NEW ORLEANS — Ashley Pruett couldn’t stop smiling as she looked around a hotel ballroom filled with nearly 1,000 educators from all over the country.
“This is so awesome,” Pruett said. “I just want to keep this inspiring feeling that I have right now.”
Pruett, a teacher at Achieve Charter School of Paradise, California, knew that this trip to a city affectionately known as “The Big Easy” would involve a lot of hard work. After all, this was her first Summer Training for Summit Learning, a comprehensive program offered by Gradient Learning that sets students up for success in all aspects of their lives.
Pruett did all of the required pre-work for the event, and mentally prepared for a week of rigorous thinking. There was certainly plenty of that, but there was also something that Pruett hadn’t fully anticipated. The more everyone trained together, the more Pruett recognized an uplifting feeling of joy among the educators.
“I think after the last couple of years, we’ve all kind of been in survival mode and maybe lost some of that fun,” Pruett said. “So being here, you’re seeing why we all do what we do. I’m an adult who loves to learn and I want to help my students discover a lifelong love of learning.
“That’s what this program does for kids, and that’s what being here does for us. It brings us joy.”
That joy wasn’t just evident on newer teachers such as Pruett. It was seen on the smiling faces of longtime school leaders and veteran teachers alike. This was the first in-person Summer Training since 2019, with the last two summer events taking place virtually on Zoom.
‘It’s so much more powerful being in person’
“Your engagement is tenfold when you’re in person,” said Stephanie Knox, principal at Prairie Heights Middle School in Evans, Colorado. “You can hear somebody say something interesting and walk over at the end of the session and say, ‘Hey, let’s connect!’ It’s so much more powerful being in person.”
The theme for Summer Training 2022 was “Reimagine Education Together,” which allowed educators to unite as a Summit Learning community and collectively envision the exciting possibilities of the upcoming year—and beyond.
Knox said her school’s six-person traveling team to New Orleans used the “reimagine” emphasis to help move past the pandemic-related stress of the past few years and bring a fresh perspective to their planning. She summed up a week of reimagining at Summer Training with an additional word.
“It’s reenergizing,” Knox said. “This really gave us the time to step away from our building, step away from all of our communities, and be with like-minded people to really move the work forward.”
Jami McLing, a veteran teacher at Praxium Mastery Academy in Idaho Falls, Idaho, had been to an in-person Summer Training before when she was at Rocky Mountain Middle School. But even though she knew what to expect, she said being a part of the largest-ever gathering of educators at a Summer Training helped bring more variety of experiences to learn from.
“I’ve gained tons of different perspectives,” said McLing, whose three children attended a Summit Learning partner school, with her youngest now a senior in high school. “It’s interesting to me how much you keep learning in this program.”
Anthony Cerise looked the part of a lifelong learner throughout the week, with his pen and journal always nearby no matter where he went. Cerise, an Instructional Coach at Heath Middle School in Greeley, Colorado, is also a sports coach who compared the event’s breakout rooms to formulating a “game plan” with fellow coaches for the upcoming school year.
Cerise loved being able to attend various sessions, which included impactful training that focused on mentoring and the many ways that educators can create meaningful connections with students.
“I’ve definitely been taking advantage of the journal and writing a lot of notes in it that I’ll be referring back to a lot during the year,” said Cerise, who will be educating in the Summit Learning program for the first time. “I’m doing a lot of listening and trying to analyze and set up a game plan. I can’t wait to get started with it all.”
‘This is what it’s all about’
Corbet Houston, principal at Howard University Middle School in Washington, D.C., said being around educators from a diverse mix of cities, big and small, served as a powerful reminder that making student-centered education a reality is a shared responsibility.
“You get to feel the energy of all of the educators in one space that want to make changes—good changes—and put out the effort for all children across the United States,” Houston said. “We’re working to make sure students get what they need in a different way.”
Pruett, the teacher at Achieve Charter of Paradise, plans on retaining the many learnings and feelings of joy from her first Summer Training and will remind herself of the experience throughout her career.
“I have to make sure to remember that this is what it’s all about,” Pruett said. “We have the ability to really change kids’ lives for the better and help them become lifelong learners. We have to keep this passion alive.
“We’re all in this together.”