The Power of Planning Ahead: 3 Strategic Takeaways from NIET's Summer Institute

July 3, 2024

The Power of Planning Ahead: 3 Strategic Takeaways from NIET's Summer Institute

Dr. Anita Pickett, a master teacher and language and literacy coordinator at Somerset ISD, Texas, settled into her seat before diving into the second session of the day at NIET’s Summer Institute. She had a shine in her eyes and her notebook was spilling over the margins with highlights and notes from the sessions she attended with her fellow leaders.

“Every year I come to this conference, I feel like I learn something new,” Dr. Pickett said. “I’m so excited, I just can’t wait to get back into my school and teach.”

The feeling was shared among the hundreds of attendees who gathered for the event in Scottsdale, Arizona this June. During the two-day conference, educators collaborated with and learned alongside NIET specialists and peers through a variety of professional learning sessions to plan ahead for the upcoming school year.

“NSI provides you and your team an opportunity to work together with support from NIET to plan for next school year as well as strengthen your practice as a team,” NIET CEO Dr. Joshua Barnett shared in a speech at the conference. “This point is most important – changing your school and system is about teamwork. The training and collaboration moments we have planned are specifically designed to help you identify these strategies and then transfer them from this event, impacting the educators and students in your schools.”

The conference offered a deep dive session and three subsequent breakout sessions that tie back into the main deep dive content. Participants got to analyze sample student work, watch simulations of cluster meetings, and observe recorded master and mentor teachers in action to illustrate effective strategies covered in the conference. They end by convening with their teams to incorporate what they had learned into their school and district plans for the upcoming year. Here are three top takeaways from the week:

Leading through preparation in cluster meetings

As a part of breakout sessions during NSI, participants observed recorded cluster meetings where Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) came together to coordinate the best next steps to leverage student achievement in the classroom. Cluster meetings are organized into cycles of learning that align with NIET's 5 Steps of Effective Learning to provide instructional leaders with a systematic process to ensure that the valuable time teachers spend in collaborative team meetings is focused, productive, and useful.

In one session, presenters showed a video of a master teacher supporting teachers to best structure a lesson about reading and writing. The master teacher exhibited her content knowledge by having reviewed the student’s work beforehand, so she understood what was happening in the classroom. When master teachers come to cluster meetings prepared, with ideas of what to ask and how to challenge their fellow teachers, it creates more structure within the meeting. Participants reflected on how the small group and individualized support for teachers was effective.

“Could you imagine if we could do this with our teachers? It would be amazing - I’m getting goosebumps,” one Louisiana leader said. 

“We can do this,” her colleague answered enthusiastically, “We have to go back to the drawing board.”

Establishing trust and credibility by going first

To effectively teach students, teachers have to learn, too - and teachers know best that learning comes with trial and error. But trying, assessing, and trying again shouldn’t be feared in the classroom - in fact, it can help educators and teacher leaders build credibility and establish trust with their peers. When teacher leaders take the first step in trying new strategies and approaches in their classrooms, their go-first mentality shows they are willing to lead the charge in implementing effective practices by first discovering what those practices are.

Throughout NSI, educators reflected on how trust, credibility, and job knowledge are core components of a teacher leader. In one of the breakout sessions, Reflective Leadership to Foster a Positive Learning Environment, participants shared their thoughts on how vulnerability in learning and growth is important to show both teachers and students to gain trust and credibility in the classroom. Many mentioned that a leader who thinks they know everything is less likely to lead growth than those who know there is always room for improvement.

When educators are intentional about strategic support, clear expectations, and join in with their colleagues on relevant and reflective questioning, it strengthens the learning environment among teachers as well as students by embracing change built upon the results of previous attempts. 

Leading with a strategic plan in hand

Participants in NSI’s Deep Dive Session: Maximizing Collaborative Professional Learning had the opportunity to analyze examples of student work as a team to simulate what they could apply within their schools. After walking through examples during the sessions, ILTs then came together to apply their learning to their school plans and student data. This included mapping out the structure and topics of future cluster meetings, organizing timelines of district and school leadership meetings, and re-centering the school’s strategic plan language to be student-outcome-focused and align with district goals. 

Many times, reflection sessions would end and teams would linger around tables with resources and notes in hand, continuing their conversations on how to grow and improve their structures. For both longtime partners and brand-new attendees, the materials and discussions with peers ignited new ideas about how to approach the upcoming school year. One new partner looked at her team during a session and said with a smile, “I’ve got to get back into the classroom.”  

NIET senior specialists deftly advanced through each session to challenge attendees in their plans and strategies, helping teams to apply the learnings in the ways that would work best for their schools. 

“When educators who attend this conference leave these two action-filled days, they walk back into their systems prepared,” Tiwanaha Washington, a NIET Senior Specialist who presented sessions at NSI, said. “We meet partners where they are, but through the service and support we provide, we never leave them where we find them.” 

By the end of the conference, educators and school and district leaders packed their notes and knowledge into their luggage to take home to their schools - many saving the date for NIET’s next signature event, the 2025 National Conference on February 27-28, 2025, in Washington, D.C.