Empowering Educators: Highlights from the DSEA Fall Leadership Development Conference

On October 14, educators from across Delaware gathered at Del-Tech Georgetown for the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) Fall Leadership Development Conference. The event, which offered a rich program of breakout sessions and insightful interviews, left attendees feeling more equipped to lead and advocate effectively within their education communities.

Unlocking the Power of Leadership

The Leadership Development Conference serves as a crucial platform for educators to enhance their leadership skills, connect with peers, and acquire the knowledge and tools necessary to address the challenges facing education today.

The conference featured three key session topics:

  • Organizing 101 (Part 1): Based on the book "Secrets of a Successful Organizer," this session introduced participants to the essential tools and strategies required to identify workplace issues and develop campaigns aimed at providing effective solutions. Attendees were informed that the second part of this session would be offered at the February 3, 2024, Leadership Conference.
  • Foundations of Advocacy: This session targeted educators who desired to develop the skills necessary for advocating on behalf of their peers during administrative meetings and navigating the grievance process. Advocacy is a critical skill in a profession where educators often find themselves advocating for the rights and well-being of both their fellow educators and students.
  • New Leader Skills: Designed for emerging leaders with three years or less experience in leadership roles, this session covered topics such as the importance of bylaws and policies, understanding the fiduciary role, and conducting effective local meetings. It provided a solid foundation for new leaders to navigate their roles effectively.

Insights from Attendees

Several attendees shared their insights and experiences from the conference, highlighting the valuable knowledge and skills they gained:

Steve Fackenthall, president of the Red Clay Education Association, highlighted the importance of asking the right questions to address the root issues that educators and students face.

“Folks are leaving this profession at a rapid rate. Folks are not going into this profession,” said Fackenthall. “Talking to our members and potential members in 1:1 conversations is critical. We need to map out those questions to reach them and find their “why” to bring more into action (and into our union).

“Talking to our members, meeting them where they are at, finding their core about why they do this work is so important. Recognizing that in order for us to ‘get’ from our members, as local leaders, we need to do a lot of ‘give’ first.”

Karen Ewing, who is president of the Christina Secretaries Association, found great value in the mock conversations that took place during the conference.

“The mock conversations, between the instructor and local leader, helped show how you can make important connections with the member,” said Ewing. “When you engage with the member, you learn what’s important to them. “It offered practical insights into building connections and encouraging member engagement in issues that matter to them. Ewing also expressed a desire for more scenarios of this kind, allowing attendees to engage in discussions and gain guidance on what works, what doesn't, and why.

Gretchen Loose, president of the Christina Paraprofessional Association, shared her appreciation for the openness of fellow leaders in sharing their success stories and the detailed information on how they achieved success. The willingness of experienced leaders to share their knowledge was indeed an asset, as it prevents new leaders from having to reinvent the wheel and facilitates a more collaborative approach to addressing challenges.

Advice for New Leaders

When asked about their advice for new leaders considering attending the conference, Karen Ewing recommended that they take full advantage of the training opportunities provided by DSEA. However, she also cautioned them to recognize that not all materials from the training may be immediately implementable.

Instead, Ewing suggested that new leaders should use the knowledge and skills acquired to guide their journey toward becoming better leaders, taking measured steps to implement change without becoming overwhelmed.

Steve Fackenthall had a broader perspective, noting that even experienced leaders can glean valuable insights from the conference. He highlighted the possibility of encountering new ideas or approaching problems from a different angle. Additionally, he stressed the importance of passing on the knowledge gained to others, contributing to the growth and success of the union.

The Leadership Development Conference is a vital event that equips local leaders with the skills, tools, and knowledge needed to address the challenges faced by educators in the field and by their members at the local level. New and experienced leaders alike stand to benefit from this conference, ultimately contributing to the growth and improvement of education in Delaware.

The next Leadership Development Conference will take place on February 3, 2024 at Del Tech in Dover.