The first annual Bammy Awards were held this past weekend in Washington DC to celebrate teachers and educators through recognition and acknowledgment. The black tie affair brought together the likes of Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling-Hammond, John Merrow and a host of teachers, bloggers, administrators, and assorted arm candies (as one husband referred to himself).
With a red carpet, limos, and hand-crafted awards, the event sought to elevate the field of education to that of movie stars, dignitaries and athletes. The Washington Youth Orchestra welcomed guests to the theater and played throughout the evening as award winners came to the stage. Even a quartet of the young virtuosos played together at the reception following the program.
The formality was something of a leap for some (myself included), as many of us are more accustomed to more casual (or at least less formal) gatherings at conferences, leadership programs, edcamps, and on various digital venues. With tuxes, gowns, heels, photographers and video cameras, the event felt a bit surreal as we moved from red carpet to VIP seating to rubbing shoulders with Linda Darling-Hammond.
I had the pleasure of attending as an education blogger among a number of very talented and much more prolific writers pulled together by Eric Sheninger. Among this group there were already a number of bonds forged between twitter, ISTE, and various other collaborations and conferences. The twitterati crowd was more of a gang, bound together as connected educators dedicated to developing, cultivating, and sustaining professionally minded relationships. The game of avatar bingo was made all the more interesting by the setting, the atmosphere, and the styles.
As an event, I very much appreciate what the organizers wanted to accomplish. The mired and tired debates about education have rutted the national conversation in tenure, testing, and accountability, leaving out much of what actually goes on in a learning community. This was an effort to help shift that focus and reframe how we look at teaching and learning, and by proxy bring about a positive change in pedagogical discourse.
Dressed as we were (Kevin Jerret’s red carpet photos) and feeling the respect attended to educators by the organizers, it was hard not to feel even more pride in educators’ day in and day out efforts to put students first. It was well deserved. And satisfying.
Often national recognition comes at the lip service of politicians and pundits, who use the term “great teacher” to couch theories and ideas out of synch with the realities of the classroom. The result is a “compliment” that feels empty. For this reason, the thought of the organizers putting forth the time, effort and funds to host and sponsor a night dedicated to work of educators felt authentic and satisfying.
But what made any of us any better than any of the other thousands working to educate our youth in one fashion or another? And, as a largely egalitarian bunch, why should any one teacher, principal, or superintendent receive an award over others? Jeff Bradbury, who podcasted the evening, brought this point home. “I don’t really want to go home and tell my colleagues about this. They struggle, work hard, and are affected by the negative pressures being put on schools today too. Why do I get to come walk the red carpet?”
On this I am conflicted (and not just because he has worked hard outside the classroom to connect educators). I am eager to see the conversation about education move more toward celebrating educators and less about eviscerating them, but I agree with some who wonder if this is the right way to go about it. As Ira Socol reflected, “I’m not sure that mimicking the most superficial of awards ceremonies is the best way to change education.” Point taken.
At the same time, schools are diverse ecosystems of personalities, groups and conditions that all influence one another to some degree or another. The Bammy organizers recognized this in their attention to the “village” theme and the thoughtfulness of their award categories. Maintenance managers, school nurses, and Head Start employees were recognized alongside researchers, teachers, principals, superintendents, and the lifetime achievements of Diane Ravitch, John Merrow, and Linda Darling-Hammond. In this way I think they struck the egalitarian nail on the head, because it is in the collective and interdependent efforts of individuals that buildings become learning communities.
Movements, monuments, and mountains are made by moments, some of them large, but most rather small. In concert, they either figuratively or literally become tectonic in force, forever changing the landscape. We need more tectonic forces in our effort to actualize transformative growth toward student-centered learning. Educators must have a national voice outside the standard entrenched dichotomies wrestling over tests, testing, and test scores. The Bammies may grow to be a mega phone, even if only once a year.
While I’m undecided about the Oscar-ification of education as an effective agent of change, I am confident the intentions behind the awards are in the right place and that gives me hope. For that reason, I look forward to seeing how they build on this inaugral effort. Not only was it a great time getting together with incredible people–strengthening old bonds and forging new ones–it was also a refreshing moment in which educators were told they mattered. And that felt good.
Until next time, back to work.
For a post that better reflects on the people and the awards program itself, check out Dr. Spike Cook’s recap.