Great Summer Learning at the 2020 CLAS Convention @Home

By Stoney M. Beavers
Assistant Director
Alabama Best Practices Center

Regardless of what the general public thinks about summers for educators, it is not very easy to get away from the workload and family obligations for several days to focus on your own learning in the summertime.

Because of this, I have always had a great deal of respect for educators (teachers, administrators, and others) who make the time for continued growth and learning, especially in the summer. This new learning and networking is vital to our ability to improve education and to make teaching and learning better for our staff and our students.

As Michael Fullan and Lyle Kirtman assert, outside networking has significant benefits for our students. In this blog, I would like to celebrate all educators who have committed to continued professional learning during this incredibly challenging time. More specifically, I want to focus on the 2020 CLAS Convention @Home that went fully virtual this summer and highlight the wonderful community of learners that came together for this event.

Learning with CLAS

If you are not familiar with the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS), and the work that they do in professional learning, then I would recommend that you visit their website to learn more and consider becoming a member.

CLAS events have always been very supportive learning environments where old friends come together for new learning. Colleagues from all over the state spend several days together and share in the mission of improving our work while collaborating and networking for the benefit of all students.

As a former district-level administrator, I have personally reaped the benefits of learning from other leaders across the state. While much of my learning has come from researchers and educational authors, many of the innovative ideas that we worked on in our district came from informal coffee conversations with like-minded educators and leaders who were working hard to implement new programs in their own districts.

This year, we’ve all had to scramble to figure out how we are going to continue building community and learning together despite our physical distancing. In my current professional learning role at ABPC I was very interested to see how CLAS Executive Director Vic Wilson and his crew were going to bring all their amazing sessions online this summer. The Virtual CLAS Convention of 2020 did not disappoint.

The CLAS team began this year’s effort by actively communicating their plan for a virtual five-day conference and promoting this new way of learning in a fun and exciting way with great graphics and clever phrases like “Zoom Casual”  attire for learning from your own couch.

They also promoted their (always) impressive lineup of speakers and sessions and clearly laid out the registration and participation process. As the time for the convention drew closer, reminder emails went out with additional directions and answers to any remaining questions.

As with most of our digital efforts these days, there are always glitches and barriers to overcome. The CLAS team did an amazing job fielding questions and letting participants focus on the learning. The virtual “Helpdesk” was there if anyone needed extra support.

It has been a struggle in the past several years to bring some leaders into our new digital era, but in 2020 necessity has spurred us on and has given many the fortitude to grow and learn in new ways. I’m sure that Vic Wilson’s helpdesk team dealt with many log-in and technical issues on the user end, and like other servant organizations, they sought to calm frustrations and find needed work-arounds.

What an Agenda!

The agenda definitely had something for everyone this year. Virginia Principal of the Year Hamish Brewer was a perfect keynote speaker to kick off the event. He reminded us all how important it is to be relentless in our pursuit to engage kids and work hard to improve the lives of our students and their families.

I could go on for several more pages about the opening session, but this is already getting long, and there is so much more to share.

The keynote session by Regina Louise was simply amazing. If you have not seen the movie based on her life in foster care, I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story, it definitely deserves a look. Her vulnerable presentation was heartfelt and refreshing.

As the week progressed we were treated to great breakout presenters like principal leader George Couros, global education researcher John Hattie and many others. It must have been an exhausting week for the CLAS staff and officers, but they should be (and were) applauded for how they moved a convention online with such poise and grace. Like so many of us working on new platforms these days, they made it work, and they made it work well.

As great as the learning was at this online conference, I know we all look forward to the day when we can be back in the same physical space, chatting over coffee between sessions, shaking hands and giving hugs. It was amazing to me how almost every session hit on the importance of RELATIONSHIPS. That is what we are all longing for now: to connect, to be seen, to be heard, and to see and hear others in a non-virtual world.

A Final Word from Vic

Vic Wilson has shared some quick information about the convention with me and a short quote that sums up a wonderful week of learning.

“CLAS works hard to provide quality professional learning to our members and attendees, and our CLAS Convention @home shows a strong commitment to that belief. We simply could not let our members go through the summer without an opportunity to learn, grow, network, and communicate with each other and with great speakers. The credit for the event goes to the CLAS staff. They never shied away from our commitment to provide world-class professional learning even during a virtual event.”

Quick Convention Stats:

  • More than 700 attended the convention.
  • Over 150 attended the post convention.
  • Attendees generated more than 7500 hours of learning.

If you did not have an opportunity to join us this year, we hope that you can plan for other events and for next summer as we all continue to grow and learn in this work and to broaden our impact on the lives of students and families across Alabama. Until then, keep learning, and keep networking with others because we truly can achieve more together.