How Teacher Residency Programs Can Prepare for the National Symposium


November 7, 2023 — The National Symposium for Educator Preparation, Policy, and Leadership is set for April 17-19, 2024 in Chicago, and NCTR wants to provide insight on how best you can prepare to attend this one-of-a-kind, in-person event. NCTR spoke with two team members who formerly served as directors of teacher residency programs in NCTR’s Network–Randall Lahann, former director of the Nashville Teacher Residency, and Elizabeth Hearn, former director of CREATE Teacher Residency–to offer advice on preparing for NCTR’s Symposium.

Can you share your experience attending Symposium as a residency director? What were the highlights and benefits? What were the drawbacks if any?

Randall Lahann: The biggest benefits came from the program connections. Specifically, the sessions where partners shared their practice and their PDFs of their materials. They give you stuff, show it, and are ready to answer questions – these sessions would inform my practice in really significant ways! It was the magic of smallish conference rooms with peers, talking shop. Invaluable.

Elizabeth Hearn: Symposium was, for three years, a critical gathering for me to deepen my understandings of residency work, be (re)energized by the community/movement, and connect with other residency leaders who helped me understand my own strengths and opportunities for improved leadership. There are several unique aspects specific to leadership of a residency program that I was able to work on/contemplate while at Symposium: How to: best approach the cultivation of cross-organizational relationships (sometimes with unfamiliar or even skeptical local leaders), manage one’s own residency staff and finances, and navigate the inherent tensions between financial stability and innovation/risk-taking.

Additionally, the travel time with colleagues from my own program provided a block of time to talk, to problem-solve and push each other’s thinking far beyond what we could do amidst the hustle and bustle of our normal setting. 

Do you have any tips or advice on how to pay for it, who should attend, and how to prepare?

Randall: Bring who trains your mentor teachers, bring your staff that connect with schools. Directors often go to many events/programming from NCTR and so they have insight on what’s going on in the national conversation and get to connect with other programs in those ways. Oftentimes, staff are not afforded the same in-depth advantage of these opportunities, so it’s crucial for teacher residency staff to attend symposium to connect and hear information from the national level on the state of teacher residencies… [As a teacher residency director], it was so comforting for my staff to be around others who faced challenges in supporting their teacher residents. It helped them see that it wasn’t just them. It is part of the work, and we were all in this together.

Elizabeth: Symposium was an opportunity for our team members who are responsible for one element of residency programming (such as mentor professional leadership) to make connections with others who also provide such programming, as well as to learn some new approaches specific to their job role. We looked for opportunities to send team members who otherwise didn’t have the opportunity to engage much with NCTR programming and/or who would benefit from a bird’s eye view of it all. Once we had a university leader and a school-based leader attend together, that relationship was noticeably strengthened across those few days.

For preparation, consider what it is you’d really like to learn more about so that you can use your time at Symposium wisely. When it comes to financing, private foundations often respond positively to a specific “ask” such as the funds for two or four people to travel to and stay in Chicago for three days of powerful learning alongside other residency leaders. If you have established relationships with any foundations, perhaps reaching out now with this very specific request could help. [To that end, many/all grant applications could include a line item for travel to events such as this. It can fit into just about any application because the work happening at Symposium supports the work of almost every residency leadership initiative you may be otherwise generating funding for.]

Any other thoughts to share?

Randall: The greatest asset NCTR has is its Network of awesome programs. I’ve always loved Symposium because it’s that shared space where you know everyone has similar mission/visions, the same background knowledge, and conversations can move so much deeper, so much more quickly. I appreciate that we give programs a chance to share what they’ve learned and accomplished, and I encourage that, not just at the director level, but at all positions. What’s a great clinically based math curriculum you’ve been working on? What made for a really special and inclusive selection day?  I’d love to see us continue to build on that type of sharing at NCTR’s Symposium! 

Elizabeth: Symposium is an opportunity to share a space for three days with people who speak your language, know your work, and can relate to your innovator/changemaker experience powerfully from the moment they meet you.