1st Unconference on Gender a Success

This past weekend, WILLA members came together in Buffalo, NY for what we know will be one of many Unconferences on Gender we plan to host.

Unlike a traditional conference, where the speaker at center holds the knowledge, an unconference recognizes the value of learning as a community. On Saturday, each particpiant became experts in whatever topics or issues the group decided should be discussed and Twitter was used to raise awareness and include those participants from afar.

So, how did this work?

The only requirement was that in someway, WILLA address literacy or English education, and gender throughout the day.

Here are the traditional Unconference rules we followed:

(1) The people who come are the best people who could have come.

2) Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.

3) It starts when it starts.

4) It’s over when it’s over.

5) The Law of Two Feet (“If you are not learning or contributing to a talk or presentation or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn”).

Like all ‘laws’ or ‘principles’ at an Unconference, participants should feel free to break any or all of these rules if they feel that they are not contributing to the intellectual content of the event. . . and we did!

Participants started the day by generating topics individually which were compiled into three session taking on various formats. The depth of the discussion was incredible as participants truly collaborated to think more deeply about issues of gender in literacy and life!


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Participants ranged from pre-service teachers to graduate students, classroom teachers to post-secondary faculty members. This made for rich, valuable discussion which most importantly provoked thought through discourse.

WILLA Vice Chair, Deborah Bartlesman’s remarks from Saturday morning serve as the best representation of what the day became for participants. She stated, “English Education, literacy, is about getting lost. Lost in literature, media, and discussions, and finding our way out more informed, enlightened or, if you’re anything like me, even more lost.In a world where girls are being denied a basic education, where educational gaps exist based on gender, where boys are forced to “man up,” and girls gendered expectations are so unrealistic, much like boys’ expectations, they cause serious psychological distress, in a world where LGBTQ students almost never see themselves in literature. In a universe where professionals are treated differently based on their gender, I sometimes get lost myself. These issues are not always permanent. Progress, especially through education, is possible. I hope today’s Unconference will help inform, enlighten, and clarify.”

Consider following WILLA on Twitter @WILLA_NCTE or like the WILLA Facebook page to stay up to date on information from our assembly, to read upcoming blog posts, and to get involved.

Feature Art Image: markchadwick

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