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Educators Rock, Find Inspiration and Information at VEA Instructional Conference

When Yewande Austin takes the stage, the room starts rocking. Kicking off VEA's 2017 Instruction and Professional Development Conference with a presentation called "Reclaiming Education," she sang, she poetry-slammed, and she brought out some space-age graphics--but mostly she inspired.

"We don't have to be defined by our circumstances!" thundered the artist, activist, and founder of the Global Institute for Change. "And neither do our students!"

Before she was done, she'd congratulated the more than 300 educators present for having the courage to take on such important work and challenged them to see past differences, break unhealthy cycles in our schools, and continue the fight for equitable education for all.

"She was fabulous," said Jennifer Andrews of the Henrico Education Association, and the hotel stayed energized through the numerous breakout sessions that began the morning after Austin's speech: In one room, educators were talking through effective classroom management that was still culturally affirming; in another, security issues were on the table. Down the hall, ideas for making ESSA work effectively for students and teachers were being exchanged; around the corner, other educators were getting very hands-on in a "Claymation" workshop.

Other breakouts covered issues including managing stress, teacher retention, special education policy, mobile apps, and inclusion and diversity, and were led by Association members, university professors, and Virginia Department of Education officials.

"It was very informative training," said Dr. Angelnet Stith, of the Greensville Education Association. "It definitely filled in some gaps for me." She especially enjoyed being in a session on performance-based assessments, because "that's where Virginia is headed and we need to be ready."

Andrews took a lot away from an ESSA workshop and a session on Virginia's new high school graduation requirements, which begin for students entering ninth grade in 2018. "Things are changing and there's a lot of misunderstanding out there," she said.

Chesterfield Education Association President Sonia Smith had a message for VEA members across the Commonwealth who didn't make it to this year's event: Sign up in 2018. "If you're not here, you don't know what you missed."

To see photos from the conference, visit VEA's photo site at








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