Having attended National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) annual conferences nearly every year since 1979, I can easily attest to the adaptive nature of our national organization to provide quality sessions that present innovative approaches, inspiring speakers, and valuable opportunities to network with diverse colleagues facing similar and different challenges.
This year, the conference is a joint event in collaboration with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). In bringing together school leaders from Pre-K through grade 12, the National Principals Conference has the potential to provide educators with multilevel perspectives, proven strategies and collegial sharing that is likely to expand our ability to find innovative solutions to our building, district, and statewide educational issues in unprecendented ways.
Learning from colleagues about educational challenges, successes, and creative solutions has always been a highlight and constant motivator for me to attend the national conference each year. Returning to a school district with these new perspectives enabled me to share-out-of-the-box thinking that is already working some places in the U.S. Once at a principals’ meeting, after sharing some perspectives, a middle school principal commented that I always had new ideas that seemed to address issues new to him. It was then that I realized how important it is to actively engage with new colleagues to learn different ways to rethink how our educational systems can grow to meet the needs of every student.
Sometimes, the “takeaways” are very simple yet can have a profound effect on school issues and learning. Decades ago, while chatting with principals from Alaska at lunch, they shared a strategy to help ensure students ate their lunch and not hurry to recess. Their schools simply reversed the order to have recess first and then lunch. When I returned with this idea, teachers were intrigued with the potential advantages. Years later, this model became the norm in many schools. Sometimes the obvious is difficult to imagine!
When I retired, the staff submitted ideas of what they wanted in their next principal. One of the qualities they appreciated from me was the wealth of new ideas I offered to address the complicated educational issues we faced. At one conference, Martha Rhea, a futurist working with NAESP, shared her insights on where the “new” or “revolutionary” thinking was happening. She simply shared that these ideas are happening now in many places. Some day they will become the new “norm.” I always look forward to learning new ways of approaching education from colleagues here and around the world.
This year, I’m intrigued with what’s happening at the national level regarding public education. The educational needs and expectations continue to grow while the resources are dwindling. Fewer high school graduates want to consider education as a career, causing severe shortages in many areas in the U.S. In the early 2000s, I was asked to speak on a panel about charter schools in Colorado. I believe there were three other states represented to share what was happening. There was a strong belief among attendees that this new concept would be minimal and not impact public education. Those of us experiencing such initiatives were not convinced. In 2006, the NAESP Board of Directors learned the futurist data showed that this movement was not going away and was likely to significantly influence education as we knew it.
At this conference, I again expect to be exposed to what I call “reality therapy” about how education needs to change to address the needs of every unique student. I’m reading Thomas Friedman’s book Thank You for Being Late, which speaks strongly of the importance of educating every child everywhere in the world as one of four compelling initiatives needed to bring this “world of disorder” into balance. The exponential growth of technology (for good and bad purposes) is clearly a driver for education, as we try to imagine what tomorrow’s learners will be like and how we need to prepare for them to be successful in a fast-changing world.
I look forward to learning from my colleagues as we continue to work together to ensure that all children are prepared for their future. May education continue to adapt to the needed changes. This conference of Pre-K–12 educational leaders will provide the multilateral, in-depth conversations, thought-provoking ideas, and networking necessary for continued development that we as educators need to ensure that we are the leaders of the continuous redesign of education.
I encourage you to register now and join me in Philadelphia this July!
Mary Kay Sommers is a retired elementary school principal and former NAESP president from Fort Collin, CO.