Professional Collaboration Renewed My Hope for Our Schools


DeAnna Miller has been a middle school English teacher, instructional coach and assistant principal during her 15-year career. She helps lead a K-6 public school in Enterprise, Alabama.

The education news is full of stories about teacher shortages and the dim prospects for future teacher recruitment and development. It can seem kind of hopeless if you look at it through your lone-educator lens.

That’s why I’m so glad that last week I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the Association for Teacher Educators (ATE) annual meeting in Jacksonville, Florida.

It was a very powerful and inspiring 3-day experience – a great way to hear about the latest educational research while also meeting new people to expand my growing professional network.

Presentations from college-level educators, doctoral students, graduate students, and undergraduate students as well as invited sponsors and speakers created an atmosphere of shared learning and – most of all – hope.

Despite the teacher shortages plaguing our nation; despite the negative press about schools, teachers, and curriculum; despite all the back and forth about what should and shouldn’t be taught at the PK-12 level and the collegiate level, this conference was about possibilities and the prospect of a brighter future.

Here’s some of what I heard and learned

Participants shared their hope for what the future in education would look like and feel like and sound like. Hope for how those in future undergraduate classes would have access to technology and technology advances that will make their learning experiences more authentic to the classroom.

I attended a presentation on how an AI (artificial intelligence) program was being developed to help novice and veteran teachers learn best practices in classroom management using real-time interactive data.

We learned that the AI will interact with the teacher based on the response the teacher gave to certain questions or descriptions of classroom issues. Each teacher would experience something new based on their responses to the AI, and the AI would learn to “improvise” to create more realistic scenarios for the teachers. It was an amazing idea!

I was also able to attend a presentation by Dr. Craig Mertler on the benefits of action research, which he called Practitioner Inquiry, and how action research should not be ignored by scholars and those at the collegiate level because it is practical and relatable to teachers and educators in PK-12 classrooms.

Mertler spoke on how Practitioner Inquiry aims to improve educational practice based on authentic, in-the-field experiences and allows all educators a chance to collaborate together and work on  problems of practice. He said Practitioner Inquiry has the potential to “solve real-world problems, in real-world context, in real-world time.”

I was also witness to, and participated in, roundtable discussions where undergraduates, graduates, and doctoral students could present their ideas, research, and theories to others and get feedback about next steps.

We listened, commented, and shared with each other, refining our ideas for research so that we could become the next group of scholars who will hopefully shape the future of education and teacher training in a positive way.

A renewed sense of purpose

Throughout the 3 days that I attended the conference, the sense of possibility and positivity was palpable. This uplifting experience helped me regain my sense of purpose.

Listening and interacting with so many others who were just as passionate as I am about learning more so I can make the learning experience better our students was amazing. It reminded me that even when the days are hard, dark, and long, what we do MAKES a difference.

It also reminded me that I have to be more meaningful and diligent in making sure that my proverbial cup of learning is refilled on a regular basis. Since COVID, I haven’t been able to attend many conferences or annual meetings. As a matter of fact, this was my first in almost two years.

As I thought about this in my hotel room on the last night of the conference, I had an epiphany! I was starved for this type of learning. I had been missing this professional engagement and the camaraderie that comes from being surrounded by others with the same passion for learning that I have.

And, I realized that, even though I am an introvert and need my alone time to recharge my personal and social batteries, I also need to be with others who are like-minded when it comes to learning so I can recharge my educator batteries.

On the long drive home from Jacksonville, I replayed some of the best parts of the conference in my head, and smiled about all that I had learned. I made a commitment to myself to attend at least two conferences a year.

I need to make sure that I take out time for my own learning. I hope it’s a commitment that I can keep. Because as the saying goes, you have to fill your own cup before you can pour from it.


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