During my teaching experience, I attended countless professional learning opportunities, and many contributed to my growth. However, I walked away from just as many feeling like they were disconnected from my classroom and did not elevate my position as a professional educator. Furthermore, I rarely had the opportunity to share my learning with colleagues and collaborate with them to improve my practice.

Through a series of regional professional learning and teacher empowerment conferences in 2017, SCORE and several partners across the state are working to change those feelings by providing high-quality professional learning to Tennessee educators that promotes collaboration and celebrates effective teaching practices. Some of these conferences will be Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET²) conferences, and another will be hosted in partnership with the Knoxville-based nonprofit, Reach Them to Teach Them.

District- and teacher-led planning teams are organizing the regional conferences, inviting teachers from their regions for two days of deep professional learning. Conference sessions will mainly be teacher led, emphasize professional networking, and promote important regional topics for educators. Topics may include literacy, equity, teaching the Tennessee Academic Standards, or teacher leadership.

On August 30-31, Dyersburg City Schools and Lauderdale County Schools hosted Northwest/Southwest ECET², the first of the five regional conferences this year. Approximately 120 K-2 literacy teachers from 15 West Tennessee districts attended the conference in Dyersburg and participated in sessions that were co-led by teachers from both Dyersburg and Lauderdale County. Sessions focused on research-based practices around early literacy, and teachers left the conference with an Interactive Read Aloud lesson and book to use in their own classrooms.

As the first of the regional conferences, this ECET² set high expectations. In reflecting on my experience as an attendee at the Northwest/Southwest ECET² Conference, these professional learning opportunities are powerful for several reasons:

Teachers were celebrated and lifted as professionals.
Teachers were recognized for the impact they have on students and the professionalism and leadership they exhibit. Superintendents Shawn Kimble and Neel Durbin highlighted the “lifelong impact” their work has on students and that teachers’ professional collaboration that day would improve early literacy for their students.

Teachers experienced rigorous, collaborative professional learning.
Presenters at the Northwest/Southwest ECET2 based their content on the most current research about early literacy practices. Teachers grappled with these concepts collaboratively, experienced deep professional growth together, and clearly trusted one another by the end of the conference.

Teachers felt like leaders.
ECET² conferences seek to help teachers see themselves as teacher-leaders and inspire them to serve as leaders in their own schools or districts. Teachers at the Northwest/Southwest ECET² felt confident to lead because they could take the content they learned back to other teachers in their districts.

Overall, this regional ECET² convening set a high standard for professional learning and teacher empowerment. Though these conferences will be regional, their impact will be far-reaching for teachers and students across the state.

More outstanding teacher learning and empowerment conferences are scheduled this fall, hosted by Sullivan County Schools, Shelby County Schools, Reach Them to Teach Them, and Putnam County Schools and are expected to involve an additional 500 teachers.