Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Reactions and Takeaways from the 2024 MEA Forum

June 28, 2024

Unleashing Educator Leadership: The theme of our 2024 Milken Educator Awards Forum inspired recipients from the class of 2023 to imagine new ways to be leaders in the profession. Attendees gathered with veteran Milken Educators and Milken Family Foundation staff June 6-7 in Los Angeles to learn and dream together. We asked them to share their reactions—what has stuck with them and how the Forum motivated them to go forward and amplify their voices. Read on for some of their comments. 

See photos from the 2024 MEA Forum: Sessions | 2024 Portraits | Red Carpet

Eva Irwin (VA '23)

I expected the Milken Educator Award Forum to be insightful, but I never expected it could have been as life-changing as it was. It was powerful to be around a group of solution-oriented, compassionate, hard-working, empathetic, and innovative like-minded educators who believe in the future of American education while recognizing the need for reform and new ideas. I am so honored to be part of this amazing family of world-changing humans. Thank you for the reminder that it only takes one person to change lives, and to always be "10% bolder"! My heart and mind are full.

Meghan LeFevers (NC '17)

We have the opportunity to be a change agent for students and other educators every day! To whom much is given, much is expected! What a blessing we have each day to be a change agent for kids!

Ashley Wilkins (WV '23)

Being “10% bolder” is what stuck out to me from the Forum. Since coming home, I met with the superintendent and director of secondary education to begin the planning stages of a book study surrounding "Unleashing Teacher Leadership" and implementing the text into the new teacher professional development. I was also asked during this meeting to sit on the interview committee responsible for choosing our next principal.

Kelly Sheridan (ID '23)

I’ve never had an experience like this before. It’s one of the only times in my life where I knew my life was changing in the moment.

I am so proud to be a member of this new community! Meeting the other 2023 Awardees, veteran Awardees, Milken Family Foundation staff members, and Lowell and Mike Milken was the highlight by a mile. It has been an empowering and validating experience. Something has been unlocked and I already have some dreams of what I want to do with this newfound influence and perspective on what it means to be an educator in America.

Bradley Absher (MD '23)

What I do matters and every day I enter the building is another day I can have an important impact on my students, my staff and my community. I can inspire my students and my coworkers with my actions. “The Power of the Pin,” to me, is a constant reminder that what we do matters and we need to do our best every day, whether you're teaching math class or observing a coworker to help them grow.

Jane Ching Fung (CA '02)

Even after 22 years in this Network, the words that always come to mind after every Notification, Forum, or event have been, "Never let go." Being named a Milken Educator is truly a gift that keeps on giving. You are now a part of a family that extends beyond your classroom. A family that knows and understands you and will support you every step of your educational journey.

Marissa McCarthy (OH '23)

The Milken Educator Awards Forum has changed the trajectory of my life. These past few days have been an incredible experience and I can’t thank the MEA team enough! It was an honor to be celebrated, elevated, and activated. I can’t wait to continue this lifelong connection to the Milken Educator Family. 

Silvia Miranda (NM '18)

Unleash the leader in you, in whatever capacity that may be! You can be a leader in many ways, leading the students in your classroom and the teachers in your school. It can start with saying yes to what aligns with your passion!

Ashley Post (AR '23)

An experience like this is difficult to put into words, but it is truly an honor of a lifetime to be surrounded by such an incredible group of people! "Celebrate, Elevate, Activate" is replaying in my head along with many other words of encouragement and drive presented at the Forum.

I will cherish October 4 [the day Ashley received her Milken Educator Award] and June 5-7 for the rest of my days! I’m thankful for the positivity and networking that filled the days at the Forum! It was a true breath of fresh air!

I am so proud to be in the field of education and I pray for all the young people aspiring to change lives as educators as well as the people already living that journey!

Comfort Agboola (IL '23)

Individual effort may bring personal success, but true excellence is forged through collaboration and the support of a village. Together, we share diverse perspectives, skills, and strengths, achieving far more than we ever could alone.

Maggie Jiang Arnold (MD '23)

The Milken Educator Awards are not only given to celebrate what we have accomplished so far, but what we will achieve by being “10% bolder.” I am so inspired and empowered by everyone at the Forum! The Forum just validated my "why"!

Let's celebrate, elevate, and activate!

Jade Pham (HI '23)

"Transport yourself from the world of teaching to the world of excellent teaching." What an honor it was to share a room with nationally-recognized educators. I am still processing my many learnings from the Milken Educator Awards Forum. Thank you to the Milken Family Foundation for inspiring and empowering us to unleash our educator leadership! And for celebrating us like famous people!

Dr. Cindy Moss (NC '01)

What we are doing matters and we have the Milken Educator Network supporting us!

Derrick Winn (LA '23)

So what? As asked by Wade Whitehead (VA '00) and echoed by Principal Baruti Kafele (NJ '09) and others. What are we going to do after this? I've been inspired to dare to be bold and strive for the change our students so desperately need. I've met some truly amazing educators who have now become family.

Hailey Elaine Couch (OK '18)

Use your voice:

Others want to hear from YOU. They NEED to hear from you. More so now than ever. WE have the ability to make great changes and be such positive influences with “The Power of the Pin.” Use your voice for the greater good to advocate for education and your own professional educator platform. Know your "why," stay on your path, and share your "why" with others. There is so much negative talk on the topic of education. Let’s share all the good! Let’s CELEBRATE. Celebrate you, your colleagues and your students.

