The NEA Summer Leadership Conference (SLC) broadened my knowledge as a preservice teacher through the expanse of informational sessions, networking opportunities, and community building activities. It opened my mind to countless possibilities that are available to me as a future educator. When I think back to my days spent in Washington, D.C., there are countless memories and lessons I could write about, but on the second day, one breakout session made an immense impact on me. It was titled “Engaging Members in a Brave New World.” It started with a question. Before I begin, I want you to contemplate on how you would answer this question. Take a few minutes to think about how it has applied to your life – past, present, and future. This is the question that was asked of me that I am now asking you:
How will you fit in?
So, how will you fit in? How will each of us as teachers fit into the educational profession? When I think of what it meant to fit in, it brought me back to high school. My hometown did not have a high school, which forced me to attend high school in a new town – meaning time to make new friends. I felt that I had to hide who I really was and I had to conform to the standards in this new high school. This is something numerous students face if they are forced into a new environment, and the experience is one that holds various outcomes – good and bad – for different people. But why did the presenters ask this of the preservice teachers? It may be that this question pertains to a past that I wish not to revisit, but to others, they may have reflected on it a different way.
Regardless, thinking back to this time when I struggled to fit in made me question, as teachers, don’t we want our students to be themselves? “Fitting in” shouldn’t revolve around conforming to the norms. No student is the exact same, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Every student has their own needs that educators need to meet and protect. This applies to teachers, as well; teachers should be themselves when they teach and teach how they want, and the NJSEA and NJEA association helps educators realize their values by exposing them to dissimilar perspectives from their own.
So, after reflecting on the session, I decided to extend the original question. Once again I ask you to answer another question, and it’s slightly different – not better, just different, like how all the students in our classes and future classes are diverse. The concept that no one is the same is something that the NEA SLC instilled in our brains, and it is something that the human race should try to grasp in the light of tragic events because our differences should not segregate us – they should unite us. By asking a new question, I’m not saying the presenters were wrong to ask their original question. I just would’ve asked it differently. And with that, my question is:
How will you fit into the teaching profession while still being your true self?
My question adds words that I felt were omitted from the first question. After reflecting on this question, I related it to one of my favorite Bible quotes. Please keep in mind, I’m not imposing any beliefs on anyone, but, for me, this quote answers this questions perfectly. Romans 12:2 states, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of mind.” As educators, we shouldn’t conform to the ordinary or the ever-present standardization. We shouldn’t just teach and grade and enjoy summers out of the classroom. Instead, we should continuously be finding ways to change and improve the teaching profession by being ourselves. Being leaders in the profession is the paramount way to give students the best education they deserve, but if we are ordinary, then nothing will ever change. There is a word being omitted from ordinary. Instead of being ordinary, seek to be extraordinary. To do that: Rise Strong and Dare Greatly.
- Rebecca Takacs, Fairleigh Dickinson University
What are your thoughts on the questions posed in this post?
There are no words that can adequately describe the well of emotions the moment I first stepped into the largest business meeting in the country. Seeing almost 10,000 preservice, active, and retired members gathered in Washington, D.C., was incredibly humbling, and being the President of NJSEA gave me the opportunity to contribute my voice, which was overwhelming and unforgettable.
Thinking back to that moment, I remember it started like a party – beach balls being bounced around and music playing. However, we quickly got down to business, and shortly “aye” and “no” filled the room as we persisted through Standing Rules, New Business Items, Amendments, and more.
We were also honored to host Hillary Clinton, and spirits were high that day. A massive crowd of supporters came in their “Educators for Hillary” shirts and cheered as they waved signs and banged thunder sticks in anticipation of her arrival. It was quite a spectacle to see a sea of blue banners.
The moment that was the most exciting for me, personally, happened on the last day of the RA. We were faced with what seemed like more business than we had completed in the previous three days. At the morning caucus, we were discussing New Business Items, and before I knew it, shockingly, an item had been opposed that positively affected the preservice program. I took it upon myself to question the rationale, and, with the help of the leadership team, we were able to reconsider the vote. I saw this as a major victory for our members, and it showed the power of the preservice voice. It seemed to truly change active members’ perception of us as pre-service members in the union and as voices at the RA.
