions, and things being what they are today, and the risk still of the Coronavirus, especially for susceptible populations.

0:03:56.6 NC: I know... I've got a four-year-old son and we're overjoyed right now to be eligible for the vaccine for under fives, so that might begin to change the conversation too going forward, but we're not there yet. The sustainability part of it comes in as well where we understand the impact of travel both in terms of people's individual finances, oftentimes travel to these conferences is prohibitively expensive, again, not just in terms of air fare but of accommodations. You gotta get a hotel room, you have to pay for meals and things like that, so the sustainability part of virtual conferences is important for us as well.

0:04:38.5 NC: Plus the accessibility part for people with disabilities would say oftentimes in those in-person spaces, they're not set up for people with mobility issues or three processing disorders for people with hearing loss or other visual, audio-visual impairments. In the virtual space, we can at least provide more accommodations for the broadest number of people using those universal design principles, so providing transcripts and providing videos of our keynotes. Hosting it all in that virtual online space allows people at different processing rates and speeds and times to engage with that content asynchronously as well.

0:05:23.1 NC: Kind of the last part of that too is just understanding what we know about digital pedagogy now, two years into a pandemic where we've been living in that space is, well, why not build a model for what this virtual classroom space could be? I already mentioned the keynotes, with your conference registration, you'll get the keynotes in advance. So we've already got, for example, the circle keepers from Harvest Collegiate High School. I think it runs about 45 minutes. We previewed that, it's incredible. But you'll have time to go through and watch it at whatever speed you want to.

0:06:00.3 NC: We're working on transcripts for the keynotes as well, so you'll have the written transcript for screen readers and things to go through it as well. But on the pedagogical side of it too, the best part of conferences is often not the keynote lecture or those kinds of things, but it's the discussion, the conversation that happens afterwards, and the Q&A with the presenter, so that's where that flipped model for keynotes really provides a leg up, we think, from in-person conferences because you're gonna get access to that information ahead of time for you to process, bring your questions to the Q&A with Dr. Denisha Jones or Henry Giroux or the Circle Keepers.

0:06:37.8 CM: I mean, the only thing I would add is just, I think at the center of any good design and good pedagogy means that even though this is more accessible for everyone that's involved, in general, it's just a better design model for learning no matter who you are. I mean, personally, I do not like going to a conference, waiting for the keynote, spending like two hours in that room just listening and listening, they could be a great engaging speaker, but I wanna move around, I don't wanna just be sitting there, and also it just helps me focus. I'm the kind of person I like to hear things over and over again, I like to have that transcript behind me, it's a model that makes sense for teachers.

0:07:15.5 CM: It's cheap, you don't have to pay for the hotel, you don't have to pay for transportation, all the things that you mentioned before, you could be listening to the keynote and doing your dishes, just hanging out, it's very low barrier to entry, which in a time where we're all pretty burned out is a good thing to restore that sustainable practice model. And then also, it's just a way that you can learn easier and engage with an audience better, so in terms of the foot keynote model, that means that you're having an hour to discuss these topics in a Q&A style, as opposed to having to sit there and listen, and then have that five-minute, like five-minute Q&A, at the end, I'm like, "Man, I wish I could have asked them that." It's like you could go out... but then there's always a line, it's just it doesn't make any sense.

0:08:03.3 NC: And with that too, the Q&A is gonna be better as a result, people have had time to process and to come up with those questions and think deeply about what somebody just said instead of having to react or respond to it right away. On the plus side too, then the presenter is more engaged in the Q&A, and not having just delivered an hour-long speech and then having to put that energy into being responsive to that, too.

0:08:27.7 NC: So it kind of levels the playing field, I think, for everybody in terms of that. And then the thing I like about that as well is that stuff will be there forever, so you'll have access to that if... Our conference is at the end of July and school for you, whether you're approaching this from the student lens or from an educator lens, K-12, higher ed, if you're going back to school at the end of August and you're like, "Man, I heard something at the conference that I wanted to reference again or bring into my own coursework to help onboard students into these practices," you can go back and reference those vids, you can reference those discussions, you can reference the conversations that are happening inside the learning tracks.

0:09:08.1 CM: Yeah. I'd like to talk too just about the idea that just because this is a remote conference, we did want it to be human-centered, we still wanna have those human connections, it's not just watch some videos and take out our online course, it's not. Instead, we have a text-based system where folks can jump in and talk to each other, they'll be in groups and they can discuss as they're going through these different courses, there'll be different spaces that people can participate and in voice chat and interact with each other. It's not just an online course.

