Thinking a Little Differently at EdRev 2016

I have two amazing kids who learn and think differently, and I’ve been a parent advocate for them for almost a decade. Part of our journey together has been all of us learning to embrace our differences. Along the way, I’ve come to cherish and value my kids just the way they were made.

But spending a weekend at EdRev 2016 has challenged me to do more. It’s challenged me to think even more broadly about what kids like mine can really do and to consider the value they bring to the world around them.

EdRev is an annual conference produced by the Parents Education Network (PEN) in partnership with Understood. (PEN is also a founding partner of Understood.) It takes place every spring at AT&T Park in San Francisco. I was there as both a parent and an adult with learning and thinking differences.

It was my third EdRev, and this year’s theme, “A Day to Think a Little Differently,” really hit home. Here are two things I learned at EdRev 2016:

1. Student Voices Are the Strongest (and Loudest!).

The voice that always stands out the most for me at EdRev is the student voice. This year was no different.

Students from across the country come to EdRev to connect and collectively make their voice heard. Kids from the group SAFE set the tone for the event every year. (SAFE stands for Students Advisors for Education.)

This year, SAFE student Ben Gurewitz took the mic during the opening session. Ben led the EdRev crowd in a roaring “Stand Up, Speak Out” chant. As he called “Stand Up,” students and adults alike chanted back “Speak Out!” in waves. Across the stadium, the energy picked up as students bravely shouted out together, proud to publicly embrace their learning differences.

Later, the crowd watched a video of teen Nichole Saltzman singing about her (LD). She wrote and recorded the song herself. She reminded everyone that students not only have an important voice—but they know how to use it in unique ways, too. It was powerful and inspiring.

2. Throw Away Your Parenting Plan and Call for Heroes

Probably the most profound “different thinking” I did at EdRev was during dyslexic author Max Brooks’ keynote speech. He urged parents and students to look past stereotypes and embrace learning and thinking differences.

Brooks boldly told parents “to take the plan you had for your parenting and your kids—and throw it away.” He encouraged parents to adapt their expectations for their kids’ needs. He called on adults to develop plans that work for kids and make room for their differences.

Brooks also challenged adults with learning and thinking differences to “come out of the closet.” We must own our learning differences, he said. Taking this step is essential, he said, so that kids have a diverse group of thinkers to look up to as heroes and mentors.

This tweet shows a picture of Brooks and a quote from his speech:

"She met with all my teachers & tried to educate educators." -Max Brooks on his mom advocating for him. #EdRev2016 — Understood (@UnderstoodOrg) April 16, 2016

As an adult with LD, this call for role models to “own it” really impacted me. I felt even more compelled to stand up and speak out—and to encourage my kids to do the same.

One the most emotional moments at EdRev came during a tribute to the late Angelo Sangiacomo. He was a long-time PEN supporter who passed away last year. His wife Yvonne briefly took the stage to honor him. In simple words, Yvonne reminded us how she thinks differently about learning differences: “It’s a blessing, it’s not a bad thing.”

Yvonne and her late husband had 7 children and 13 grandchildren together. Many of them have learning and thinking differences. Their family has been part of the “think different” movement for three generations.

But my favorite part of EdRev 2016? It was when the students asked everyone to come up with their own call to action. Here’s mine. What’s yours?

My *call to action* from #EdRevUp #EdRev2016 #LDProudtoBe @pensf @UnderstoodOrg — Lyn Pollard (@LynPollard) April 15, 2016

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About the author

About the author

Lyn Pollard is a writer and mom to two kids who learn differently.