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It’s Not Face-to-Face But Networking Retains an Essential Place at AASA’s Virtual Conference

By Jay P. Goldman |

One of the principal lures of attending the AASA national conference for many school leaders is what happens between the lines and off the published schedule – the informal professional networking in the convention center corridors and coffee gathering spots.

With AASA’s 2021 national conference operating virtually, that activity obviously has been altered fundamentally but not fully. Networking among peers has not disappeared from AASA’s conference scene. But it is different.

AASA staged a series of 28 Ed Networking Chats, informal discussion opportunities on designated topics and during published time slots on the conference schedule. The chats, running 45 minutes each, enabled small groups of up to 25 to gather in virtual meeting rooms to share know-how on particular themes. The late afternoon sessions took place on both conference days.

The Ed Networking Chats addressed a range of topics, some more tangible than others. Several focused on improving educators’ attention to students’ mental well-being. Another, co-hosted by a pair of school system leaders, helped superintendents understand how to publish a book.

Mike Lubelfeld, superintendent of the North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Ill., co-hosted a session with friend and colleague Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden HS District 212 in Franklin Park, Ill. Their topic: Being “unfinished” as an education leader. About 20 participants from across the country tuned into their chat room.

“We talked about leadership from an equity lens, an empathy lens. We shared leadership opportunities as well as the often elusive work life integration or balance we all need,” Lubelfeld reported following the session.

The chat was wide ranging and spirited. “Camaraderie, laughter, talking about families, intentionality of reflection, need to focus on how our kids are unfinished as well as our adults. We all emphasized the need, especially now, to find the positive, seek the silver lining,” he added.

“It was a well received, energizing and a very personal experience,” Lubelfeld said. “Kudos to AASA for placing this opportunity in the virtual conference. It was very humanizing!”

Kayla Jackson, a project director with AASA’s Children’s Programs Department, hosted a networking chat about the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines on the reopening of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The participants also had access to experts from CDC, and the questions ranged from vaccines (rollout, timelines, expected timeline for children) to ventilation and cleaning of school buildings, and the hotly debated guideline over maintaining six feet of separation between students and school staff to prevent spread of the virus.

“The discussion was appreciated, participants were engaged and reflected the diversity of AASA members and districts – Southern, urban, Midwestern, West Coast, large, small. I’m glad we were able to do this for our members today,” Jackson said.

(Jay Goldman is editor of Conference Daily Online and editor of AASA’s School Administrator magazine.)

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