Reflections on NTN’s Spring Leadership Summit and the Power of Collective Learning

April 13, 2023

It was a tremendous honor and privilege to join 140 educators at our first in-person Leadership Summit since 2019. The Leadership Development Team with Dr. Jude Garnier at the helm, created a three day immersive learning experience for school and district leaders. The conference’s theme, “Charting Your Course for Powerful Adult Learning,” provided our leaders with an opportunity to reflect on their previous and current management of adult learning transitions. We used a conceptual framework to explore and strengthen systems and structures for adults that will provide engaging, authentic, and meaningful instruction to all students in their schools. 

Why start with a reflection of current adult learning?
We know that we have to acknowledge the realities of the current education landscape in order to radically shift how leaders design and implement their adult learning systems, with the goal of ensuring deeper learning outcomes for students. Turnover contributes to teacher and leader shortages, and our Network leaders have shared that the loss of established teacher experience has an impact on sustaining a supportive and inclusive learning environment. However, even amidst complexity there is opportunity. 

The Impact of a Conceptual Framework
We know that in collective learning experiences, there is great power in grounding conversations in a shared reading based on solid research.  Building that  shared language  allows us to collaborate in more meaningful ways.  Our leaders began the conference by developing their understanding of the crucial features and strategies to support adult learning. We referenced excerpts from the study, Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability. What resonated for so many leaders was the idea that the biggest struggle for teachers was implementing a new skill, not just learning it. The study pointed to the key conditions that have the greatest impact on teachers’ success in implementing and sustaining a new instructional practice. Schools that provided ample opportunities for teachers to observe model lessons, practice several times, view their own attempts, and hear feedback about their performance, has proved to be the most powerful influence on mitigating the “implementation dip.” 

Anchoring the Learning in Context 
All of our structures, practices and adult learning must be explicitly and directly tied to our ultimate purpose–ensuring every student develops the learning outcomes we know matter.  Unfortunately, the day-to-day reality in schools can make it difficult to stop and make those clear connections. Summit designers were intentional about having participants identify a challenge about student learning from their own context to then identify the adult learning that must take place to address those challenges. We worked to overhaul the mindset to focus only on educator’s practice – what they do or don’t do. The primary driver is always the student learning experience. This gave us an entry to leaders rethinking their Theory of Change. Leaders were able to identify their desired outcomes for students, and examine all of the conditions that must be in place for teachers to bring about this change. 

Accessing Insights from Others
In a post-pandemic era, I often feel as though I’ve forgotten the art of and power in human-to-human connections.  At NTN Leadership Summit, however, the opportunities to establish strong relationships were endless and powerful, both as a participant and as an observer. One of the highlights of the Summit was the learning leaders gained from one another as they explored tools and best practices to address their problem of practice. It began at the reception on the first night, when Summit designers, led by Sarah Leiker, created space for participants to thread levity into their leadership stories. The willingness to be authentic and vulnerable immediately created a collective culture of open discourse and greater engagement. Not surprisingly, by the end of the week, some of the key outcomes in addition to strategies to improve leadership strategies, were the internal changes leaders experienced. Leaders expressed they were “rejuvenated,” “empowered,” and “inspired”as a result of the week’s individual and collective learning. 

I urge all of you to continue to build and deepen relationships within the Network. It is imperative, now more than ever, to find opportunities through your coach or at our national events to connect with other members of the Network, to learn from one another and to tap into the expertise that already exists within each of you. I truly believe that we can create the future we want for our students, but only if we do it together. 

In Service, 

Alexis K. Morgan  
Chief Schools Officer