MEA fall conference is good for students, families, educators

Recent conversations with 30 Minnesota educators about the MEA fall conference, Oct. 20-21, convinced me of several things. First, the traditional fall conference is a good deal for students, families and taxpayers. Second, the meeting has considerable value for many educators.
Chris Williams, Education Minnesota press secretary, pointed out that the teachers’ union makes approximately 110 workshops and speakers available at no cost to educators and parents. The union spent about $175,000 on the MEA conference last year.
The conference offers a vast array of workshops on practical issues. As several educators pointed out to me, teachers can pick sessions on subjects that they’ve identified as priorities, such as improving math or science instruction, discipline, working with gifted students or helping youngsters with eating disorders. So teachers from all over the state are learning how to be more effective. More information about the conference is available here:
The sessions don’t cost educators or their schools anything. This represents a huge savings for educators and taxpayers. Moreover, as each district or charter leader I talked with pointed out, teachers are not paid to attend the conference.
Traditionally some families have used the four-day weekend to take a mini-vacation. It is a useful break for many students and families. Some districts provide child care over the two days for families that need it.
Might more people attend if the conference were held during the summer?
Donald Sinner, president of Education Minnesota-Lakeville and a board member of Education Minnesota, told me: “(The conference) is perfectly placed in the fall; it is early enough in the school year that attendees can implement learning into their classrooms immediately. Attendance would not be as robust in the summer.”
Allison LaBree Whittlef, Forest Lake Education Association president, explained: “While summer may seem like a better time for the conference, many educators fully immerse themselves in graduate programs, complete curriculum writing for the upcoming year, and continue to teach in summer school or other enrichment options. And, quite often, many teachers take on other employment opportunities to make ends meet. “
Cam Hedlund, executive director of the Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake, pointed out that other groups also meet at the same time. “Each year the Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Language and Cultures holds their conference over this break, and every four years, the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition hosts an international conference in Minneapolis. Both of these are of great value to LILA teachers. We also sometimes send staff to required out-of-state International Baccalaureate training. They are welcome to attend MEA trainings.”
North Branch Area Public Schools Superintendent Deb Henton wrote: “North Branch Area Public Schools does not hold school on Education Minnesota state conference days. This has been a long-standing practice as we believe it is important to allow staff the opportunity to attend these professional development sessions. The wide array of offerings provided at the conference are relevant to many of our staff; and that learning is brought back and applied in our continual focus on boosting student achievement. We leave it to the professional judgment of staff as to whether they go to the conference and which sessions they attend.
“The timing of the conference has come to be an expected break for many families. Changing to a summer conference might please some, but others may be disappointed at the loss of a four-day fall weekend to plan family activities. In addition, staff have been asked to do more and more in the summer, and this would add to time taken away from summer breaks, or conflict with days local districts use for summer professional development.”

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