NEA Leadership Summit Brings Together Committed Educators

In order to improve public education, it’s essential for educators to be at the forefront of student-centered, union-led efforts to transform schools and improve the quality of their overall teaching profession for the better.

That’s the idea behind the National Education Association’s inaugural Leadership Summits, which are designed to bring together current, emerging, and future Association leaders who are committed to advancing public education.

This January 17-19, more than 850 educators from 26 states arrived in Las Vegas, Nev. for the 2014 NEA National Leadership Summit (West) Program. Energetic education leaders from Illinois to Alaska and Hawaii convened to discuss common themes of professional empowerment, teacher engagement, and impactful student-centered techniques for academic improvement. In February, a National Leadership Summit (East) will be held in Atlanta, Ga. to continue engaging educators in the eastern states.

MSNBC news anchor Richard Lui (right) leads a panel conversation with NEA President Dennis Van Roekel and Secretary-Treasurer Becky Pringle about the future, roles, and challenges facing today's union leaders. (Sewell Johnson/NEA)

The 2014 Leadership Summits, which were designed to provide a unique and different leadership experience for school leaders, incorporate strategic planning with educator-led breakout sessions and leadership ideas. By providing educators with the resources they need to propel public education forward—through hands-on, digital, and Association-led efforts—the goal is to maximize the potential for committed educators to enact meaningful changes in their schools and districts.

And, as National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel noted during his opening remarks of the summit, enacting change requires educators to also transform their approach to leading their profession.

“We are strong, passionate, and dedicated to our professions,” Van Roekel said. “However, change is our greatest leadership challenge and need in our association and public education today. Transformation and change are the only way for our association to be more relevant, thriving, and student-centered. Change isn’t coming, it’s here. There’s not an organization out there, where ‘change’ is not a constant.”

Over the three days of the summit, attending educators participated in a variety of sessions designed to provide them with the vision, purpose, and actions they need to take charge of public education. Using real life examples, educators met together to discuss and formulate solutions to every day challenges that they face. Among the summit’s attendees were a large group of young teachers looking to become more involved in leading their profession.

“An experience like this is irreplaceable, because there is almost no other place where you can be in the same room with individuals that share the same passions and the same goals for public education,” says Arizona educator Elizabeth Leivas, one of several members who attended the summit from the state’s Educators Soaring With Aspiring Goals (eSWAG) group that works to engage teachers 35 years old and younger.

One of the summit’s highlights was the Digital Media Café, which engaged educators to utilize online resources and improve their social media skills. Each attending educator was given a passport of activities, which they were asked to complete before the end of the summit. These activities ranged from signing up for the NEA Academy and Great Public Schools Network, to pledging to contact state legislatures and following NEA on Twitter and Facebook. As an incentive to broaden their own academic horizons, educators had the opportunity to win one of several fantastic prizes for successfully completing their passport activities.

Educators at the summit's Digital Media Cafe registered for professional development resources and sharpened their social media skills. (Sewell Johnson/NEA)

A common theme throughout the summit was a focus on enacting change through collaboration. Educators, many of whom were concerned with improving student achievement in their own schools, attended organizing and breakout sessions that centered on educators working together with their colleagues, administrators, and other invested stakeholders to transform their schools.

With a focus on educator-to-educator contact, and purpose-driven and solution-based leadership, the sessions helped ignite sparks of creativity in the participating educators for them to take back to their own schools and districts. By fostering leadership and the value of collaborative change, educators were able to learn about the tools they need to take charge of their profession and improve student success.

“While you are here, I want you to think about the way you lead,” President Van Roekel told the attendees. “What does it look like?  How bold is it? How much does it need to change? What do you need? What are you willing to do to change? What is your role in improving professional practice or enhancing student learning? The journey begins here at the summit but it does not end here. The discussion and sharing of ideas and best practices begins here but it does not end here. Our need to change begins here but it does not end here.”