Teachers spent time in community at the California Teachers Summit.
Teachers spent time in community at the California Teachers Summit.

APU School of Education Hosts California Teachers Summit

by Claire Holstead ’17

Educators from across the region came together last month at Azusa Pacific for the third annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit. APU was one of 36 institutions serving as host sites for the statewide July 28 event, which aimed to cultivate a space for teachers to join forces, grow their network, and gain insights into how to engage today’s youth in their classrooms and schools.

The summit is created “for teachers, by teachers” and allows the education community to collaborate and share ways to support students, reinforce the core values of educators, and set a positive example of leadership and innovation for school systems around the country. “Teachers are involved in every aspect of the summit, from the planning stages to facilitating discussions the day of the event,” said Nori Conner, director of outreach and alumni/professional services for APU’s School of Education, which hosted the event. “Because of this, attendees learn real strategies directly from their peers that can be implemented in the new school year. They walk away with a wealth of resources in their toolbox.”

“As a teacher, developing opportunities for rich discussions and academic dialogue takes time, proper planning, and modeling,” said Connie Mimura, M.A.Ed. ’04 and ’08, a seventh grade teacher from First Avenue Middle School in Arcadia Unified School District, who was among the many educators gathered in APU’s Mary Hill Theater on the day of the summit. Mimura found inspiration in a message delivered by Azusa Unified teacher Kimberly Dahm on why “Talk Matters.” “She challenged us to create a culture of collaboration beyond the classroom walls and encourage students to think deeply and passionately as they interpret the world around them,” said Mimura.

This year’s theme, “Now More Than Ever,” highlighted how teachers today, perhaps more than ever before, need to build dynamic networks with other educators to continually improve their practice and successfully empower the next generation of difference makers in the field. The focus on community building and shared learning was demonstrated through TED-style talks by local teachers, EdCamp breakout sessions, and breaks that allowed attendees to connect with their counterparts from other schools. “This summit was a great way to get connected beyond our immediate peer group and engage with teachers from other grade levels, districts, and backgrounds,” said Kelly Farrow, a teacher from Pasadena. “I think teachers would nearly all agree that one thing they need more time for and highly value is collaboration with their peers.”

Keynote speaker Jill Biden, an experienced educator and wife of former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, spoke via simulcast about her teaching career and encouraged the more than 10,000 California educators who attended the summit statewide to continue being lifelong learners who impact not only students’ lives but the lives of parents and others who cross their paths. “Teaching is not just a job; It is a calling,” said Biden. “It is who I am, and it is who you are. We lead by what we do, not by what we say. We give our hearts in little ways: the words we use, the conscious decisions we make to be present, the small acts of kindness. Teachers and education leaders around the world who, with heart, vision, and pure gumption, are changing the lives of families around them.”

Paul Hernandez, a computer science teacher at Sacred Heart High School in Los Angeles, said Biden’s message resonated with him. “I have always believed teachers were lifelong learners—even before becoming one,” said Hernandez. “Dr. Biden’s emphasis on being an ‘educator for life’ stuck with me. We often forget how many lessons we, as teachers, model for students, family members, and even other teachers, whether through simple academic instruction or in transformative life moments.”

That commitment to serving students—and, by extension, the whole community—was evident throughout the summit, held during the summer, when teachers typically enjoy their well-earned time away from work. “I was impressed that so many teachers from all over Southern California made time to join together to learn, share, and network in the middle of summer vacation,” said Hernandez. “Being surrounded by a theater full of other lifelong learners with that level of dedication was exciting and encouraging.”

Claire Holstead ’17 is an editorial intern in the Office of University Relations. She is a communication studies major and leadership minor.