Robyn Jackson, PhD, and CEO of Mindsteps Inc., during a general session, “You cannot achieve 100% success with an 80% culture.”

For those passionate about leading and learning, the Mile High City was the place to be last week as nearly 2,000 school leaders gathered for Ignite 2023, the premier conference for secondary school leaders. With over 100 peer learning opportunities and interactive experiences held at the Gaylord Rockies Resort & Convention Center, school leaders connected with colleagues from around the country and shared actionable strategies to better meet the complex challenges facing their school communities.

“This conference has ignited us to be better leaders, ready to take home practical solutions to secondary education challenges,” said Stacia Dillin, assistant principal of Gainesville High School in Gainesville, GA.

Among the powerful school leader presenters was Jessica Hodges, assistant principal of Northwest Rankin High School in Flowood, MS. During her session on inspiring learners and developing leaders, she shared that offering fresh solutions is what makes this conference special.

“Among the perennial challenges schools face is that teachers aren’t given the time they need to work in teams,” Hodges said. That’s why this past year her school created professional development networks to build in more planning time together. This time enabled her school’s special education department to share with classroom teachers how they could better support students with IEPs. And the technology department showed them how to use ChatGPT. “The top reason teachers are leaving is because they don’t feel respected or supported,” she said. “So, we do everything we can to build in that time.”

With the creation of its Leadership Networks, NASSP has taken Hodges’ insights to a new level. Led by and geared toward school leaders, the networks are collaborative spaces for school leaders to share similar lived experiences, passions, and interests so they can connect with each other personally and professionally. Network meetings are held online every month throughout the year. At Ignite, networks convened to swap stories and strategies, with several of them meeting in person for the first time.

Roderick Sheppard, the former principal of Florence High School in Florence, AL, who is two weeks into his new role as the district’s director of student services, said the conference will help him make an impact throughout his district. “These sessions have equipped me with so many tangible strategies and actions I can use as soon as I’m back home,” he said. “From keynote sessions to networking with people from different states experiencing similar issues, I heard so many ideas and had the opportunity to bounce them off experts to make my practice more effective.” 

Author Jimmy Casas, a featured lunch speaker at Ignite.

While attendees came to the conference for various aspects of their practice, they all circled back to students. To emphasize that point, Ignite shone a light on NASSP’s student leadership programs,“spaces where the seeds of leadership are sown and nurtured, where service becomes a way of life, where the journey to reimagine and rebuild our education system begins,” said NASSP President Aaron Huff.  

Ignite 2023 may be over, but the learning continues with Ignite+. This online professional development opportunity runs from September to December and is tailored to enhance your school leadership skills. Ignite+ is free for NASSP members and $250 for non-members, who receive an NASSP membership with their purchase. 

“This conference isn’t a pit-stop,” said NASSP CEO Ronn Nozoe. “It’s a launchpad for a bold vision: cultivating a generation of courageous school and student leaders to reimagine and rebuild an education system that meets every student’s needs by providing equitable access and opportunity.”  

Take your learnings to make this school year the best one yet, and save the date for next summer’s UnitED, the NAESP and NASSP joint National Conference on School Leadership, July 15–17, 2024. 

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