I am so grateful to New Jersey and to all of our preservice members for giving me the opportunity I had at the NEA-RA. It is truly something I will never forget, especially one so early on as my time as President. I cannot wait to see the changes and impact this year’s NJSEA leadership team will accomplish.
- Ellen Bacon, Seton Hall University
“At this year’s NEA SLC in Washington D.C., I attended Keynote Speaker David Johns’ presentation ‘The White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.’ He discussed institutional racism in various schools and states, and it was truly eye opening for me. Oftentimes you do not realize that institutional racism is occurring in your schools, but hearing the perspective – the perspective of someone on the outside looking in – makes you realize this has, in fact, been happening all along. It is up to future teachers to help make a difference and make a real change.”
– Morgan Ivich, Seton Hall University
“While at the NEA SLC in Washington D.C., I came across the following quote: We are not in it for the income. We are in it for the outcome. This quote, to me, describes what it means to join the teaching career, as we care immensely about our students and want to help them grow, and it also unites us – preservice and current teachers – as a unique force to be reckoned with. It encourages all members to join together because together we can achieve our goal of enlightening, inspiring, and teaching our students.”
– Jennifer Fagan, Rowan University
“This was my third Summer Leadership Conference with NJSEA, and it was one of the most powerful conferences I have been able to attend. David Johns’s keynote presentation about institutional racism sparked meaningful conversation about inclusion and the need for teachers to recognize their own biases that they bring into the classroom. It initiated interactions and critical conversations between preservice and full-time members. In the future, I plan to work in an urban district, so the conversations I was able to take part in from this presentation were thought-provoking and powerful, and I plan to apply what I learned from this experience into a classroom of my own next year. At the SLC, each and every NJSEA will learn something important that they can apply in their pedagogy, and I encourage members to take advantage of this opportunity.”
– Melany Reyes, Fairleigh Dickinson University
“Being a chair and ambassador with NJSEA led to me becoming an NEA fellow, and being a fellow has led to so many opportunities that I would have never imagined. At this year’s SLC, I presented on my organizing fellowship for membership. Both NJSEA and NEA have taught me to take every opportunity that comes my way. Don’t be afraid to dream big, and you should never underestimate yourself and the power you have as a preservice educator.” – Samantha Selikoff, The College of New Jersey
“SLC this year taught me a lot about what it means to be a leader. Leadership is not about being a great public speaker or being the person in charge that tells everyone what to do. Being a leader means putting the needs of others at the forefront and standing up for those who do not have a voice. It means speaking up in difficult situations when unjust actions are taking place and being a role model for those around you. Some do not think they can be leaders or simply do not try to step out of their comfort zone to be one, but for those that do – they have the ability to rise strong and make a difference and be the change.” – Cassidy Burns, Seton Hall University
“This was my first time attending SLC and the Legacy Project, and it was remarkable. The experiences I had working collaboratively with preservice members from across the nation was invaluable. I gained many new perspectives to take with me through my educational career and future teaching. I hope to have more experiences through NJSEA like this one, and I would highly recommend it to other education majors out there.” – Ally Pruchnik, Stockton University
“At the SLC, there was a large social media presence and discussion about social media. Through this experience, I learned that while social media can be great for discussion, spreading ideas, and earning Professional Development, as educators we must always remember there is a fine line between our personal and professional life when it comes to social media. No post is worth losing your career.” – Nicole Breccia, The College of New Jersey
“This was my first time attending the NEA-SP SLC, and it was wonderful to have the opportunity to talk to numerous educators from varying backgrounds and experiences. Washington, D.C., was a fitting place for this conference as we all demonstrated our own leadership skills in the home of leadership itself, and it was especially powerful as the approaching presidential election is mere months away. There were various informational breakout sessions I attended that contained important knowledge for my future career, but the nightly monument walks were just as invaluable for me. I was one of the youngest and newest members at the SLC, and these walks helped me make priceless connections with members of the NJSEA group. I will never forget running through the pouring rain and crowding under a statue with not only NJSEA delegates but also Illinois delegates. From volunteering (and dancing) at the Legacy Project to witnessing the democratic process of the Representative Assembly in five runoff elections, I have learned an enormous amount about leadership that will stick with me through my educational career and future teaching. Every person matters – that is precisely what this conference has taught me about what it means to be in the field of public education.” – Kelly Donnelly, Rutgers University
“As a member of the NJSEA Delegation that attended the NEA-SLC in Washington, D.C., I was given the opportunity to actively participate in a conversation that addressed the ongoing issues of institutionalized racism within our schools across the United States. During this session, aspiring and current educators joined together to share their personal experiences of racial injustice, give insight on how to honor the diverse backgrounds of our students, and empower each other to help demonstrate anti-racist values. Through this event, I realized the great amount of courage that is necessary for teachers to advocate for student equality and combat institutional racism. It is an extraordinary responsibility that educators have to instill values of love and acceptance within students to help make this world a better, brighter, and safer place.” – Lian Refol, Montclair State University
“At the SLC, I had the chance to meet preservice educators from across the country, and it was truly awe-inspiring to be around so many people that are experiencing the same journey I am going through. I was able to make connections and now feel I have a strong group I can lean on for support. Exploring D.C. with new friends helped bring a sense of unity to the group, and we were able to learn more about our nation’s history, which will aid in us creating a better future for education as we can include real world issues and history into our classroom discussions.” – Allison Plishka, Montclair State University
Were you at SLC? What were you experiences and takeaways?
