Gathering Together for a Learning Experience

Teachers come together to share ideas

Jen Ellison, Teacher, Phillips Magnet School Napa
Published on March 8, 2019

There is something really powerful when our community of teachers comes together to share ideas.

Having worked in more than one school district, I appreciate the way that Napa Valley Unified School District supports their teachers, as well as the support we get from the larger community.

When I talk to teachers around the United States, they are stunned to learn that we have nonprofit organizations like NapaLearns whose entire focus is to find ways to support and empower teachers so that all students benefit.

Time to learn from innovative teachers

Recently, NapaLearns and the Napa County Office of Education provided every teacher in Napa Valley with an invaluable opportunity: time to learn from some of our most innovative teachers.

Teaching is a surprisingly isolated experience. Most of us work alone in our classrooms to create, build, and deliver our lessons. We stand alone with our students as we strive to provide them with the support they need. Connecting with fellow educators is such an informative experience and we had a chance to do just that at the InnovatEd 2019 Conference.

InnovatED 2019

InnovatEd 2019 was a local, teacher-led professional development conference, organized and sponsored by NapaLearns, the Napa County Office of Education, and the Napa Valley Unified School District. It is part of an ongoing series of workshops that provide Napa Valley teachers with training on the use of technology in the classroom. Yet it was more: It was a chance for teachers to gather as a united community focused on the sole aim of building and improving our craft.

Unlike other professional development conferences that I’ve attended, these sessions were led by my fellow Napa Valley teachers who live in my own community and teach students just like my own. In fact, as I listened to teachers share their ideas, I realized that these same teachers would someday be my students’ teachers.

Teachers attending InnovatED 2019

Almost 120 teachers gathered at New Technology High on a February Saturday morning to share ideas, and learn from each other. As the doors opened at 8:30 a.m., a line of teachers had already gathered — excited for the opportunity and eager to participate in hands-on, cooperative learning, which is far more powerful than hearing a sales pitch about the latest edtech trend.

These teachers hadn’t given up an opportunity to sleep-in to meet with a famous speaker who had travelled great distances, but rather attended for the chance to talk and listen to each other share ideas.

It was amazing to sit together and talk about the best ways to motivate our students and manage our lessons. I learned new ways to use technology to support my students’ learning; and even more amazing, I listened to all the ways that the students of Napa Valley are supported through their entire academic careers. This collaborative event allowed space for educators to discuss both challenges and solutions. We realized that we have a shared responsibility for our students’ successes.

It has been said that we are better together, and that is especially true for teachers. When we are given space to share ideas, we become a powerful, united community driven to ensure that every student in the Napa Valley has a rigorous and empowering educational experience.

For teachers, who are given just a few professional development days each year, InnovatEd 2019 was a worthwhile bonus because ultimately, when you empower teachers, you are really transforming students’ learning experiences.

This article appeared originally in the Napa Valley Register on March 3, 2019.


Jen Ellison is a Napa native who has spent the last five years running the Technology Design Lab at Phillips Magnet Elementary. She has spent over 20 years teaching everything from Kindergarten to high school English. She studied teaching at Chico State University where she earned her multiple subject teaching credential. She was Napa County’s Teacher of the Year in 2017, and recently earned her Masters of Education in innovative technology from Touro University.