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Experience at Education Nation

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Kris Gillis is a Dixie Heights High School English Teacher for Kenton County Schools.

In another month, I may finish processing the three days I spent in New York attending the Fourth Annual National Teacher Town Hall Meeting and Summit on Education . The two-hour live broadcast on MSNBC represents only two of the twenty-eight total hours of taping that NBC captured during the three-day event. For twenty-six of those hours, I sat with pen and paper and Twitter ready to gather and share whatever I could with my district and colleagues back home. I felt like a man on a mission.

I arrived at the beautiful New York Public Library in the early Sunday drizzle so that I could collect my front row credentials and meet with the other guests representing their NBC affiliate stations (WLWT in Cincinnati nominated me). We were lucky to receive such prime seats for the live event and to have such like-minded teachers with which to share the three-day experience. In the minutes before the event, we all tweeted pictures of ourselves in front of the NBC stage and talked about how we hoped our students would refrain from screen shotting us and making animated GIFs to post online.

Once Brian Williams entered the room, however, we suddenly only cared about the parade of panelists and barrage of questions from the teachers in the audience. The map room of NYC Public Library felt alive. Jenna Bush Hager and Tamron Hall facilitated the discussion from the crowd of teachers at the microphone - a crowd I stood in for more than twenty minutes of the program before realizing that I would never reach the mic to ask a question - while Brian Williams and Rehema Ellis carried on candid discussions with rotating groups of panelists on the stage. Time whizzed by us. Finally, the two-hour broadcast concluded with a moving video tribute to the people of Moore, Oklahoma and Sandy Hook, Connecticut. The house lights came up, the teleprompters went black, and we began the real work of the summit.

What followed the teacher town hall meeting was far less glamorous, if you consider being live on MSNBC glamorous, but much more meaningful. During the Common Core Institute that commenced immediately upstairs, College Board president and CEO David Coleman introduced a new online community for educators, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Ronald Thorpe clarified a strong defense of the Common Core State Standards, and three expert teachers, including National Teacher of the Year Sarah Brown Wessling, Kathy Thiebes, and Kentucky's own Veeko Lucas, showcased lessons that addressed the CCSS. The thirty-six discussion panels hosted over Monday and Tuesday featured such recognizable moderators as Matt Lauer, Tom Brokaw, and Chelsea Clinton and a diverse range of panelists: high school students discussed their experiences in Norway and Korea; technology CEOs shared their visions of redesigned classrooms that offered completely individualized learning; Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear touted our state's educational growth; U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan expressed the importance of early childhood education; and celebrities Goldie Hawn, Tony Bennett, and M. Night Shayamalan promoted their foundational work and research. It somehow managed to be too much and not enough.

As a Kentuckian, I felt proud to see our state so wonderfully represented, from one of our teachers leading the Common Core Institute and our governor being one of only three chosen for the panel of state leaders, to the prominence of the Literacy and Math Design Collaboratives , work funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and pioneered in the Kenton County School District. Nevertheless, the twenty-six hours I spent awash in discussion of education's pressing issues underscored the fact that we need to spend thousands of hours collectively working to make our schools better. The panels that were filmed and catalogued on educationnation.com are at best the beginnings of real conversations that we need to have in our districts and our schools, conversations that lead to real action. We have started doing #WhatItTakes in Kentucky, and while I have enjoyed the buzz around my school and district about my trip to New York, it will take more than televised talks and popular hashtags to make a real difference. Go to the website, and watch the videos. Talk about them with your students, your teachers, your administrators, your SBDM. Research the issues in more depth. Become an advocate for positive change in our schools. That is the real mission.

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