Technology is constantly advancing, and our students use technology at younger ages than some of us as preservice educators ever have. I remember getting my first cell phone – a prepaid, flip-phone – in seventh grade. It. Was. Awesome. But now students are coming in to fourth grade with the latest iPhone model. So what can we do to keep up with and include technology in the classroom, and what technology is open to us as educators?
When I student taught at Robbinsville High School, I was fortunate enough to have technology available. As the school tried to transition into a reading/writing workshop format for English, I tried to include technology into our daily activities. The typical day began by teaching students grammar skills through PowerPoint, a Microsoft program most teachers are familiar with. After this activity, they had time to free write, and I would play music softly in the background as they wrote. Mostly, the music was instrumental only, as lyrics could easily distract some students; however, during the holidays, the students begged for Christmas tunes. I used Pandora for this because my cooperating teacher had a paid account, which meant no pesky commercials, but YouTube and Spotify (free or paid versions) are also options.
A resource I frequently made use of was Prezi. Other than the warm-up grammar lessons, all of my presentations were formed on Prezi, and the students seemed to be more engaged the more I customized. Prezi does take slightly longer to set up than a PowerPoint, but the results can be much more engaging. I found it easier to drop in videos, pictures, and links. My cooperating teacher and I tried having the students use Prezi for a book club group project, which garnered mixed results. Some students found the process easy if they used the program before, but students that were new to Prezi often became confused and sometimes frustrated. This program is definitely one that requires time for trial and error.
Technology can be great when utilized in the right way at the right times. Here is a list of more applications I used while student teaching:
Some of us are lucky enough to have technology at our fingertips – from SMART boards to 1-1 Chrome Books or iPads. Others are not that fortunate. We have to work with what we are given, true, but never give up on finding ways to access technology and bring it into the classroom. Students will appreciate your effort and technology knowledge.
As technology grows, we have to take a part in making sure our students leave school knowing how to be a part of the 21st century, which means they need to know how to navigate technology – even if they don’t or can’t access it at home – because most professions require these skills. If we are comfortable using technology and troubleshooting, our students can learn to do the same.
- Chelsea Hahn, The College of New Jersey
To learn more about my student teaching experience, visit: http://clhahn330.wix.com/chelshahn-eportfolio
What experiences or lack of have you had with technology in your own teaching career? What technology did you use? What worked and what didn’t? Share your thoughts!
