Not Your Average Membership

Submitted by Katie White

As I was preparing to attend the Canadian Assessment for Learning Conference and Symposium in Dartmouth this year, I was asked more than once by colleagues why I work so hard to attend. I certainly have enough “stuff” to fill my days and Nova Scotia is awfully far away from Saskatchewan, so why the commitment to make it happen? I started to think about what makes CAfLN different; what makes it worth it…and I recalled when I figured out the importance of this network for the first time.

I had been a member for a full year before I attended my first conference. I knew about the huge resource of the CAfLN website and I was interested in their mission, dedicated to the role of assessment for learning in education.  However, it was not until I attended the 2017 conference and symposium in Saskatoon that I truly felt the benefit of the network. I emphasize the word “felt” because that is what makes this membership so different.

During this first conference and symposium experience, I came to feel how powerful this network is in feeding my own need to connect, to relate, and to feel a part of something bigger than myself, my school division, or even my province. I had a visceral sense of belonging that I have come to realize is so important when exploring complexities like assessment and educational change. After that initial experience, I knew I had a network with whom I could safely talk, wonder, and explore. I could be vulnerable and empowered at the same time.

This membership is about a Canadian context, and like our country itself, the diversity of this context is exactly what makes it so rich. I met educators from across Canada and we shared our own unique perspectives and worldviews, while searching for commonalities and relationships that nurture a feeling of shared experience. I remember leaving that initial gathering absolutely sure in my heart that CAfLN was something I wanted to be a part of. I knew that my time spent with these people would enrich my work in education. I developed friendships in very short order and these friendships continued throughout the year that followed my first conference and symposium. I stayed connected through social media and these conversations helped me to understand layers of assessment for learning in various Canadian contexts. By networking with others, I was able to see how AfL “lives” in British Columbia, how it manifests in Ontario, and how it has developed in my own province of Saskatchewan.

Thinking back now on the second conference and symposium in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, I continue to feel the powerful pull of this network. In Dartmouth, friendships and professional relationships deepened, more difficult questions were asked, and different perspectives were shared. I learned more about the eastern Canadian perspective, which added depth to my personal search for ways to make learning increasingly powerful for both teacher and students.

The power of a CAfLN membership can be found in both what it is and what it is not. This network is not about business. It is not about “presentations” or “knowers.” It is not about the “right answers” and the “certain solutions.” Rather, it is about seeking, about discovering, about connecting. Whatever perspective and knowledge a participant brings to the conversation is important. Every person has a voice and every voice matters. The conference and symposium are safe places to ask questions and seek personally meaningful answers.

Canadian Assessment for Learning Network is not your average network. It is committed to a powerful purpose and how it achieves this purpose is unique. The conference and symposium are committed to bringing many voices into the learning space, including those of students. Participants are invited to share their stories and ideas and harvest them for meaning. The keynotes are innovative and the sessions are highly engaging. When you leave the conference and symposium, you feel part of something powerful; something that really matters. So, I have begun my preparations for the next event in Delta in 2019. I know it will be more than worth it and hope you will join me there.

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