MURRAY, Ky. — On June 13 and 14, Murray State University’s College of Education and Human Services held its fifth annual College and Career Readiness Summit. A record-breaking number of attendees hailed from at least 310 schools from 78 districts across 7 states, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Florida. This two-day event offered free professional development to teachers, counselors, school administrators, and superintendents. Participants were eligible to receive six hours of PD or EILA credit each day.
Kem Cothran, coordinator of Murray State’s Teacher Quality Institute, explained that the summit has become a professional development tradition in the area.
“Each year, I am inspired by the increasing number of participants and the continual desire of local educators to further hone their skills,” shared Cothran.
The event’s first day was held in Alexander Hall and included more than 650 educators attending 126 available information sessions. Topics included innovative classroom strategies for better student engagement, personalized learning techniques, and new technologies for improved learning and increased efficiency. Sessions were taught by Murray State faculty and staff, K-12 educators from across the region, and prominent figures in education including Debbie Silver and Sharon Faber.
“Attendees have come to expect that they are going to learn something of great value from these other educators and respected professionals,” Cothran continued.
Every year, these sessions offer training in current industry topics, such as STEM education and the Leader in Me program.
As Cothran explained, “Participants are going to receive training on something that’s current, something that they need right now in their classrooms. We make sure to provide sessions that meet content area needs for all grade-level teachers – elementary, middle, and high school.”
According to Cothran, “This event is especially important for small school districts to attend. In some districts, for instance, there may only be one grade-level instructor per subject area. By participating in the summit, those teachers are able to network and collaborate with one another in ways that may not otherwise be possible.”
Day two of the summit, held in Lovett Auditorium, saw nearly 1,300 attendees and began with an inspirational presentation by New York Times bestselling author Ron Clark. Clark, who has been known as “America’s educator,” was named Disney’s American Teacher of the Year in 2000 and was recognized as Oprah Winfrey’s first Phenomenal Man. His first book, “The Essential 55,” has sold over one million copies and has been published in 25 countries. His classes were honored three times at the White House, and Clark has been featured on CNN, “The Today Show,” and “Oprah.” He was also portrayed by Matthew Perry in an uplifting film titled “The Ron Clark Story,” which follows Clark’s teaching experiences in a Harlem school system.
Clark, who has taught in schools in North Carolina, New York, and Georgia, shared effective teaching strategies he has developed over the years, putting emphasis on two key factors: enjoyment and building relationships.
For educators struggling to get their students excited to learn, Clark recommended finding innovative ways to spark enjoyment. For him, this has included such tactics as creating rap songs packed with lessons, dressing in costume, and standing on desks.
“If you’re happy and enjoying teaching the content, the kids will enjoy it, too.”
Clark stressed, though, that not everyone has to follow his tactics directly.
“Don’t focus on what you can’t do. Focus on how you are going to use your talents and your skills and your personality to show these kids that you care.”
Clark also emphasized the importance of building relationships with students, parents, and co-teachers, explaining that when you invest time in getting to know someone, everyone involved is going to be happier.
“My grandpa always said, ‘The first step to respect is knowing somebody’s name,’ and that has really stuck with me.”
At the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, teachers are required to learn the names of not only the students but their parents and close family members as well. Parents’ photos even hang on the hallway walls.
When those parents have asked about this in the past, Ron responds with, “This is your school, too; you are part of our family!”
In the end, Clark’s mission is best described by a quote he shared from Frederick Douglass.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Clark’s presentation was followed by a book signing in Pogue Library, where he strived to make a personal connection and take selfies with several attendees.
After attending sessions at the Ron Clark Academy with other educators in 2011 and 2012, it was particularly important for Cothran to bring Clark to the College and Career Readiness Summit at Murray State.
“Bringing Ron was kind of like a bucket list item checked off for me,” stated Cothran. “It helps to see the academy in Atlanta, but you can even feel the inspiration when Ron speaks.”
From time spent around Clark, Cothran has taken away three significant components for success – culture, relationships, and high expectations for both staff and students.
“When you have those three things, no matter what type of school you’re in, you’re going to be successful,” said Cothran.
The summit’s afternoon session on June 14 featured Dr. Stephen Pruitt, Kentucky’s Commissioner of Education, and Rhonda Simms, Associate Commissioner of the Office of Assessment and Accountability. Together, they discussed Kentucky’s new accountability system and answered related questions from summit participants.
With regard to the future of the summit, Cothran shared that emphasis will always be placed on the current needs of educators in our region.
“We have to keep the lines of communication open between the districts and Murray State so that we know what these teachers need to develop professionally. The whole premise of the summit is to benefit them in their individual classrooms, so we need to know what they require,” concluded Cothran.
Sponsors of the 2017 College and Career Readiness Summit included Murray State’s College of Education and Human Services, Teacher Quality Institute, Kentucky Academy of Technology Education, and Office of Development as well as the Kentucky Middle School Association.
New York Times bestselling author Ron Clark poses with attendees of the 2017 College and Career Readiness Summit, held June 13-14 at Murray State University.