Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Reactions and Takeaways from the 2022 MEA Forum

June 14, 2022

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At the 2022 Milken Educator Awards Forum, held June 2-4 in Los Angeles, recipients from the classes of 2021 and 2019 gathered with veteran Milken Educators and Milken Family Foundation staff to meet, greet, learn and dream together. We asked attendees to share their reactions—what they learned, what they can't stop thinking about, how the Forum helped them find their voice, and what motivated them to move forward and be "10% bolder." Here are some of their comments. 

See photos from the 2022 MEA Forum: Sessions | 2021 portraits | 2019 portraits

Katie McQuone Botello (CA '19)

I got my sticky finger out and clicked submit on my district's application to join a cohort for National Board Certification! Nervous, but excited. Thank you Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12) for giving me confidence!

Kevin Dailey (KY '21)

There is lightning shooting from my fingertips! And I mean it. I am going to work with Laura Cole (KY '19) to create the best network of Kentucky teachers there is. I am also going to hone my message/pitch: I want kids to love school and learn kindness for everyone. I hope to do that with sensory experiences in the social studies classroom that allow kids to build empathy in the abstract. (I will publish this somewhere, somehow.)

Jessica Zimmerman (AZ '21)

This forum created some exciting, big and bold recommitment to personal and professional goals! Omar Duron (AZ '19), Melissa Martin (AZ '21) and I already have a meeting to establish our Arizona MEA network. Personally, I'll be drafting my "why" and verbs (from 2003 California Milken Educator Nader Twal’s success roundtable discussion) to launch into gifted education policy change, publishing and more. I am IGNITED from this event. It’s absolutely moving from this moment and making it a movement!

Leslie Sullivan (SC '19)

I'm very excited to join the Carolinas and work with Dr. Cindy Moss (NC '01). I'm also going to embrace creating a more exciting classroom and starting a History Club with help from the great John Lary (LA '15). Time to plug in!

Joni Readout (IA '17)

I have already emailed our Department of Education here in Iowa, to once again offer my support to build a relationship with MEA. I am connecting with Milken Educators in Iowa to begin work similar to Alabama, North Carolina, West Virginia and Missouri in the Activating Milken Educators (AME) work. I am also going to use Gina Benz (SD '15) as a resource for helping to recruit students to pursue a career as teachers in my district. I can't stop thinking about the Power of We, staying plugged in to stay electric and the AME work happening in other states.

Aubrey Flowers (OK '21)

Power of ideas! Power of connection! Power of influence! Power of leadership! #activate

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Tamarah Danzy (OK '21)

This forum energized and inspired me so much! I can't stop thinking about things I want to do in my classroom and in my school. My 10% bolder is that I am going to write and publish a book based on the impact of building relationships and providing hope to students. The connections that I've made are going to make me a better educator and leader in my district!

Melissa Fike (MO '19)

I'm really excited to integrate more project-based learning lessons into my math classes, and I've already ordered the book Kevin Tobe (MI '15) recommended! I have a meeting set up with my coordinator to share what I've learned so far.

Daniel Willever (NJ '19)

I’m really looking forward to working with Jayda Pugliese (PA '16) to build a vibrant regional network of talented educators and continue the work of the Milken Educators at the state and local level. New Jersey has a significant teacher shortage right now, so I'd like to get to work on changing policies that deter young professionals from teaching.

Becky Junge (WY '21)

[I can't stop thinking about] the power of connection and joining a family of people who want nothing more than to cheer each other on and always push for better. And being 10% bolder and "pressing send" when opportunities arise.

I was most inspired by the others in the room, and particularly by my grades 4/5/6 Job Alike group. There are AMAZING things happening in education across this country, and I am so humbled and honored to be a part of it!

Nick Peruski (MI '19)

I'm inspired to connect with the Michigan network and plan our AME. I also have the spark to work to advocate for legislative policy. I'm going to continue this conversation with my superintendent. Connections I made this past weekend will help on both fronts!

Kevin Tobe (MI '15)

I cannot stop thinking that the palpable energy in the room came from the uniqueness of the participants, their willingness to take calculated risks, and a fearless display of passion for education that often goes misunderstood. We all feel the need to touch that microphone. We also have a desire to use the microphone to amplify our causes, our visions and our aspirations for a more equitable and sustainable system. Excited to help build stronger connections with Milken Educators in our state. Also, looking into applying for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) with a little bit of advice from the legendary Silvia Miranda (NM '18).

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Melissa Martin (AZ '21)

I keep hearing “this isn’t a lifetime achievement award, this is an unleash your potential award” over and over again.

