The value of establishing strong relationships with students was a strong theme as hundreds filled Town Hall for stories about education.

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The Education Lab team at The Seattle Times didn’t have a particular theme in mind when it put out a call for speakers for Ignite Education Lab, an evening of lightning-fast storytelling on schools and learning.

Even the topics of the chosen presenters didn’t seem that similar. But once they were onstage, many of their stories focused on the value of relationships — between teachers and students, parents and children, and among everyone involved with schools.

The event featured 11 five-minute talks on subjects including teacher burnout, restorative justice and the meaning of student success.

The speakers were chosen from about 60 applicants. The Education Lab team chose 10, and asked readers to vote on the 11th. Readers chose Domonique Meeks, who shared a story about how he’s trying to improve the number of opportunities for students in South Seattle to learn about science, math, engineering and technology.


Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

· Find out more about Education Lab  

The other speakers included Teresa Scribner, a media teacher at Seattle’s Cleveland High, who talked about how she became a role model in an unexpected way — through her hair.

When she decided to wear her hair in a natural Afro about a year ago, she feared students wouldn’t treat her with as much respect. She called it “the day of reckoning.”

Instead, a student, noticing her new style, asked her to wear it the same way at graduation because “us black women have to stick together.” Scribner realized her hair offered her a new and better way to relate to her students, especially her black students.

“The moment I was able to let my hair down was when I was able to let students in,” she said, to applause.

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Parent Alex Alviar talked about the educational value of playing board games with his children — and also how to know when to break the rules. Physician Jody McVittie spoke about rethinking school discipline.

Others talked about different teaching experiences. Jordan Taitingfong talked about the importance of inclusion, which she sees in her work at the Experimental Education Unit, which has classrooms with a mix of typically developing students and students in special education.

Shalini Miskelly relayed her experiences as a teacher of color, and Ted Cohn talked about the sometimes unsung joys of being a teacher.

Omari Amili, who spent time in prison before changing his life with the help of a college education, works to help other former prisoners do the same.

In those talks and others, the value of relationships emerged again and again, with Rachel Wiley talking about the teacher who helped her care enough about herself to go to college, and then become a teacher, too — and teacher Lyon Terry sharing a story about how one fourth-grader illustrated the kind of social skills he’s trying to engender in all his students.

Nicholas Bradford, who founded the National Center for Restorative Justice, spoke about the benefits of conflict and how it can better improve relationships. When he was growing up, he said, his father equated conflict with people not loving each other. But conflict, he said, and moving toward a vulnerable space, can be the best measure of courage.

“It was really scary for him, it’s scary for a lot of us, but I think moving forward conflict is really what love is about,” he said.

Then, he stepped off the stage and proposed to his girlfriend, Jamie Johnson.

“I’m not usually one for grand gestures, but I thought I would make a grand gesture in front of hundreds of people,” he said afterward.

This is the second year The Seattle Times has hosted an Ignite event. Master of ceremonies Mozart Guerrier, the executive director of 21 Progress, was a speaker last year.

Videos of the talks will be available on the Education Lab site later this week.