Complexity, Consortiums & Maladjusting: Lessons from Dr. Chris Emdin’s keynote at SXSWedu

I don’t know how I stumbled upon the clip the first time I saw Dr. Chris Emdin. I do remember being so enthralled I ended up sharing it with the AQ course that night and then jumping on Instagram and Twitter to share a few quotes. So when I saw that Chris was going to be the opening keynote for SXSWedu I was pretty excited.

It has almost been a full week since his keynote. 5 days later I’m still digesting it all, reflecting on the ideas shared and questions that remain. There were so many take aways and just as many questions. Was I a frenemy at times? Getting stuck in traditions that were no longer essential? Was I lulling kids to sleep?

You can watch the full keynote address here:


As I listened and scribbled down ideas to remember a few have weighed heavier on my mind.

Beauty and complexity

Sometimes (often) in education we try to simplify things. Maybe it is just me. I know I can get caught trying to simplify content, approaches, even learners in an effort to stream line an experience and see success for students. How many times in that simplification was I missing the beauty and complexity of the context of my learners? Was I valuing the uniqueness they each bring to the activity? Was I valuing the beauty and complexity of the knowledge each learner was bringing? Chris’ talk again was a reminder that we teach beautiful unique individuals with which we need to engage in authentic conversations.

Are we as educators going to be humble enough to create spaces to allow young people to teach us what we need to do? Chris Emdin

It’s time to be maladjusted

It’s my 16th year of teaching this year and I think I may have been called loud & passionate a few times in those 16 years. I hope I have been. Now that I am in a type of leadership role (although a smaller one) I can see how the system sometimes takes over. I have seen how you can get stuck in structures and protocols that have been established. How you can get caught in the repeating traditions that may no longer be essential. More than anything I could see moments when I got scared and tried to make my point more palatable, to ask the tough questions or speak up. As loud and passionate as I can be especially over modern learning, was I afraid to have certain conversations? Was I so accustomed to the system that I may be missing moments to be maladjusted?  As Brene Brown mentioned in her closing keynote it’s time to be brave, have courage and be vulnerable.  Time to be uncomfortable.

If we truly want a I need to do what I need to do. I’ve been called to do what I need to do. Chris Emdin

We need a consortium

I think this take away was the most unique. Sometimes we look for a charismatic leader, a leader to take the helm and push us forward. We wait for the one individual who will be able to curve the movement, inspire change and rally the masses. Chris’ notes about martyrs reminded me that not one of us can do it alone. The ideas and approaches that were championed and then passed over. How can I foster a consortium, a collective that is willing to champion education for all and isn’t afraid to be maladjusted?

More than anything Dr. Chris Emdin started off the conference with a battle cry, a cry to action. No more excuses. High expectations for all our learners, following their leads. And if someone gets in the way we will just have to say…

Thank you for your service…we got it from here. Chris Emdin

As a side note I tried to catch some of the ideas from the keynote live in the sketchnote below:



2 thoughts on “Complexity, Consortiums & Maladjusting: Lessons from Dr. Chris Emdin’s keynote at SXSWedu

  1. First, Tina, thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience, so that the educators who could not be there in person can learn from and with you. This is such a gift, such an important part of mobilizing learning, and as much as I scream it from the rafters, we still have too few educators who understand the value of open sharing like this.

    For almost 20 years, since the first day I started teaching online, I have been uncomfortable with the idea of content delivery. Giving teachers a “learning management system” and pre-written content is almost the exact opposite of “creating spaces to let our young people tell us what we need to do”.

    Most secondary school classrooms that I observe are locked into the one way model of content delivery as well, even when creating that collaborative space for student voice is so much easier to do in a face-to-face environment.

    We take beautiful young people with enormous talent and potential and sort them in a system that values the ability to comply, and learn to play a game of getting the highest score. And then we call the winners the smart ones and let them go on to bigger things, filtering out the losers with lower scores. We stamp them with a two-digit number we call an average, and send them out into the world without having uncovered their gifts, and without having shown them the ways they can develop those gifts to enrich this world of ours.

    In a system that spins on confirmation bias, it’s rare to find leaders who embrace challenges to their thinking. It’s exhausting to be the voice of dissension in the system. If you have the courage to challenge the status quo, you are labelled “not a team player”, condescending, ‘losing it”, “not a good fit”…. but rarely courageous, which is what you really are. The other side of courage in a stuck system is not a pretty place.

    Until you find your ‘consortium’, your group of disruptors who challenge you right back so that you can thrive on wondering, trying, inquiring, questioning, and down the road, when the system learns to value the thinkers that can be agile and change in a volatile world…. down the road you will lead.

    Keep being one we can all look up to.

    • I was listening to someone this morning share about irrational love. That to many our actions out of love may seem outrageous but to us it is just normal. There is no alternative. Maybe we just have an irrational love for education.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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