Presenting and Learning at the 2019 Deeper Learning Conference

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Late last month, three of our staff traveled to sunny San Diego, California, to attend the 2019 version of the Deeper Learning Conference — an annual gathering of educators committed to engaging students in deeper learning. Known as DL2019, this year’s event focused on offering attendeesa better understanding of how educators can foster student engagement in deeper learning and create equitable learning environments.

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with Deeper Learning, it refers to a set of six competencies that students need to succeed in and out of the classroom, including Content Mastery, CollaborationSelf-directed Learning, Critical Thinking & Problem SolvingEffective Communication, and Academic Mindset. Learn more at

Eagle Rock was represented at DL2019 by Josán Perales, our World Languages Instructional Specialist/Instructional Coach; Cindy Elkins, our Art Instructional Specialist; and me — Doen Lee, Eagle Rock’s 2018-2019 Public Allies Fellow in Professional Development.

The conference host was High Tech High, which is an integrated network of 16 charter schools in Southern California where the design principles of equity, personalization, authentic work, and collaborative design guide the organization’s work. For our part, our Professional Development Center has had a long-standing collaboration with HTH’s Graduate School of Education, while another one of our California-based clients, iLEAD, was also present at the conference.

Art, Protocols, and Student Performance

In addition to attending the conference, Eagle Rock played a role in the event’s workshop offerings. Josán and Cindy ran a workshop titled Art, Protocols, and Student Performance — a 90-minute session focused on an Eagle Rock School class that integrates project-based learning, visual art, authentic partnerships with organizations through service and dialogues, student travel, protocols, and public presentations.

Participants in the workshop explored the essential question, “What are you willing to do to live up to your values?” and developed a piece of art examining a value-based dilemma. Josán and Cindy presented on their experience of how students develop a passion for environmental sustainability as they engage in service-learning, art, and project-based learning. Participants were not only able to experience protocols and the tools used to engage Cindy and Josán’s students, they also benefited from connecting with two Southern California-based organizations — Surfrider Foundation and Wild Coast.

By learning about these groups’ mission, vision, and initiatives in sustainability, as well as using plastic to create artwork that supported each organizations’ messages, participants in Josán and Cindy workshop got a real feel for what Eagle Rock students experience here in Estes Park.

Taking ‘Deep Dives’ Along the Way

Unlike many conferences, the Deeper Learning Conference — now in its seventh year — offers all-day learning experiences that allow attendees to be fully immersed in deeper learning for themselves. So in addition to co-presenting a workshop with Cindy, Josán attended a Deep Dive workshop entitled Digging Out to Freedom, which focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and was anchored in the Liberatory Design Process and ideas of pretext, context, and post-text.

Participants in the six-hour session examined the intersectionality of structural oppression in teaching and learning in order to define diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as build and generate new uses for existing tools to promote, advocate and demonstrate authentic liberatory learning. Practically speaking, participants mapped their life’s equity journey through the creation of a map, as well as a story about the parts of their identities that are usually uninvited, thus forming the pretext of the workshop. This experience, according to Josán, was grounded in the poet Maya Angelou’s quote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Josán said several stories shared by participants resonated with him, adding that another plus was when he experienced validation from sharing his own story.

Since power dynamics always affect the work we do, Josán said his big takeaway from the day-long session was understanding how to use his values to build effective relationships. As our school’s instructional coach for the current academic year, Josán will use this learning by grounding his work in personal and institutional values in order to have more transparent conversations with peers and students alike.

Meanwhile, Cindy attended a 90-minute Design Thinking workshop titled Design! Connect! Go!: Leveraging Design Thinking and Art-Based Partnerships for Connected Project Based Learning (PBL)presented by The U School’s founding Humanities educator, Samuel Reed. Cindy said she picked up some fresh ideas on how to include empathy into her hook for classes, and she learned more about embedding empathy into her lessons.

In the Deep Dive session she attended — We’re Acting Up!  Refreshing Student-Centered Principles with an Eye on Equity — Cindy said she learned to interpret words and thoughts silently, first with a partner and then in a large group. Cindy described the exercise of only using facial expressions and movement to communicate ideas of oppression. At the end of the day, the groupperformed aplay for exhibitions of learning.

Another takeaway for Cindy was that the art and architecture of High Tech High conveys feelings of encouragement, welcome, and creativity. It has Cindy thinking how we might do things differently within Eagle Rock’s existing spaces.

Finally, I attended a Deep Dive Den session with Sam Seidel — Director of the Student Experience Lab at the Business Innovation Factory and author of HipHop Genius: Remixing High School Education — and Adria Steinburg (senior advisor at Jobs for the Future) — that inspired me to think about how I can contribute to radical educational change. Sam and Adria had an intergenerational conversation that touched upon the 5 A’s of equity as well as school redesign. (The 5 A’s of equity are Awareness, Attitudes, Analysis, Action, and Accountability, according to the framework’s founder, Dr. Edwin Javius, President & CEO of EDEquity.)

Another impactful experience for me was the Deep Dive workshop I attended — A Method for PBL (Problem-Based Learning) Madness, presented by Doris Korda, CEO of the Korda Institute for Teaching (formerly Wildfire Education). In this six-hour experience, I worked with a team of three other educators to tackle a problem presented by City Heights Coffeehouse, a San Diego not-for-profit organization/coffeehouse that employs youth with marginalized identities. After multiple jigsaws and research, the day culminated in a presentation where each team pitched its idea for addressing the stated problem. Being able to take notes on the facilitation and design of Project-Based Learning work will enable me to grow in my understanding of progressive educational practices.

If you’d like to connect with the Deeper Learning community or learn about next year’s Deeper Learning Conference — DL2020 (March 25-27, 2020) — please visit

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About the Author: Doen Lee is the 2018-2019 Public Allies Fellow in Professional Development at the Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center in Estes Park, Colorado. There, Doen supports the work of educators from across the United States who are committed to making high school a more engaging experience for our country’s youth.

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