Middle school educators have had some practice in the virtual classroom, and it shows! We never could have predicted the overwhelming participation and enthusiasm from members all over the world during our first-ever virtual conference, many of whom could not have attended in person. The lower ticket price and ability to participate from home enabled teachers of all socioeconomic backgrounds in districts near and far to take part in #AMLE20, and we believe this has been one of our most memorable and successful conferences yet thanks to our amazing community. More teachers, administrators, and staff were able to participate in the conference than ever before, and that’s something to celebrate!
Check out some of the top takeaways from this year’s conference sessions:
- “We must Maslow before they can Bloom!” Make sure that your students’ basic needs are covered so they can thrive. Remember what you’re there to do and your why, and build relationships with your students and their families.—Dwayne Reed, “The Educator Your Scholars Need”
- Archeology is a dirty job, and archeologists can dig for decades without finding anything. But when they score, they score really big. Digging for our own biases and stereotypes is messy, but along with the Peril comes Promise and incredible Power. “Who cultivates your genius?”—Yolanda Sealey Ruiz, “Archeology of the Self”
- Middle level students are able to understand that there are 3 parts of the brain: the brain stem and the amygdala (the “hot” part of your brain) and the pre-frontal cortex (the “cool” part of your brain). Use mindfulness activities to help students use the “cool” part of the brain and make better decisions.—Debbie Silver, “Helping Students THRIVE in an Inequitable World”
- “We’re farmers. We plant seeds, and unlike farmers, we’re not there to reap the crops. We’re not there to see the fruits of our labors, but we know that there are those in the outside world who benefit from the foundations that we help to build.”—Joe Pizzo, AMLE Educator of the Year
- “The good news is that the resiliency research is showing over again that one predictable, emotionally available, sustainable connection can trump the ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) in our environment. But we’ve got to pay attention to not just the individual, also looking at the community environment and the collective historical experiences.”—Lori Desautels, “A Vision for the Successful Middle School”
- Who is Gen Z and how do we PARTNER with them? Gen Z’ers are Private, Anxious, Restless, Tech Savvy, Nurtured, Entrepreneurial and Redemptive. “Generation Z needs coping methods that can help them fight the anxiety epidemic and find balance in their own life.”—Andrew McPeak, “How to Help Generation Z Recover from Their Mental Health Crisis”
- “Teachers, I know if you’re like me, you recognize that your kids might be compliant, but they’re not empowered.” The time is now to teach differently. One kid, one class, one lesson at a time.—Kim Campbell, “Transforming the Norm”
- “Lifequakes” are life-changing transitions that can have aftereffects for years. During the collective lifequake of coronavirus, teach students to see both the negative and the positive: they can feel both upset and hopeful. Use “when,” not “if” language to talk about the future. When it comes to shameful feelings, “name it to tame it.” Recognize that the feeling isn’t part of them and it will pass.
The conference kicked off in full force Friday night with a happy hour gathering to announce the Innovation Challenge winner. Katie Malenich from Springton Lake Middle School took the top prize for her school’s TV studio!
Steven Mertens, Ph.D. and Nancy Ruppert, Ed.D. earned AMLE’s highest honor, the John H. Lounsbury Award for Distinguished Service in Middle Level Education, and Joe Pizzo was awarded AMLE Educator of the Year. Congratulations to all our outstanding members.
There’s one more group that gained access to the conference through this new digital format: Students! To aid in our social media efforts, we chose a group of talented finalists and one winner to be Student Influencers. Hunter Hayes, KaNeya Davis, Valentina Castillo and Cooper Riddle made up our first-ever round of finalists for this contest; they interviewed some of their favorite authors, and winner Hunter Hayes worked alongside our social media team to keep our feeds full of positive posts all weekend long. And according to our metrics, their content received more likes and shares than anything else we posted!
KaNeya Davis interviewed our featured speaker, Phyllis Fagell. Reflecting on her experience, KaNeya told us, “This was an amazing opportunity. I loved talking with Mrs. Fagell, she was such a joy!!” KaNeya added, “She is an amazing professional who added a level of comfort and expertise to everything that she said. I truly enjoyed talking with her and her book.”
It’s clear from Valentina Castillo Figueroa’s interview that she’s a big fan of Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz! She responded, “Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this incredible opportunity. Getting to meet Yolanda was the coolest experience ever and even though this was my only interview I think it’s going to be my favorite interview that I will do in my life.”
The Conference in the Cloud
Though we didn’t get to enjoy the familiar conference hustle and bustle or hug our long-distance colleagues, producing our first-ever virtual conference uncovered a swath of new opportunities and experiences that never would have been possible at our conference-as-usual. We made sure to create plenty of venues for real-time interaction on the Pathable conference site and on social media, and as you can see from our data, the AMLE community came together to learn from each other and share their middle school spirit like never before.
Teaching and leading remotely prepared our community of educators well for a weekend of Zoom panels and presentations, punctuated with trips to the virtual Exhibitor’s Hall and some breaks to celebrate award winners. Attendees participated in a scavenger hunt and racked up points for exploring different areas of the conference site. And, of course, there was plenty of swag! Each attendee received their new copy of The Successful Middle School: This We Believe in the weeks leading up to the conference. Blinging Ts and Publisher Spotlight gave away tee shirts and books, and several other exhibitors and sponsors offered access to free digital resources.
A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience
We may have never thought to hold a virtual conference before this year, and though the pandemic turned most of our schools upside-down, we were truly inspired by the resilience—and brilliance—of our presenters, exhibitors, sponsors and, of course, the attendees that make each year’s conference a success. We don’t know for sure what next year will bring, but your willingness to try new things and show up for each other no matter what has opened up an array of new possibilities for #AMLE21. We hope to see you next year!