Theme & Strands

Conference Theme: The Dynamics of Difference

Colloquially, we refer to difference in multiple ways. It can refer to a quality of being unlike or dissimilar from a standard or norm. It can refer to a disagreement or argument about something meaningful while also referring to the cause of the disagreement. Difference could even describe a significant change or effect on a situation. Invariably, we encounter difference on a daily basis, yet, we much less often consider how standards, norms, and meanings give context to these dynamics of difference.

As educators both within and outside of school contexts, we know educational spaces, from Pre-K through higher education, are a crucible for these dynamics of difference. John Goodlad, recognizing the important role of schools to embrace the interactions, relationships, and interdependencies of local cultures and environments, asserts how “education is corrupted when the schools are expected to inculcate belief in certain values and traditions rather than promote open inquiry into them” (p. 64). While difference and conflict are a natural state of affairs, schools and educators are often encouraged to deny, ignore, and marginalize problems rather than confront and resolve them.

For over 30 years, the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) has led a central role in emphasizing the importance, in a democratic society, of supporting schools to go beyond the custodial functions and regulations of schools so that we develop in our citizens the wisdom necessary to “sustain in good health the delicate social and political ecology of the complex, moral community that is the United States of America” (Goodlad, p. 153).

The dynamics of difference have been with us since our county was born. How might we examine our differences as a sign of our vitality? How can we demonstrate that difference gives testimony to our resiliency? How does difference actually support and sustain democratic life? The 2019 NNER Annual Conference invites you to explore these crucial questions and engage in conversation and research that explores the Dynamics of Difference. The conference offers a venue for educators and public school constituents from various settings to share their ideas, their research, and their knowledge of best practices in relation to one of the three connecting strands described below.


Strand 1: Culturally Sustaining Teaching and Learning

“Any student who emerges into our culturally diverse society speaking only one language and with a monocultural perspective on the world can legitimately be considered educationally ill-prepared.” -Sonia Nieto

As educators within and outside of school contexts, how do we effectively respond to, describe, and plan for issues that arise in diverse environments? How can we be part of a movement to ensure that our early childhood centers, schools, colleges, and universities are both providing support for children’s community languages and literacies, as well as assisting their engagement with dominant culture’s language and literacies? As Paris (2012) suggests,

“…. culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster – to sustain – linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling” (p. 95). How are educators seeking to address difference in their settings as part of this “democratic project”?

Strand 2: Differences Between Expectations and Reality

The inherent conflicts and tensions of democracy are also a reminder that democratic living does not lead to the resolution of problems. Often times, those who make policies and orchestrate practices, regardless if they are in universities and administration, state legislatures and boards, or the federal government, are in conflict with the learning we know young people need to be successful in society. Policies and mandates are created with certain expectations, but how it is practiced and implemented in reality proves starkly different. It is imperative, and a tenet of NNER’s work, to ensure policies, mandates, and teaching practices demonstrate the connection between a democratic teaching and a strong democracy. Teaching is the bulwark of our democracy. How are going to have our voices heard, and how we are going to be organized to assert the voice of our profession?

Strand 3: Differences in the Network

The National Network for Educational Renewal’s moral dimensions and Agenda for Education in a Democracy (AED) have remained relatively unchanged for over three decades. Yet, the public education landscape continued to evolve, and as a Network, we’ve experienced an influx of new ideas, new leaders, and explored new ways of remaining connected. Over the course of three decades, what dynamics did we expect to arise, and why? What dynamics do we expect to arise in the future? The process of posing and discussing these questions about the Network are aimed to unearth critical answers (or offer more questions) about how we continue to respond to the dynamics of difference in our member setting as well as across the organization in support of a robust and thriving future of NNER.

Goodland, J. 1984. A place called school. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Paris, D. (2012). Culturally sustaining pedagogy: A needed change in stance, terminology, and practice. Educational Researcher, 41(3), 93-97.


The following session types will be offered at the annual conference. The description of each includes information about what is to be submitted as part of the proposal.

Roundtable Discussion

Description: Roundtables are 45-minute oral presentations with discussion with attendees seated around a table. Roundtable presentations typically include 15 minutes of presentation, followed by 30 minutes of discussion and feedback. Roundtable presenters should bring targeted questions to pose to others at the table in order to learn from and with those attending. Roundtables are an ideal format for networking and in-depth discussion on a particular topic. The abstract should detail the focus of the presentation and the way(s) in which it contributes to the theme/strand. Please note that roundtable discussions are not an appropriate format for presenters that anticipate more than 15-20 people in attendance.

Poster Session

Description: This formal graphic presentation of your topic, displayed on poster board, offers an excellent opportunity for gathering detailed feedback on your work and reporting on evaluation results. Posters will be presented during our poster exhibition (TBD). Posters should NOT be used to advertise a product or service. Like a paper, a poster abstract should detail the focus of the presentation and the way(s) in which it contributes to the conference theme/strand. NNER will provide the backing boards and pins for posters, and presenters are responsible for providing all items to be attached. Posters must fit within 44” x 44” display, and we strongly recommend bringing copies of a one-page handout about your work to distribute to those interested.

Presentation (30 min. – 60 min.)

Description: Presentations are formal sessions by one or more individuals with expertise in a stated field, including K-12 education, higher education, arts and sciences, and the community in general. The individual(s) share(s) their research or innovations through a lecture following by response to audience questions. For a 30-minute presentation, please reserve 10 minutes for audience questions, and for 60-minute presentation, please reserve 15 minutes. The abstract should detail both the background(s) of the presenter(s) as well as the importance of the material that will be presented. Most presentations will include audio-visual aids that illustrate key points and a computer, LCD projector, and screen are provided in each room in which a presentation is held.