TEDx & TEDED: A darn good idea

by Dr. Sara Duvall, Lead for Media & Technology, Skyline AAPS District Library Department Chair; Secondary Curator, TEDxYouth@AnnArbor

Hello Texas School Librarians! I’m up here in Michigan where the crocus started blooming in February. A chance meeting in an airport shuttle after an ALA Conference connected me with Dorcas Hand, TASLTalks Editor. And here I am to offer you some Big Ideas.

School Librarians consistently follow research on the impact of their work on student achievement and the learning environment (​i.e. School Libraries Work, etc.).  We teach a curriculum that supports 21st century fluencies and stretches students to think critically and problem-solve.  Our impact is statistically significant even in an organization where we see students only once a week for an hour or randomly throughout the week.  As the District Chair for Secondary Library Services, I seek out ideas...lots of ideas.  Big ideas. Small ideas.  Ideas for how school librarians can ​create opportunities ​for any and all students to practice self-motivated, responsible inquiry along with the 21st century fluencies (​Lee Crockett & Global Digital Citizens Foundation) - opportunities beyond the release time I am required to provide for my colleagues. Opportunity.  That’s my focus these days. 

Opportunity.​  How does a school librarian create broad impact on student opportunity in the school, in the community, in the world? To answer your immediate question - No, my friends, it’s not a question that’s too big for us.  We have to think like teachers of the future.  We have to BE teachers of the future, today.  I keep this short poem hanging at my desk. I read it every day.
What is a teacher?
What is a teacher? ​ A guide, not a guard.
What is learning?​ A journey, not a destination.
What is discovery? ​ Questioning the answers, not answering the questions.
What is the goal? ​ Open minds, not closed issues.
What is a test? ​ Being and becoming, not remembering and reviewing.
What is learning? ​ Not just doing things differently, but doing different things.
What is teaching? ​ Not showing them what to learn, but showing them how to learn.
What is school?​ Whatever we choose to make it. 
Allan Glatthorn from ​Literacy Is Not Enough by Lee Crockett, Ian Jukes, Andrew Churches

I am inspired by Allan’s precise spare poetry.  I aspire to fulfill that vision in the practice of my profession, in the evolution of my school. 

Action.​ So, today I want to talk to you about just one of the BIG ideas that I use to create opportunity in our school, the community and the world for all students. No kidding.  This BIG idea touches all the standards - ALA, ISTE, Common Core, state, etc. It moves students up to “Transform” on the SAMR model of technology integration.  It stimulates my natural role as “a guide.”  It insists upon student choice and promotes self-motivated inquiry.  It gives Youth Voice a global platform and stimulates community participation at many levels.  All of this is outside of the classroom. Whew!  That asks a lot of a single good idea. Here’s the story. 

The Activism Committee of our Student Action Senate (student government) wanted to reach out to kids from the dozen or so public and private high schools in our town to create a dialog among youth and figure out a way to amplify youth voice to impact the future of our city.  I don’t know about you, but on my ​Student Learning Network Resources  page I have always linked “TED Talks - Ideas worth spreading” in the Open Coursework/Experts category.  I watch TED Talks often and recommend them to teachers as appropriate for the curriculum.  I curated an independent TED event for teachers in my district to share good ideas and future forward practice. I had a pretty clear idea of what it would take to organize a TEDx event. So, I put the idea of an independent TED event for, by, and about ​youth on the table.  I didn’t give an “assignment” or defend the idea. I didn’t, in fact, say another word.  The kids in the committee pulled out their devices and began collecting information on how to get a license for TEDx (x = independently organized TED event).  One of the kids projected his favorite TED talk. They began a discussion of how they could attract kids from every high school to an organizers committee.  Without me saying another word - they took flight with an idea that intrigued them. This flurry of research and discussion became TEDxYouth@AnnArbor.

Now in its fourth year, organizers are recruited to represent every high school (public and private). They form into sub-committees (Speakers, Tech, Hospitality, Marketing and Design). They plan and carry out every aspect of a one-day event according to the TED Guidelines.  They audition potential speakers from all the high schools (this year including middle schools) - all twenty speakers are students.  They mentor the speakers to develop the talks. The organizers recruit students to volunteer.  They speak with businesses, museums and the public library to set up active spaces for inquiry and exploration between sets of youth speakers. They train with the local Community Television Network to operate the cameras, direct the stage and record and edit the video for upload to the TED sponsored ​TEDx YouTube Channel.  They recruit musicians, dancers, poets - all youth.  They design the advertising, the set and themes. They make an introductory video. They decorate the venue and sell tickets.  They set up a webcast of the event 
(​webcast.tedxya2.org April 22, 8am - 4pm). They plan and execute advertising in print, on radio and online. Then they invite the community, their City Council Members, the Mayor, business leaders, the School Board, University of Michigan students and professors and other city leaders to come and listen to what they care about and what they think is important. The Youth Curator, usually an experienced senior, proposes and tracks the budget, holds the credit card and oversees the bank account, motivates grant-writing and fundraising, runs the weekly meetings and meets with each committee to track and oversee progress. I am the curator of record with TED, but I encourage the organizers to solve the issues that arise and point them toward resources. My standard response is, “I don’t know.  What do you think?”  Of course, I won’t let them leap off a cliff, but I do let them try out solutions until they find what works.  They keep detailed records each year so they can learn from past experience.  I look to their safety and encourage creative solutions. I sign papers when they need a legal signature. Other than that, I sit and watch and stand in awe of the capabilities and scope of interest of today’s youth. 

The enthusiasm is spreading.  This year we are launching our first ​TEDED Club at the elementary level.  The club meets for 13 weeks with a TED-planned curriculum to identify an idea the students care about and create a persuasive talk to share out.  The club experience culminates in a mini-TEDx event at the school with other students and families as the audience and the kids as the speakers. 

Okay.  TED.  That’s one BIG idea.  In my own recently launched blog, ​Invent the Future (http://www.a2saraduvall.com), I intend to highlight more big and small ideas - ideas that I’ve successfully tried in my ​iCommons and ideas that other brilliant school librarians share with me. Inventing the future of public education and school libraries is my passion. Follow my blog if you want to join the exploration. Also, follow me on Twitter ​@a2duvall

I want to leave my Texas colleagues with one last thought.  No matter our political biases, the students we guide today are the leaders of our democracy tomorrow.  ​Our work matters today as it never has before!​ Our role is to invent ways to expand our students’ experience, so that they can flex their 21st century skills into becoming ubiquitous.  To open minds not close issues. To guide not guard. To do different things than our predecessors to change the paradigm of school library services and promote what students actually need from their education today. We, individually and together, CAN make that difference.


  1. Excellent info and inspiring post. With appreciation from a Texas librarian

  2. An excellent post giving us much to think about and act upon. Thank you for challenging us to thing BIG!

  3. Thoughts to ponder. Thanks for the embedded links as I begin my exploration.