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National Network for Educational Renewal 2021 Conference

              From November 3rd to the 5th, the National Network for Educational Renewal (NNER) hosted their conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, bringing together member organizations to discuss the collaboration and partnerships that have been key in these difficult times. The majority of the conference focused on what it meant to return to some of the mission values that have been key to NNER and the various settings across the nation. There were also various training sessions to discuss the aspects of teacher preparation that are key to promoting a strong future for K-12 education. Lastly, the Wyoming School-University Partnership (WSUP) presented on a comprehensive history of the work being done in Wyoming and the goals for the future. Throughout the conference, the focus remained on what it meant to work towards educational renewal in present times.

              During the conference, the keynote speakers each described the partnerships they had established in their areas and why this work was so important. Two retired Deans of Education, Dr. Renee Middleton and Dr. Michael Dantley, spoke what it meant to establish relationships with school districts that had never felt included in the discussion of education and teacher preparation. An important message that Dr. Middleton left with is that K12 and higher education are not separate entities and it is important to come together because that is how the strongest voice is created. Dr. Michael Dantley mentioned that he sometimes is upset with some of the previous and current issues in education, but he often reminds himself that these strong feelings come from the fact that he does care so much about what opportunities are present for students.

              On November 5th, some of the staff from Dayton STEM School spoke about a club that was created by the students and supported by the various teachers and counselors. This school has a racially diverse student and staff population, and many of the students felt like they could not discuss the current issues in America in a place of open dialogue. By allowing students to develop a club to discuss race and race-related issues, they felt that there was more open conversation around these topics for students of various racial backgrounds. The staff members and counselors helped students by talking with them about how they could reach other people in the school and community. This presentation also had the voices of some of the club members to showcase that these young people were imagining what the future of the club could look like as well as discussing some of the feelings they have had since joining the club.

              The last presenter was a sociology professor named Amaha Sellassie who talked to everyone about the term ‘collaborative hope.. He has spent his entire career mobilizing community organizations and assisting others in ensuing their voice is heard among the planning groups. One of the most influential parts to his conversation is the African proverb ‘I am because we are,’ which has guided all of his professional work. He mentioned that there is great strength in dialoguing with community members so that professionals are also learning alongside the community members. A teacher preparation program that works alongside him also has benefited from learning techniques to co-create classrooms and identify student values. These keynote speakers highlight the importance of partnerships as well as the ways in which NNER members are working to fully engage and support students on their road to becoming considerate and critical citizens in the U.S. democracy.

              Beyond these partnerships, there were also opportunities to learn more about other teacher preparation programs that are part of the NNER network. One such program at Fort Hays State University mentioned what it means to encourage leaderships among teacher candidates. In their program, they had teacher candidates who had some difficulty with feeling as though they were not fully prepared to support students with some of their everyday issues. Some of these everyday issues that students experience include racial discrimination or discrimination based on other factors, poverty, and trauma. Thus, they worked with some of their professors to create a student organization which had the role of searching for resources and educational/community knowledge to better understand what it meant to support students experiencing these various circumstances. During this work, they also were able to bring to the classroom what they learned, which helped other students who may not have been aware of some of the resources and guidelines.

              Another program highlighted the work that was being done to attract potential teachers to rural and low-income areas. Winthrop University was awarded a grant that allowed them to start a program called NetSERVE which was designed to attract professionals with a Bachelor’s degree into the teaching field. Basically, this was an internship program that had a certain amount of time devoted to fast-tracking the professional through the Master’s in Teaching program. The coordinators of the program mentioned that they would reach out to rural school districts, and see if there were individuals at the district without an Education degree background who might be interested in getting the education and experience needed to become a teacher. This program was split up in a way so that the professionals would spend half a year learning about the community and developing a strong knowledge set through the curriculum offered. The next half of the year they would be able to student teach at the school. From then on, they would be guaranteed a contract of three years at the school that would hopefully lead the individuals to decide on staying at the school long-term. Program participants were given stipends throughout the year, and also had the support from the program coordinators when questioned arose surrounding Praxis, timesheets, lesson planning, etc. Other presentations discussed partnering with school districts earlier on to develop community knowledge and also building social emotional learning into the teacher education class format.

              An exciting piece to this year’s NNER conference was the fact that WSUP was awarded the opportunity to present on the history and future of the Partnership projects. This presentation could not have happened without the Partnership program staff as well as the involvement from Dr. Paige Fenton-Hughes (Converse County School District #1 Superintendent, WSUP Governing Board Chair) and Dr. Ben Moritz (Director, Wyoming Community College Commission). The speakers mentioned what it meant to go beyond the tri-partite model (College of Arts and Science, College of Education, K-12 school districts) to meet the state needs. In a rural state with only one university and seven community colleges, it is much more beneficial to include other organizations that are making key differences in education (e.g. Wyoming community colleges and the Wyoming Community College Commission, Wyoming Department of Education, Wyoming Education Association, Professional Teaching Standards Board). There is great need in the state of Wyoming to unify these voices so that students feel better supported in each transition they make in the Wyoming education system. One of the benefits to a model that has expanded partnerships is that it also provides avenues for getting information from one organization to the next in a way that is reliable and consistent. A note that was made to audience members is that it may be difficult to first identify each organization who may have a place at the education planning table, but that is where collective brainstorming among the current partnering organizations is crucial. This session was able to illustrate the history of WSUP as well as the hopes for the future, which is in clear alignment with the entirety of the 2021 NNER Conference.

              This conference showed how there are so many who are working to improve the state of education in the United States and demonstrated how many teacher preparation programs are working to produce teachers who will be the supportive guides for the nation’s youth.
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Phone: 307-766-3274

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