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
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
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