Tuesday, July 29, 2014

ISEA Summer Leadership Conference

"There are things known and things unknown and in between are the doors." ~ Jim Morrison

This quote shared today by Sarah Brown Wessling (2010 Iowa Teacher of the Year & National Teacher of the Year) captures the idea of teacher leadership, the focus of the Iowa State Education Association's Summer Leadership Conference (#iseasc14) held on July 28-29, 2014 in Altoona, Iowa.

I didn't honestly know what would happen at this conference, who I would meet, or what it would be like. My local education association recommended it as a great conference to attend, and since it was a FREE two-day conference FIVE MINUTES from my house, how could I say no?

If I've learned anything from reading about the amazing conferences some of my PLN friends have attended this summer, it is that making connections with others is one of the best take-aways. Since I walked in by myself, one of the first things I did was to bravely ask if I could join another couple of ladies that had already taken their seats at a table. To make a long story short, we ended up spending most of the day talking & sharing what we had learned and by the end of the day we had exchanged names and emails ~ thanks Lindsey and Jill from West Des Moines. :)

There were a variety of speakers & leaders from Iowa and beyond that provided many interesting keynotes and small workshops. The food was amazing as well (did I mention it was free?). Joyce Powell, NEA Executive Board Member from New Jersey, said something that resonated with me. She said that we became educators to make a difference. She also asked if we were willing to stand up and be counted.

My favorite session on Monday was about the Core Curriculum (or the Iowa Core as we call it in our state). The speakers were Tania Johnson (2013 Iowa Teacher of the Year) and Jane Schmidt (2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year). On Sunday, July 20th I was able to watch the #IAedchat LIVE Google Hangout and online Twitter chat, during which I was able to "see" & listen to Jane online and even tweet a question to her. But she's even more amazing in person and I can tell she has a great heart for her students and colleagues. I also had a great time talking with her and teachers from her school at lunch on Tuesday. Tania and Jane provided ideas on professional books & online resources for teachers and discussed these key points:
       *the focus is on learning, not materials
       *the Core is not a "curriculum"
       *expectations will need to be raised as we dig deeper
       *we need to help our students cite textual evidence and validate sources
       *consistency is key
       *we need to work toward proficiency, complexity, and independence
       *the Core will challenge us to be more innovative

Monday evening we were able to hear from Dr. Bill Withers, a professor at Wartburg College. He focused on the topic of CHANGE and proactive, visionary, & active leadership. He said there will never be "calm waters" in education again. We have to learn how to "shoot" the white water rapids and deal with the varying levels of change ahead. He also repeated two concepts that I've heard so many times lately:
        *It's all about RELATIONSHIPS
        *You don't need a position or title to LEAD
        *We need to lead change with both "oars" in, lead through service, and have passion and urgency.

On Tuesday, I was able to attend a session led by mentor induction leaders as well as a panel of beginning teachers (beginning their 2nd-5th year). It was really eye-opening to find out some of the statistics related to teacher burnout and turnover and how we as veteran teachers can help new teachers. It was helpful to hear from the beginning teachers themselves as they offered some advice and tips:
       *a great mentor is very important
       *regular meetings are essential
       *patience and listening are appreciated
       *help with the "little things" isn't such a little thing
       *even if you don't know the answer, you can guide us to other people/resources
       *trust is crucial
       *offer but don't push advice
       *having your own classroom is a huge reality check - be there for your mentee

Next I was able to dig a little deeper into learning about myself as I went to a session entitled "Identifying and Leveraging Your Leadership Style" moderated by two trainers from the Center for Teaching Quality in North Carolina. We completed a self-assessment, identified our leadership style, discussed the implications of our style in teaching and working with others, and completed a task where we had to take on the role of a leadership style in which we had a weakness. It was helpful to identify and learn more about styles of leadership. (I possess the "Empathy" style, with "Analytical" in second with a one-point difference). That's SO me.

It was amazing to hear from Sarah Brown Wessling at the luncheon today. She had so many great ideas to share besides the fact that she is such a seasoned speaker and educator - you can't help but be inspired. I also attended her session immediately following the luncheon about using videos to propel professional growth. Among the pages of notes that I took, these were a few of my favorite take-away's:
       *Shift from a focus on the "task" to a focus on the "purpose"
       *We need to make the implicit --> explicit
       *Projects need purpose, meaning, and an audience
       *Saying "yes" to something means saying "no" to something else
       *You should feel pulled to change, not pushed
       *There is a gap between the ideal classroom we envision and the reality that walks in the first day. That's ok because the GAP is where kids learn. If there is no gap, we need to figure out how to create one. (Wow that was huge)
       *The truth about innovation is that it often comes at the price of isolation
       *Uncommon teaching means messy hands
       *Standards do not equal standardization

One of the things Sarah shared that I thought was very interesting was the fact that while she was on her year-long "tour" as National Teacher of the Year, many people asked if she was really going to "go back to her classroom" and after being asked so many times she started to say, "No." She wasn't going to go BACK to her classroom, she was going to go FORWARD to her classroom. This is a big shift in thinking.

This is how I'm internalizing it --- As we think about going back to school and back to our classrooms - we need to remember not to go back to old thinking and old ways, but instead go forward to our classrooms with a renewed sense of passion, purpose, and pride in what we do and how it affects our students.

These were just some of the highlights of the two-day conference. Above all, I'll remember the amazing educators that are working so hard in our state. I hope to attend next year and bring along more of my colleagues to share in the learning and fun.


  1. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post, Jen. Thanks for sharing. There are so many great nuggets in here--don't go BACK, move forward and the GAP concept. So true. Bummed to miss this great conference but grateful you shared it out. Thanks!!!

  2. Sounds like an amazing conference! I love the idea of going "forward" rather than "back" to school. I never intend to do things exactly the same when school starts again. Thanks for sharing!