Ever since I registered for the 2012 NAESP Conference in October 2011, I had been looking forward to this trip, counting the days until March 22. My first national conference surpassed each and every hope for effective professional development I could have envisioned.

The opening ceremony was powerful and energizing.  Beginning with NAESP President Rob Monson’s own touch of recognizing our U.S. veterans present in the audience, I knew I was in a special place.  Then Diane Ravitch took the stage, leaving no educational reform initiative behind.  She was one of many amazing speakers that I had the privilege of listening to, learning from, and being inspired by.   

Another benefit for principals who attended was the gift of networking.  During the opening ceremony I sat next to Melissa, a dedicated principal from Nebraska.  Over lunch we talked about staff issues, demands and reasons we love our jobs, and balancing motherhood, wifehood, and principalhood, along with funny kid stories. Even though Melissa and I live several states apart, our jobs and the issues we face everyday are similar.  As we finished lunch and went our separate ways, the impact of our conversation will forever leave an impression with me.  There were many other conversations with “strangers” that played out similarly throughout the course of the conference.  Some were aha moments, others were principals looking for guidance and assistance, and still others district office venting sessions, but more importantly we were sharing wisdom among colleagues.

Attending the conference also created spontaneous reunions.  In my case I ran into my mentor principal, Don Lee.  We talked about our chosen paths and the dedication we share for our students and staff.  As Don walked away after our brief encounter, I felt recharged, my eyes were opened a little bit more, and I was even more determined to be the best administrator I can become.

The workshops and sessions covered diverse topics.  I was able to hang out with Malachi Pancoast, “The Breakthrough Coach” who focused on how to work less and still get the job done.  Another favorite was Jim Grant who talked about what extraordinary principals do differently. Jim was loaded with great how to’s, common sense tips, and critical ways a principal can take care of their staff and students.   

No matter what you perceive as your professional strengths and areas for growth, there were sessions from reputable educational leaders to meet you where you are and give practical and realistic advice to transform you into a more effective principal—way too many to write about here without exceeding my word count.J

This holistic approach to meeting the variety of needs of a school administrator was an obvious foundational principle in the design of the conference, and it succeeded. 

I plan to attend future national conferences.  Until then my “Kelso Peeps” and I will continue to keep on the front burner the powerful and critical components that were discussed, taught, and embedded throughout the conference.  We will hold each other accountable to become the extraordinary 20 percent. 

Cindy Cromwell, principal, Butler Acres Elementary School, Kelso, Washington

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