0:09:39.0 CM: These tracks, the way that they work is every day you'll be given various different interactive activities, readings, discussions, very similar to the sheets that you tend to get handed out to you at any workshop that you go to at a conference, so you'll have access to this different, these different materials for the course. We're anticipating it being about two hours worth of stuff every single day, that way you have... You could start in the morning and end up in the afternoon you to finish it, you do it all at once in the evening, entirely up to you, and that chat will be there that you could interact with it at any point during the day and learn about some, in my opinion, very radical pedagogy in a very... In a positive light.

0:10:17.0 CM: I see radical is a good thing. We have disrupting discriminatory linguistics, which gets in the language justice and how students can be discriminated based on the language that they use like whose languages do we police? And how do we counteract that? And how do you teach a course where you don't police language? Because at least in my teacher training, that's been a big part of what you do. We have building anti-carceral practices, which dives into the carceral state. Probably many people are familiar with the school-to-prison pipeline, the carceral network expands upon that and talks about just constant surveillance and in ways that especially students of color are policed, but it also gets into disabled students, LGBTQIA students, all students that are able to recognize the many different ways in which we over-police our schools, both from a literal comps in schools but also just teacher practices and in pedagogy.

0:11:10.4 CM: So our third track dives into neurodivergence. It's designed by Stimpunks, which is a non-profit focused on designing for just that. That's called DIY at the edges. And essentially, what you'll be doing is learning about how do I design a space that is for all learners in the classroom? And I think there's kind of a meta component to this because a lot of the things that we're doing at the conference are kind of like how you design for also neurodivergence, so you'll get to be taught it while also experiencing it and seeing the benefits that arrives for you.

0:11:42.7 CM: And then finally, our fourth main track dives into childism, and it's led by the Childism Institute at Rutgers. Childism is akin to feminism so it's standing up for students' rights as opposed to adultism which would be akin to racism so it's discriminating because someone isn't old enough, saying things like, "Yeah, you say that just because you're a kid," or like, "What do you know? You're so young", acting like students can't do something just because they're younger and using certain language that might discriminate against them in a way that prevents them from achieving their goals.

0:12:16.2 CM: So the goal of this is to realign yourself and thinking about how many rights students have and how can we build a space where students do have rights, and what that looks like in terms of empowerment and sharing power. Finally, we have a track that's available for all participants that everyone will have access to, and that is feedback first education, which is being offered by Floop, which is the only ed tech tool that HRP has ever endorsed. Floop is a tool that allows you to offer feedback on student work without giving a grade. It's a true grade-less feedback tool. And in the session you'll be learning about how do you offer feedback in a way that's meaningful, how do you build a grade-less classroom, and how do you build a space where students are continually motivated and engaged by improving as opposed to feeling judged or discriminated against? So those are all five tracks. Just so you know, for the tracks portion, you'll be choosing one of these four tracks, and then everyone will have access to the fifth track.

0:13:17.5 NC: I think what you're getting at there, Chris, to bring it back to this framing around the demand for a conference model that is accessible, sustainable, and representative of the communities education is meant to serve. So if we're meant to serve students, how often do you have student representatives talking about their work at educational conferences? At the Harvest Collegiate Circle Keepers, one of the third of our keynotes is going to be a rather large student group engaged in social... Restorative justice work. How often do we talk about neurodivergence or universal design for learning or disabled people without having them represented in those spaces?

0:14:00.4 NC: And here we have a track that is actually about neurodivergence, talking about people who are neurodivergent identify as such and are building how to help mitigate barriers to entry for them, but also help move them into those spaces? How often do we talk about issues facing kids without framing them in the sense of child-ism, or talk about the school-to-prison pipeline without specifically addressing anti-carceral practices? So again, it's about building that model that is accessible, sustainable, and representative, and hearing from people who are actively engaged in that work, whether they are keynotes or part of our individual learning tracks.

0:14:42.3 CM: And I think last thing surrounding the conference, and it's kind of an awkward but bland thing to talk about that I think is as we're sharing, which is we wanted to design a conference where the folks that are presenting and preparing materials for us are valued for their time and effort. The reason why we're charging for those conferences is that there's no free labor, we are paying folks a competitive rate for preparing these tracks and for speaking at our keynote, HRP is likely not going to make any money off of the conference.

0:15:11.7 CM: I don't know if we need to put that part in there, but it's true. The goal of this is to ensure that folks are not signing up to speak at our conference for that toxic exposure piece, so by participating in this conference and contributing to it, you are directly contributing to the folks that are making these tracks and speaking at the keynotes and knowing that they are being valued for their time.