"Being an ambassador has provided me opportunity to network with other preservice and full-time educators throughout New Jersey and see things from different perspectives, which has helped me become more knowledgeable about classroom practices and policies. It has allowed me so many opportunities, such as attending the NEA-SLC in D.C., that aren’t offered in regular college of education courses." - Morgan Ivich Seton Hall University
"Being an ambassador and an active member of NJSEA has been an incredible and irreplaceable part of my learning and growth during my first year of college. I had the opportunity to attend several preservice workshops that have sparked my interest and increased my knowledge on various educational topics. Additionally, I have met many extraordinary future educators, and I’ve greatly enjoyed discussing our shared passion. It is important to lifelong learning as a teacher, and being an ambassador not only allows for but also encourages personal growth." - Amanda Rebelo, Seton Hall University
"Being an ambassador exposed me to opportunities and responsibilities I wouldn't have known about otherwise. I have gained professional confidence and a network of colleagues throughout the past two years. Over the years, the fellow peers and teachers I have worked alongside of have greatly impacted my professional awareness, and I hope to continue making an impact in their professional growth as I continue working with NJSEA, as well." - Courtney Earnest, Rider University
"Being an ambassador has given me so many amazing opportunities that I otherwise wouldn't have had. I've been able to attend various professional development events with other like-minded preservice educators and made connections with both preservice and full time members. Through events and networking, NJSEA has also given me countless new tools for my educational toolbox, allowing me to grow as an educator, learner, and activist." - Kalie Mehaffy, The College of New Jersey
"Being an ambassador for NJSEA has provided me the chance to network, immerse myself in educational issues, and grow both professionally and personally. My time as an ambassador has been marked with exciting traveling opportunities, such as the Summer Student Leadership Conferences in Orlando and Washington D.C. There have also been scholarships to attend informative workshops on interesting topics, such as special education and urban schools. All of these events have included chances to form relationships with preservice educators like myself from campuses all over New Jersey. Being an ambassador has increased my confidence and helped prepare me to make the transition from a college student to a full-time NJEA member and teacher." – Deanna Kollar, Rowan University
"Being an ambassador has opened new doors for me and exposed me to opportunities that I would have never known existed. I am very grateful for the people I met along the way and the professional development I have gained; for instance, at the leadership retreat, I was able to connect with other ambassadors, step out of my comfort zone, and learn more about my future as an educator. I have learned so much more about educational topics and policies and became a better person and future educator from this experience. I am excited to keep growing with NJSEA." – Sandra Perls, Rowan University
"When the ambassador program jump-started, I was not chosen to represent my school. Rather than taking it as a failure, I rose to prove I was worthy. Becoming an ambassador was a reward to myself as well as a lesson. From not being chosen, I rose strong, put in the extra effort, networked to increase membership, attended EVERY event possible, and stepped outside my comfort zone. The tasks set to ambassadors require dedication, creativity, and time – among other requirements. Although, being an ambassador sometimes feels like a thankless job, the reward is seen through our monthly membership updates, the swarm of yellow bags at the AC convention, the successful local chapter events, the Spring Conference, and the attendees of the National Education Association Student Leadership Conference. I realized that I was looking for the reciprocation of appreciation and approval rather than standing on my own two feet and giving myself credit. To be an ambassador is to be strong; it is to believe in yourself and this organization; it is to be the voice for your future students and for your future profession!" – Jessica Quijano, The College of New Jersey
"Without NJSEA, I wouldn't have had access to as many of the professional development opportunities that being an ambassador offers, such as the Atlantic City convention, events across campuses, and other PD that is typically only for full-time members. I've made so many connections with other passionate educators, preservice and full-time alike, which have shown me the strong community education fosters. This is my second year as an active ambassador and first year as the Publications Chair, and it has been one of the most worthwhile experiences of my educational career thus far. NJSEA has given me the tools to become a better educator, peer, and lifelong learner." - Chelsea Hahn, The College of New Jersey
Thinking about joining? Take advantage of all the opportunities available to you as a preservice educator.
What has being an NJSEA ambassador done for you? Share your thoughts.
The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means teaching or instructing. It is ironic, however, that most forms of discipline in today’s public schools lack learning opportunities and take away from valuable instruction time.
Dwanna Nicole and Kevin Gilbert presented at the NEA Student Leadership Conference (SLC) in Washington D.C this past June. The two discussed the expanding use of zero-tolerance procedures that are being used to handle various disciplinary problems in schools. These zero-tolerance approaches include out-of-school suspension, expulsion, and referral to alternative schools. While its intent is to make schools safe against violence, these practices have been used to discipline non-threatening behaviors; for example, students have been taken out of school for minor dress code violations, calling out in class, self-defense, and even tardiness.
