Strengthening Leadership Strategies On Tap at NEA Summit

As educators all across the country work to tackle the most pressing issues facing public education today, a group of over 550 educational leaders convened this weekend to discuss solution-based and educator-led answers at the recent NEA East Leadership Summit held in Atlanta, Ga.

Participants at the NEA East Leadership Summit show off their completed digital passports, making them official "digital activists"

Educators from Arkansas to Louisiana to Maine eagerly came together to share ideas, sharpen their leadership skills, and learn what they can do to strengthen public education for both their students and fellow educators.

The NEA East Leadership Summit came on the heels of the NEA West Leadership Summit, held in Las Vegas, Nev., in mid-January. The 2014 Leadership Summits were both designed to provide unique leadership training for school and district leaders by pairing strategic planning and educator-led breakout sessions along regional concerns and ideas.

Breakout sessions at the summit focused on empowering teachers to lead their schools and districts through collaborative and transformative measures meant to strengthen the profession through a renewed focus on ground-up leadership.

Barbara Gray, an assistant principal from Tennessee, came to the summit to build her leadership skills and learn more about organizing and engaging educators within her school and district. She attended a session on how educators can develop strategic plans to transform low-performing schools for the better.

“The session I attended was about Great Public Schools (GPS) and the frameworks for improving schools for both students and teachers,” Gray says. “We talked about collaborating, delegating, and being advocates for public schools.”

Stephanie Bea, who serves as the at-large representative for education support professionals (ESPs) on the Tennessee Education Association’s board of directors, also attended the leadership summit to gain the skills she needed to further engage ESPs in Tennessee. Bea was concerned about the decrease in the number of ESPs within her local association after it merged with a neighboring association. Like Gray, she attended a session on GPS networking to learn the leadership skills necessary to engage her fellow ESPs.

“I felt that the skills I was going to get from this conference would help me go back and use the framework I needed to help get our ESPs back,” Bea says. “When I did the GPS networking I learned strategic planning and what it took to be a great leader, and how to go back and be open-minded to what our members need. We need to come up with a plan and show them that we have a plan and then be fearless with it.”

In addition to the breakout sessions, educators also participated in general sessions with the NEA leadership, held state meetings, and had the opportunity to work with their fellow association leaders on collaborative measures to bolster the message and strength of the local, state, and national associations.

One highlight of the summit was the digital media café, where educators had the opportunity to increase their digital profiles and their own association-based activism through social media. Educators received a ‘digital passport’ at the start of the summit that contained a list of ways for them to become more involved in online outreach. Those who successfully expanded their digital profiles received ‘NEA Digital Activist’ ribbons that they were able to attach to their name badges and proudly display throughout the summit.

Mavis Ellis, a member of the NEA board of directors from Maryland, poses with her completed digital passport at the NEA East Summit's digital media café.

Whether it was signing up for the GPS Network or the NEA Academy, or ‘liking’ the NEA Today Facebook page and contacting their local and state politicians about supporting public education, educators had a number of ways that they could expand their digital horizons. As a further incentive, educators who filled out their digital passport had the opportunity to win one of several fantastic prizes for successful completion of their activities.

The educators’ digital activism was on full display at the summit, as many participated through twitter using the hashtag #neasummit. A twitter board was set up to display tweets and re-tweets from the event, and a twitter all-star ranking showed off the top 10 educators live tweeting the event.

Mavis Ellis, a member of the NEA board of directors from Maryland, was one of the educators who successfully completed her digital passport. She says that she hopes the summit will give teachers the desire to go back to their schools and districts and utilize the skills they have discussed.

“Going back and implementing the strategies and best practices that we’ve heard about here is very important,” she says. “I hope that they carry the advocacy we’ve been talking about to their buildings, to their locals, and to their states in a variety of areas. One of the things that’s been shared quite a bit at this meeting are the types resources that NEA has to offer. There are funding opportunities, training opportunities. Some people are surprised by all of them, but I don’t think they should be. I think that just by joining the digital community of educators, each person will gain access to what they need.”

By fostering the necessity of collaboration and teacher leadership, participating educators showed their dedication to ensuring a quality education for all students.

“Those who can, teach,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said during the summit. “Those who can’t find a less significant profession.”