0:15:30.5 NC: In addition, so every day, the structure, of course, going from Monday July 25th through Thursday the 28th, each day we will have the different keynote speaker and you'll be working, of course, through your track at the same time but then each day we will actually have a smaller event, I think these are scheduled to be about an hour, and these will just be more synchronous conversations but we put together a progressive education panel discussion with what schools could be podcast. The next day on the 26th, we've got a conversation with David Buck, who has led the Un-grading HUB on Discord, we'll have his UN-grading Con on Twitter in the fall, but it's on expanding and growing progressive education. On Wednesday, we'll have the power of narrative mathematics with Sunil Singh.

0:16:17.3 NC: Probably he'll talk about in there about teaching math as a humanities course, which is an idea that obviously as a humanities educator is fascinating to me. But then the last day will be then, how do we continue the fight with Dr. Jennifer Berkshire. She will join us to have closing discussion about how do we take this energy, how do we take the ideas and how do we move back into our world and into our individual context post-conference and continue the fight and continue to make change? So, yeah, in addition to the keynotes and in addition to those learning tracks, those daily events are gonna just kinda be pop-up events that you can come in and participate, or if you don't have the time or the availability, you can listen to the understanding from after the fact.

0:17:04.2 CM: So I think to summarize, the goal, again, of this conference is to value folks' time and to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. You'll be able to participate in four days of learning and then access it after the fact for however long, it'll always be there. You'll be able to every single day watch a keynote video, that's roughly a half hour to an hour long, you'll watch it, learn from it, take some notes, we brainstormed a few questions, you'll get to work through your tracks at your own pace, your learning track for roughly in two hours each day. And then finally, there will be two live events every single day, there'll be one at 11 AM Eastern, which is the keynote Q&A, which is the response to the video, which will be recorded as well. As well as a second event, like kind of a mini event, it's an hour-long that will vary in time each day, somewhere between 1:00 and 6:00 PM Eastern. Those will also be recorded. So you'll have the ability to access all these different things at any real point. It's as accessible as possible.

0:18:02.0 NC: If this sounds exciting and energizing and innovative and you wanna join us or you wanna support us in bringing you this conference and support the wonderful group of presenters and track leaders that we were able to assemble here, you can go to our website and you can find more information there about schedules, about the format, about the keynotes tracks and all of that, and of course then you can register for the conference there. So the early-bird price is $150, and we're gonna sunset that at the end of June, then which the regular ticket price will be $200 for the month of July and leading up to the conference as well. So get on that as early as you can to take advantage of that early-bird pricing. And we'll hope you... We hope you join us.

0:18:55.5 CM: And we should know too that there are discounts available, for folks that are from historically-marginalized communities, there is a discount code that's available at the bottom of the page that will give you a discount to the conference, as well as there are group rates available. So if you are a school or an institution and you wanna send a group of three or more, we can give you a pretty hefty discount and send a bunch of folks there.


0:19:23.5 NC: Conference to restore humanity is an invitation for K-12 and college educators to engage in a human-centered system reboot, centering the needs of students and educators toward praxis of social justice. The traditional conference format doesn't work for everyone, it's costly to attend, environmentally unfriendly, and it doesn't allow everyone to engage or have a voice in the learning community. Our conference is designed around the accessibility and sustainability of virtual learning, while engaging participants in a classroom environment that models the same progressive pedagogy we value with students.

0:19:56.3 NC: Instead of long Zoom presentations with a brief Q&A, keynotes are flipped and attendees will have the opportunity for extended conversation with our speakers, Dr. Henry Giroux, the founding theorist of Critical Pedagogy, Dr. Denisha Jones, educator, activist, and Co-editor of Black Lives Matter at school, and the circle keepers from Harvest Collegiate High School in New York City, a student collective focused on social justice. And instead of back-to-back online workshops, we are offering asynchronous learning tracks, you can engage with the content and the community at any time on topics like anti-pastoral pedagogy, disrupting linguistic discrimination, designing for neurodivergence, promoting child-ism in the classroom and supporting feedback over grades.

0:20:42.8 NC: The conference to restore humanity runs July 25th through the 28th. And as of recording, early-bird tickets are still available. It's $150 for four days, with discounts available for individuals from historically-marginalized communities as well as group rates, plus we will award certificates for teacher training and continuing education credits. See our website, for more information, and let's restore humanity together.

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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