I put it out into the universe that I want my school to be an “A,” and I want my district to be an “A.” Then I sat down and drafted the plan.

Lesley Snyder (SC '21)

Ironically, the Forum has made me feel like I'm connected to a family. (Take that, COVID!) Thanks to everyone for checking in with me and helping me stay connected! You are all seriously inspiring, thoughtful and forward-thinking individuals.

I'm working with the University of South Carolina’s All4SC this summer here in South Carolina on some education policy reform.

Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12)

I was reminded how connecting to like-minded colleagues is so important and valuable for my soul, growth, and sustaining my passion!

Kimberly Collins (VA '21)

This past weekend was incredible! I keep thinking about the power of connection and the power of leadership. I plan to begin national board certification, thank you Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12)! I also am looking forward to connecting with Virginia Milken Educators and learning more about the Teachers of Promise Institute and how I can help.

Jennifer Fuller (TX '17)

I am so inspired to take brave action to create positive change for students in Texas. Alayna Siemonsma (SD '12), Emily Truss (TX '21) and I have already had a meeting to start working on a plan to strengthen our network of MEA teachers and create a Teacher Advisory Council in Texas.

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Brian Allman (WV '19)

I'd like to continue to network and collaborate with others across the country—especially those who are ready to begin AME projects in their own states, since we've already successfully implemented the program in West Virginia. I also look forward to continued connections through the MFF [Milken Friends Forever] program.

Lyndsay Hartmann (NE '19)

I absolutely LOVED the image of "electricity shooting from my fingertips" and the idea of staying plugged in. COVID may have run the 2020 Forum off the track, but I feel like we were all meant to be together in Los Angeles. I left inspired to define my purpose, plan my next steps and harness the Power of the Pin!

Mark Garascia (MO '21)

Following the forum, I am going to start connecting with my fellow Missouri MEA family, Melissa Fike (MO '19) and Dr. Angie Besendorfer (MO '96), to elevate teachers in the state; celebrate my new MEA family, Grant Harbison (AR '21), Jenelle Bryant (DC '21) and Ryan Pfeifer (KS '21) with Zoom happy hours; and activate a new mentorship by getting set up with the MFF mentoring program!

Jenelle Bryant (DC '21)

The MEA Forum left me inspired and I sprang right into action. So far, I've found a few adjunct professor positions that I intend on applying to. I requested a letter of recommendation for those applications and my professional portfolio. I FINALLY updated my MEA profile. I confirmed a speaking engagement as a guest lecturer at Howard University. Lastly, I sent thank-you emails to everyone who has made an impact on my career thus far, as well as those I recently met who attended my notification. The goal is  to continue to connect and show appreciation to my ever-growing professional network. 

Hailey Couch (OK '18)

I am feeling INCREDIBLY INSPIRED!! Every second of the Forum was wonderful. I immediately contacted [Milken Educator Awards Vice President] Stephanie Bishop (VA '01) regarding AME in Oklahoma. We are going to do it! I am excited to continue using my voice while advocating for students and teachers in Oklahoma, and of course to continue to focus on play-based learning.

Gabrielle Kahawai (NM '21)

The Forum was amazing! It was the best feeling to be surrounded by so many people who have the passion and drive to see our future generations succeed and to help them succeed in so many different ways. I am going to work on my platform and what my "why" will be. The Forum gave me so many ideas that I would like to prioritize and look into. I feel strength and confidence knowing that I now have a huge extended family able to provide answers, advice or recommendations for my ideas.

Jane Ching Fung (CA '02)

What everyone said! During our last roundtable share, someone at our table said the Forum was like no other education conference they had ever been to. Often, teacher forums end up as one big venting fest, but the MEA Forum was not like that. It focused on celebrating the positives, finding solutions and sharing the possibilities of our profession. It is something that stuck with me. As a teacher leader, I am going to make it my mission this year to focus on the positives of the profession I love, and be the light when others have lost their way. Every child deserves a Milken Educator and a teacher who teaches with enthusiasm!

Dr. Cindy Moss (NC '01)

My takeaway was that we have the power to make positive change. I had been thinking about events to create to connect educators and inspire them to continue their sacred work. I have now created three different themed events for districts and schools, and our CEO has approved them!

Dr. Jane Foley (IN '94), MEA senior vice president

Even though my favorite subject was math, I can't even begin to compute how much bolder these messages represent. Milken Educators, thank you for continuing and amplifying the surge of elevate and activate, for Taking the Forum "Home," converting your moment into momentum and a movement, and for a glimpse of the "WE" leadership to come. Don't let go.

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