With a room filled with over 700 school educators from six school districts, PA Secretary of Education Dr. Khalid Mumin took the stage to offer his encouraging and fortifying keynote address.
The high-impact, multi-district professional development day focused on Building a Positive School Culture. With a palpable sense of camaraderie, educators heard takeaways from Secretary Mumin – who even took a turn at beatboxing from the stage – ranging from students’ need for a sense of belonging in their schools to setting high standards and expectations that are necessary for students to achieve more.
Deputy Secretary Carrie Rowe, previously a superintendent at Beaver Area School District, was also able to join the group for the morning. “We were excited to have Dr. Rowe and Dr. Mumin meet with the educators. Few have had the opportunity to hear directly from our education secretaries, and they told us how meaningful it was that both traveled here to meet with them. Many commented on how encouraged they were by Dr. Mumin’s address,” said the Consortium’s Executive Director, Jackie Foor.
Participants also heard from Dr. Gina Gomez de la Cuesta, founder and director of Play Included, as well as panelists who reflected on the need to put energy towards teacher diversity, facilitated by Gina Evans from the McElhattan Foundation.
The panelists reminded everyone that effective teacher recruitment and retention means paying attention to teacher needs, teacher voice, mentorship, and starting earlier with why it is great to be a teacher. All teachers need to know they are valued. This theme was front and center for the hundreds of educators in the room representing Clairton City, East Allegheny, Penn Hills, Steel Valley, Wilkinsburg, and Woodland Hills School Districts.
While rare, the districts involved find immense value in coming together. Both research and experience point to the need for teachers to connect with one another to grow in their profession. Building on that evidence, breakout sessions for the day were primarily run by educators for educators on topics relevant to their work.
Eddie Willson, Assistant to the Superintendent at Woodland Hills School District and a primary organizer for the event, pointed out, “An educator who learns about a best practice from another educator is far more likely to embrace that practice than they are if it’s presented by a vendor, or as a directive from a supervisor. Every teacher wants to do what’s best for their students, and this experience gives them the opportunity to learn new ways to do good things from people doing the same work, and experiencing the same challenges, every day.”
No event is seen as valuable if it means nothing the moment educators step back into their daily routines. Willson reflected, “Each year, principals and teachers message me directly following the multi-district PD with new ideas they want to try. Teachers begin implementing a lot of what they hear right away, and the joy is immediate in their classroom. Knowing that this experience allows space for educators to grow, learn, and implement new and fresh ideas in their practice is what it’s all about.”
It’s safe to say that Secretary Mumin couldn’t agree more. He concluded his remarks by reminding us that teachers are conduits of hope, and often the number one advocates, for their students. He also reminded us: “Never, ever count a student out. Never let someone else count your students out.”