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5 Big Conversations to Expect at SXSW EDU (Plus, an Exciting Debut From EdWeek)

Tens of thousands of educators, philanthropists, advocates, and journalists will descend upon Austin, Texas, next week for the SXSW EDU conference. While there, they will discuss the biggest—and thorniest—issues facing educators and students.

One highlight: Education Week will release an ambitious new project on the teaching profession at the conference on March 6. The State of Teaching is a new annual report that contains exclusive national data on the teaching profession, vivid reporting from inside classrooms, and resources for school and district leaders.

Other sessions at the March 4-7 conference will tackle philosophical questions about teaching and learning, examine the role of emerging technologies in schools, and showcase new equity-minded initiatives. The robust conference agenda offers insights into the themes and topics that education stakeholders are most interested in.

Here are five big questions that will be addressed at this year’s conference—and will likely remain in the national conversation for some time. Plus, a little recommended reading.

1. How can we make teaching a more sustainable career?

The teacher workforce is in the midst of a critical moment: Morale is low, and the strength of the pipeline is in question. Fewer people are entering the field than a decade ago, and more people are eyeing the exit door.

Several sessions at SXSW EDU will be devoted to finding solutions. Education stakeholders will discuss how school leaders can help teachers feel more respected and empowered as professionals—which could include more leadership opportunities and staffing models like team teaching designed to make the job less isolating.

Recommended reading: Could Reimagining Teaching Help Teachers Love Their Jobs More? Here’s How

2. How can we help solve the youth mental health crisis?

Among the most pressing issues facing educators today is the demand for youth mental health needs. Rates of depression and anxiety in teenagers have increased significantly over the past decade, as have thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts, and actual suicides among young people.

Conference attendees will discuss potential solutions, such as prioritizing mental health support for babies and toddlers, investing in youth sports, and teaching students how to navigate complicated feelings about climate change.

Recommended reading: Why America Has a Youth Mental Health Crisis, and How Schools Can Help

3. What’s next for AI?

It’s been a little more than a year since ChatGPT exploded on the scene, igniting conversations about how generative artificial intelligence can—and should—be used in classrooms, by both students and teachers. Many teachers, however, remain skeptical of AI-driven tools.

Many sessions at SXSW EDU will focus on how AI—and other emerging technologies, like immersive reality—can be used as a tool for learning. Other conversations at the conference will focus on how AI can be used fairly and safely.

Recommended reading: Schools Are Taking Too Long to Craft AI Policy. Why That’s a Problem

4. How can schools better implement evidence-based reading instruction?

It wouldn’t be an education conference without discussion of the “science of reading.” Aligning early-reading instruction with evidence-based practices has been a major legislative priority in recent years, and many school districts are introducing new curriculum and professional development to that effect. But it’s not always an easy transition.

Sessions at the conference will highlight efforts from across the country to change the way teachers teach students how to read, and a keynote address promises to offer insights on how to make the science of reading more accessible and easier to implement.

Recommended reading: The ‘Science of Reading’ in 2024: 5 State Initiatives to Watch

5. How are political debates affecting educators and students?

This election year, schools are bracing for the continued influx of politics in education. School policies related to pronoun usage or other LGBTQ+ issues, curriculum about race and racism, and the content of books available in school libraries have all been hot-button issues in recent years.

Conference attendees will look for ways forward. For instance, school board members will share strategies on how to effectively maneuver politics while staying focused on educational outcomes. In another session, educators who faced discipline and/or negative online threats for their work will discuss ways to protect teachers from political attacks.

Recommended reading: Teachers Censor Themselves on Socio-Political Issues, Even Without Restrictive State Laws

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