Revamped MEA conference draws praise, thousands of members

Revamped MEA conference draws praise, thousands of members

More than 1,400 Education Minnesota members from across the state packed the Saint Paul RiverCentre on Thursday to network, get CEUs and mingle with education exhibitors.

The annual Minnesota Educator Academy (MEA) conference featured close to 90 workshops, most focusing on re-licensure areas, and four mini-keynote speakers.

The conference looked a little different this year, with a smaller exhibit hall, only taking place Thursday, Oct. 18 and being open to Education Minnesota members only.

“The MEA conference will still be there for all our members who need training for re-licensure or who want to improve their skills,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “But in this new environment, union educators can no longer subsidize the professional development that should be provided by the charter-school industry and private schools.”

Education Minnesota members loved the change, which meant they could pre-register for classes and make sure they could get into the ones they wanted or needed. In the past, many of the re-licensure sessions would be at max room capacity and educators would be turned away.

“I liked not being crowded in sessions,” said Jan Burda, from Spring Lake Park. “Members in our local sometimes question the cost of dues, but all you have to do it point to this conference and all of the other professional development opportunities as a value.”

Carol Larson came from Little Falls this year, even though she hadn’t attended the conference in quite a while.

“I found some classes that rejuvenated me in my last few years in the profession,” she said. “I also love just being with my fellow educators.”

Larson said that the changes to the conference this year were important to making sure the union is a strong, united group.

“It is so important that we are a strong, cohesive group,” she said. “Our union supports our profession and us as professionals.”

Dena Thorson, a member of the Dakota County United Educators, said that the conference is such a great resource and she doesn’t want to see it go away.

“I had plenty of other stuff I could have done today,” she said. “But we all think someone else will go and it will be there for me when I need it. So, I needed re-licensure credits and I came. It’s important to me to have this great resource.”

Classes on student mental health, suicide prevention, cultural competency and increasing student engagement were among the most popular.

The day kicked off with featured speaker Jitu Brown, the national director of Journey for Justice, an alliance of more than 30 grassroots groups in two dozen cities. Brown talked about educators being organizers and leading the fight against privatization.

“We don’t have a resource problem, though we could always use more funding,” said Brown. “When it comes to public schools, we have a values problem.”

The 2018 Minnesota Teacher of the Year Kelly Holstine was a mini-keynote, talking about educators need to work to improve their own mental health have a positive effect on students. Holstine also sat on a panel of former Minnesota Teacher of the Year finalists and the 2017 Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Corey Bulman.

Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting described the latest research on the effect of digital media on developing brains.

“The brain has a suite of skills,” said Walsh. “In our students, these skills are a work in progress, under development. Sometimes media gets in the way of these things and sometimes it helps.”

Educators left the conference with bags full of CEUS, as well as freebies from the exhibit hall.