Once students are removed from the classroom, they usually begin to fall behind in their academic work. Upon returning to school, a student may struggle to catch up and feel embarrassed around peers, which could result in more behavioral issues. Furthermore, when teachers suspend their students, a feeling of mistrust takes hold in the teacher-student relationship. This can also disrupt the learning environment, decreasing the student’s chance of academic success. With the possibility of the student developing negative feelings toward school, a vicious cycle has the opportunity to begin.
Another major issue with the zero-tolerance policy is it does not allow discussion to take place after an offense is committed because the misbehaving student is sent home without a deep understanding of what he/she did wrong, and this does not allow the student to grow socially or emotionally. Instead, they are placed in an isolated environment that restricts them from reaching the root of the initial problem. Meanwhile, any victims of the offense receive no closure or resolution. They too are only given a temporary break from the situation. Once an offender returns to school, the problem typically begins again and involves those from the previous offense.
Schools should take a step back from zero-tolerance policies and consider restorative practices. According to Nicole and Gilbert, restorative practices can build positive relationships between students and educators and create a sense of community that can prevent and address conflicts and inappropriate behavior. These practices force students that commit an offense to take accountability for their actions, recognize their behavior as inappropriate, make amends with anyone harmed by their actions, repair physical damage, and make changes to avoid repeating the offense. Restorative practices include teaching students problem-solving and self-control skills, holding conferences with all parties involved in an offense, student participation in meaningful community service projects, forming peer juries and mediation, and teaching communication through affective statements and questions. All of these methods involve open communication that can address the direct cause of misbehavior or violations.
I urge preservice teachers to look into restorative practices that they can integrate into their future classrooms. This can decrease behavioral problems, as well as the amount of times they may need to resort to their school’s zero-tolerance policies. Of course, serious breaches of conduct can arise that call for a student’s immediate removal in order to keep students and staff safe; however, many infringements can and should be approached without the use of zero-tolerance practices. Discipline should serve as a tool towards achieving a more productive school environment, rather than disrupt the learning process.
- Deanna Kollar, Rowan University
What are your opinions on these policies? Have you experienced either firsthand or witnessed them in your own student teaching?
Throughout the years, my involvement with NJSEA has given me the opportunities to travel with a delegation of passionate NJSEA leaders to Denver, Colorado, Orlando, Florida, and Washington D.C., but going to the National Education Association Student Program Summer Leadership Conference this year was one of the most inspirational NEA-SP/NJSEA experiences I have had, especially considering the ways in which social media has grown and how preservice teachers in particular are utilizing it.
As the years have progressed, the role Social Media has played in these conferences, and many others, has exponentially increased. Originally, it was considered offensive to sit at a conference on your phone, but now presenters are asking us to engage with them on social media. During their presentations, they ask questions and want the audience to answer to promote discussion and share photos and videos of presentations via Twitter or Facebook. This year, the conference hashtags #neaslc16 and #edpowered ended up trending during Keynote Speaker David Johns’ “The White House’s Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans” presentation that discussed institutional racism. For a group of 400+ pre-service educators to make that happen is truly astonishing. NJSEA also was retweeted by many prodigious people, such as the NEA Student Program, Chelsey Jo Herrig, the Outgoing NEA-SP Chairperson, the presenter, David Johns, Lilly Eskelsen Garcia, the NEA Chair, and NJEA – just to name a few.
The ability to use social media as part of professional development is changing the game for education. It allows conferences, such as the one in Washington D.C., to be more inclusive by allowing anyone with Internet access to listen to the conference and provides great networking opportunities. Not only did this conference let preservice members learn about the union’s opportunities, benefits, and supports, but also allowed us to meet dedicated, passionate leaders from all over the country. This year, thirty-six states were represented at the Summer Leadership Conference, and because we had social media, we were able to connect in a way we never could before. It allowed us to share ideas for our state and local chapters and for our future classrooms. As the incoming Social Media Chair, I cannot wait to see how the use of social media is going to evolve our professional development and connect the entire preservice program!
By Mariah Belber, The College of New Jersey
What do you think about using social media at conferences or in the classroom? Were you at the NEA-SP/SLC and notice the impact social media made?
New Jersey Preservice Education Association (NJSEA)
As the preservice branch of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), we aspire to empower, excite, and inspire all future educators about their upcoming teaching careers in public education.
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