Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Milken Educators Take Learning to the Next Level at 2021 NIET National Conference

March 25, 2021

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Virtual sessions on instruction, coaching, leadership and teacher preparation lead to invaluable collaboration and conversation.

By Stephanie Bishop (VA ’01) and Dr. Jane Foley (IN ’94)

Earlier this month, Milken Educators from across the country participated in the 2021 National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) National Conference, Next Level Learning. Milken Educators learned new ways to enhance instruction and leadership practices to take students to the “next level” through impactful virtual sessions with Lowell Milken, NIET Chief Executive Officer Dr. Candice McQueen, Professor John Hattie, Dr. John B. King Jr., and Natalie Wexler, with engaging three-day learning strands focused on instruction, coaching, leadership and teacher preparation led by NIET staff.

Lowell Milken and Dr. Candice McQueen graciously invited the 2019-20 Milken Educators to the conference, along with a cohort of veteran Milken Educators who support the most recent class as “MFFs” (Milken Friends Forever).

“I was engaged to deeply reflect and apply the strategies to relevant situations in my own teaching,” said Elizabeth Landes (PA ’19). “The sessions served as exemplars of how exceptional authentic learning is possible on a virtual platform.”

“The NIET conference was a perfect way to engage with like-minded educators who have a desire to give students the best education possible,” stated Brian Allman (WV ’19).

Framing the experience

NIET modeled best practices by scaffolding the learning experiences for participants. “This was different from any other conference that I have ever attended, and I have attended many, because the sessions built on one another,” said Dr. Natasha Cooke-Nieves (NY ’10).

To deepen their learning, Milken Educators participated in pre- and post-conference Zoom sessions hosted by Dr. Jane Foley (IN ’94) and Stephanie Bishop (VA ’01), where they shared what they hoped to gain from participating in NIET, as well as what they hoped to take back to their schools and districts. The Zoom discussions framed the conference and promoted tailoring the professional development to areas specific to Milken Educators’ current roles.

Real-time connection

To stay connected and allow networking throughout the conference, Milken Educators used the WhatsApp chat app to share thoughts, insights and resources. Nick Peruski (MI ’19) saw the real-time chat as “a great opportunity to connect with educators from across the country and have engaging, in-depth conversations.”

The chat became especially lively during and after author Natalie Wexler’s conversation about her book, “The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America’s Broken Education System – and How to Fix It.” Milken Educators discussed Wexler’s research-based assertions about the importance of students having solid background knowledge in the critical thinking process. John Lary (LA ’15) engaged the group by sharing his experience with students: “Without the knowledge base, the thinking can be shallow.” Added Ben Nguyen (NV ’19): “When students understand the connections, the ‘why’ questions will, in many ways, be answered for them.”

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What Milken Educators are taking back

Milken Educators left the concurrent sessions equipped with ideas and strategies for structuring professional development in their schools and with tools for their professional toolboxes. The team at NIET strengthened participants’ instructional practices by facilitating learning through six key strands. Each strand contained three sessions that built on the others throughout the conference.

Personalizing student learning was the focus of Strand 1, “Maximizing Student Ownership of Learning.” NIET educators provided participants with a framework for thinking about student engagement and recognizing engaged and disengaged behaviors in the virtual and in-person learning worlds. Discussion and exemplars revolved around thought-provoking questions, such as how to know a student is “cognitively committed” during instruction. That question “leads to an honest conversation with students on what their ‘style of engagement’ looks like, as sometimes signs can be misunderstood,” added Princess Francois (NY ’19) as Milken Educators strategized ways to use the framework in their classrooms.

“My takeaway is that there is evidence to support a student-driven approach to education and there are tools out there to support it,” said Lyndsay Hartmann (NE ’19). “Listening to students talk about what they are learning and articulating why they are learning is a teacher’s dream. I look forward to utilizing student ownership techniques described in several sessions to get that happening more consistently in my classroom and across my school.”

As Milken Educators powered down their devices, they left the 2021 NIET National Conference powered up to take instruction and leadership to the “next level.”


Milken Educators who participated in the NIET 2021 National Conference: Brian Allman (WV ’19), Dr. Angie Besendorfer (MO ’96), Stephanie Bishop (VA ’01), Miki Cacace (HI ’19), Dr. Natasha Cooke-Nieves (NY ’10), Melissa Fike (MO ’19), Dr. Jane Foley (IN ’94), Princess Francois (NY ’19), Shannon Garrison (CA ’08), Lyndsay Hartmann (NE ’19), Elizabeth Landes (PA ’19), John Lary (LA ’15), Dr. Melinda Love (MS ’07), Ben Nguyen (NV ’19), Nick Peruski (MI ’19), Lacy Rivera (NM ’19), Ruth Ruud (PA ’96), Leslie Sullivan (SC ’19), Ryan Sykes (VA ’19), Daniel Willever (NJ ’19), Jennifer Williams (LA ’19), Erin Wyatt (MD ’19)

Featuring: 
Dr. Melinda Love



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