Report from ASCD, Part 1: Sessions Covered, Classroom Coding, Leadership Strategies and More

Entrance to ASCD exhibit hall

More than 7,000 educators from around the globe gathered in Chicago March 15-18 for deep dish pizza, green drinks for St. Patrick’s day, and to participate in ASCD's #Empower19 conference. From the opening welcome reception to the final moments, the keynotes, sessions, and conversations were free-flowing and high level. 

Dwayne Reed at ASCD19

#Empower19  kicked off with an opening keynote from Dwayne Reed, the teacher you always wished you had. He is America's Favorite Rapping Teacher and Chief Enthusiasm Officer (CEO) of Teach Mr. Reed, a global education company inspiring the world to “excite, equip, and educate learners everywhere!” He was a first year teacher who used YouTube to get his message to his students. Click here to view his “welcome to the 4th grade” video and connect with him on twitter at He drove home the message about building relationships when he brought one of his students on stage and they sang together. It was a powerful way to start the event.

Ron Clark presenting at ASCD

Ron Clark followed with the message: “teach in a way where your kids want to be a teacher. Education matters. Future teachers are key to making Dreams come true.” He also encouraged educators to be “pizza” meaning “don’t be plain old bread, be spicy with a lot to offer like pizza.” 

Speakers on day two included Doris Kearns Goodwin, who shared the 10 steps she has seen and researched for great leaders: 1. Grow from adversity 2. Listen to other views 3. Inspire 4. Take blame 5. Transcend slights 6. Are accessible 7. Use stories 8. Control unproductive emotions 9. Relax 10. Swap personal ambition for greater good. Her stories and message opened out eyes and minds for a day full of learning and to take what we learn and become great leaders for kids. 

The final speaker was Ashton Kutcher who was humble, funny, and passionate about education. “We need to create a culture that isn’t incentivized by being right,” he said. “You cannot find purpose until you are vulnerable. Teachers should practice and foster vulnerability.”  

These four speakers had a different style, look, and presentation style, but a very similar message: “Be the best so you can be the best for kids.” Those messages inspired the participants in the 400+ sessions offered.  

There were so many sessions that matched various interests. Two knocked my socks off. One was from @EduGladiators team (#EduGladiators). Sanée Bell, Paul O'Neill, Rachelle Dene Poth Dennis Griffin Jr (@Rdene915 @SaneeBell @D4Griffin3 @PaulONeill1972) talked about empowering educators to ground their instructional practices and shares specific strategies to help implement those practices. Check out all their work and sessions at 

Another buzz at this year’s event was on coding. There were many to highlight, but one that inspired me was by Kathy Einhorn and Clark Merkley. They argued that code is the world’s most dominant language.  At first I did a double take at the statement, but when they showed how our resources ranging from high level baking security, internet, flight, self driving cars, and multiple levels of communication down to basic programing, all over the globe code is becoming a necessary and universal language for communication and daily living and made that statement hard to disagree with.  All the sessions focused on how learning to code helps students develop into logical thinkers, problem solvers, creators, and collaborators. 

Learning from others

A few other impactful learning sessions and presenters included:

Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein

Teaching Students to Self-Assess and Reflect for Deeper Learning from Connie Hamilton and Starr Sackstein (@conniehamilton @mssackstein). They combined deeper reflection in their teaching and learning to better inform instruction and feedback. Participants learned where, when, and how to implement reflection as a means of self-assessment, driving a more standards-based approach to learning and moving away from traditional assessment and grading techniques. Click here for session resources. Click here for more resources from Starr Sackstein and here for resources from Connie Hamilton.

Building Future Ready Schools from Tom Murray (@thomascmurray). Tom shared strategies schools and classrooms transform from teacher-centric ones of the industrial era to environments that are learner-centered, personalized, and leverage the power of technology. The session was packed with free tools and resources teachers (click here to view) can use to transform their schools into ones that better prepare students for the world they will face tomorrow. 

Busting Education Stereotypes from Brianna Hodges and Kerry Gallagher (@bhodgesEDU @KerryHawk02 ). The content and strategies presented here brought on a deep discussion about how to shape the edtech leader vision. Click here to view information on skills to be a better EdTech coach. Click here for resources on supporting schools and parents better communicate about effective technology. Click here from there session about  information from a session about Why Effective Digital Learning Shouldn’t Disrupt Traditional Teaching Techniques. 

How Innovative Leaders Change Schools from Dave Faulkner, Aaron Tait, and Linnea Garrett.They shared strategies from their book, A Practical Playbook to Help Innovative Educators Change Schools, to support school improvement and adaptation of innovation. Click here to view session resources and other supports for educators.

The above sessions brought a mix of innovation, technology, brain based research, and fun into learning. Click here to check out all the presenters and session resources. 

There is never a dearth of great ideas at national events like these and ASCD Empower19 did not disappoint. Read more of my ASCD takeaways @MatthewXJoseph and click here to learn how to turn ideas into actions from events like ASCD. 

Dr. Matthew X. Joseph (@ MatthewXJoseph) is Director of Evaluation and Supervision in Brockton, MA.