Never let go and stay connected! Utilize the Network; it is here for you!

A side story: When I left the Forum in March 2019, I wanted to advocate for and share my "why." I ended up having the opportunity to co-write legislation on the topic of play-based learning, and it got passed. Moral of the story: You never know what will come about while using your voice. Be brave. Be bold. Stand up for what you believe in. You may stumble into accidentally writing a bill and getting it passed, resulting in positively affecting every early childhood educator in your state. Use your voice!

Taylor Trost (NJ '23)

One message that is sticking with me is how powerful speaking life into others can be.

Whether it was receiving positive affirmations from fellow Milken Educators, or learning how impactful leading with strength-based coaching can be, when we uplift and encourage others toward their greatness, the possibilities are endless!

Sarah Vicini (SC '23)

I feel as though I could write a book on all of the takeaways I had from this Forum. But to keep it short(er than a book), I think I could sum it up with one word: "connection."

The power of connection was so evident.

Connection among those in the Milken Educator Network, from the new and veteran Milken Educators to the Milken leaders and their incredibly inspiring stories of change and accomplishment. Understanding the opportunity to make a genuine change in the world of education when these connections are strengthened, ideas are shared and solutions are developed.

Connection among teacher leaders and those we serve. Recognizing that with any leadership role comes a responsibility to always remember to connect and understand the person you are working alongside.

Connection within ourselves. Truly connecting with and understanding our personal "why" and pursuing it with full strength and a "10% bolder" mindset at all times. That connection with yourself and your purpose allows you to use your voice to the fullest extent.

And above all, a connection to our students. Remembering that they are our ultimate "why." In connecting with them and actively working to understand their individual needs and strengths, we have the capability to provide them with the best education and best hope for success in the classroom. As well as through the revitalization of the education system in this country as a whole.

Asia Cunningham (NC '23)

The power of being linked to a Network of other amazing educators! I don’t know where this path is going to take me, but I walk it with grace, honor and humility! I am open to all things and commit to saying yes to the right things for me! I’ve never left a forum and not wanted to go home!

Hillary Hoyt Bellefleur (ME '21)

I have been trying to process and put into words what participating in the 2024 Milken Educator Awards Forum meant to me not only as an educator but as a person. I found that by thinking of it in the "Celebrate, Elevate, and Activate" motto I can try to express my true appreciation for getting to be a part of it.

Celebrate: Getting to celebrate all the 2023 Milken Educators was incredible. They are a group of people who truly love education in all its forms while also striving to make it better. They taught me so much that I am going to bring back into my classroom and community. Everyone that I got to meet made an impact on me just as I know they do their students.

Elevate: It was inspiring to see that in all conversations with new and veteran Milken Educators alike there was this sense of unwavering support. Everyone was there to help others become "10% bolder."

During my time at the Forum, I felt so supported by everyone around me. I hope that everyone gets to feel what I felt. I did things I was nervous to do (present on a panel about the Maine Milken project and did an interview for the American Dream Project). There was never a second where I didn’t feel 100% encouraged.

Activate: This is what truly makes it such a special event. When leaving, no one wants to say goodbye but we all felt this energy and excitement for what lies ahead both in the near and far future. I have gotten to be in contact with many educators in the days that have followed about next ideas, meetups, and connections. As Jane Foley said, “Don’t let go.”

Shane Baker (KY '23)

We encouraged, inspired and learned from each other during our 2.5 days. We challenged each other to be “10% bolder” than we currently are to use our newfound reach and platform to push education to further heights! I now have a national Network full of OUTSTANDING people who have my back.

The Forum itself was a true spectacle! I definitely felt celebrated for my work as a teacher. We got to walk the red carpet and dress up for our Awards ceremony, but my favorite part was connecting with these wonderful individuals. Jane Foley shared four common qualities among Milken Educators: Excellence, Drive, Humility, and Students at the Center. I saw how each and every person I met embodied those qualities.

Ben Nguyen (NV '19)

Who knew a few days away from home could be so invigorating? Congrats to everyone in the most recent class of the Milken Educator Awards. Shout out to Yami and Joseph from the Silver State! From the stellar sessions to many moments of reflection, I think the future's looking much brighter working alongside these remarkable people in education.

Megan Eilers (AK '23)

I have never been so moved and inspired to continue on this journey to go and do amazing things!

Krissy Long (MS '23)

Forever grateful for this opportunity and these people. Thank you, Milken Educator Awards, for investing in me and seeing my potential. Time to activate my future!

Lauren Waguespack (LA '23)

The Milken Educator Awards Forum was beyond amazing! I am so grateful to have been blessed with this honor and opportunity. This experience has broadened my view and understanding of how educators can have such a tremendous impact on the world around them even beyond their classroom. It has been a privilege getting to meet, spend time with and learn from these amazing world-changers. I love my new Milken family, especially my Louisiana Milkens! I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

Juan Dominguez (TX '23)

I’m beyond blessed to have gotten the opportunity to attend the Milken Educator Awards Forum in Los Angeles. I got to represent Somerset ISD. Lots and lots of learning! I got to listen and learn from Milken Educators from around the country! I got to pick their brains. All I can say is "wow!" I left inspired and ready to take what I have learned to continue my journey as an educator!


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