Embracing Transformative Education at Educators Rising 2024

Jessica Tackaberry
Feb 28, 2024
Embracing Transformative Educators

We are learning to educate, engage, and empower learners to succeed in a dynamic world by providing equitable learning opportunities to explore, create, and thrive while being seen, heard, and valued as their authentic selves. 

As educators, we show up daily to educate, engage, and empower our learners in positive, constructive, and equitable ways where the impact is lasting. Honestly, sometimes it is not easy to know whether we fully met the mark- even though we did our best. Then, one day, a student or students shows us how we have impacted their lives. Not only do they want us to know we have made an impact, but they want to share their experiences with other teachers, too. 

The 2024 Educators Rising Conference brought together students and teachers from Bahrain, Belgium, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Turkey and encouraged them to interact, learn, and grow together. The work continued to be built upon, even after the conference ended, as expressed by some of the students and teachers who participated.

Camille Siguenza (Rota Middle High School, 11th grade student)

The Educators Rising Conference unexpectedly was a transformative experience. I had never considered education as a career before due to the misconceptions I had. I simply joined Educators Rising to be a part of a club. However, through this journey, my blinders were struck down, and I acquired a newfound appreciation for all those in the education field. At the conference, I was immersed in an environment where the passion presenters and sponsors had for teaching was palpable. It was truly inspirational. Never before had I seen teachers with such a blazing fire. I believe a similar conference like this would serve teachers well, as students can engage and retain more having a teacher with such passion.

Embracing Transformative Educators

Carter Durst (Wiesbaden High School, 11th grade student)

As a student navigating Educators Rising, Class of 2025, I've encountered a transformative educational experience that goes beyond conventional norms. In this reflection, I share my insights into the innovative teaching techniques that have reshaped my understanding of education, advocating for their broader implementation within DoDEA school communities.

Students at Educators Rising work on an assignment while they collaborate.

Building Community:

One striking aspect of my time at Educators Rising is the emphasis on community-building within the classroom and the school as a whole. I witnessed teachers in the DoDEA system masterfully establish trust and meaningful relationships with every student, creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment. Through these connections, I've come to appreciate the profound impact of community on collaboration and academic success.

Interactive Learning Beyond Textbooks:

My history of the year teacher, Ms. Helen Rose, has been a beacon of inspiration, demonstrating how learning can transcend traditional textbooks.  Rose's interactive and meaningful approach has fueled my enthusiasm for subjects that may have seemed mundane in a conventional setting. Her methods have not only fostered critical thinking but also ignited a genuine passion for learning, proving that education can be an engaging and dynamic experience.

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL):

One of the most impactful lessons I've gleaned from my education at Educators Rising revolves around Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Guided by the knowledgeable Marla L. Echols, I delved into SEL concepts using picture books, exploring social awareness, self-management, self-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. This holistic approach has expanded my perception of what school is and can be, emphasizing the importance of emotional intelligence alongside academic knowledge.


My experiences at Educators Rising have shaped my perspective on education, urging a reevaluation of traditional approaches. I believe that DoDEA school communities have a unique opportunity to embrace these transformative practices, creating a more enriching and holistic learning environment for students. Through community-building, interactive learning, and the integration of SEL, we can redefine the educational experience, fostering not just academic growth but the overall well-being of students.

A Facebook post from Kaiserslautern High School highlighting the many events and students who participated at Educators Rising.

Students pose for a group photo at Educators Rising.

Athena Stewart (Rota Middle High School, 11th grade student)

I’ve known I wanted to be a teacher since I was in elementary school. The idea of influencing young people - our future - has always been something I aspire to do. I have always wanted to make a difference, and even if I can’t change the whole world, I can change the lives of the students I come into contact with. 

Students pose for a group photo at Educators Rising.

I’ve also been at the last three years of the Educators Rising conference, and I will say that I don’t think previous years have been nearly as influential towards students as this year was. Educators like Ms. Echols, Ms. Gill, and Ms. Kenney, who really understand and connect with their students, make an impact. They show us the kinds of teachers we want to be.  

My mother, a teacher, has a philosophy. She says that when you teach, you’re not only teaching your students the subject matter; you’re teaching them how to be people. How to treat each other. How to be true to themselves. I saw that same philosophy at the conference this year, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated. 

Teachers who care make their students better, in so many more ways than just academically. My message to you is this - put care into your teaching, and your students will care, too.

Kerrie Gill (SHAPE American Middle School, Belgium, DoDEA Teacher of the Year 2024)

As the 2024 DoDEA Teacher of the Year, I’ve been gifted with opportunities to serve & learn from our DoDEA students, educators, families, and communities. From visiting classrooms to talking one-on-one to families to attending conferences on education-related topics, I have seen the incredible work occurring throughout our agency all for the betterment of our students. The 2024 Educators Rising conference in Hübingen, Germany highlighted not only the incredible work of educators throughout our agency to provide student-centered & engaging learning, but the willingness of our students to actively participate in their education in hopes of becoming thoughtful and inspiring educators in their own right. DoDEA’s mission to “educate, engage, and empower military-connected students to succeed in a dynamic world” was on full display at the conference, and I’m confident the future of education is bright with the group of rising educators I encountered during the transformative week at Educators Rising 2024. 

To provide some context to my keynote speech, a little background is needed. Prior to moving to Belgium, I lived in Kentucky for 20+ years as both a DoDEA student and educator. In my keynote speech for the conference, I compared our rising educators’ future students to Kentucky Derby hats. At the beginning of the keynote, I had each student and educator in the room create their own “Derby hat.” Below is a snippet of my keynote.

Excerpt from Educators Rising 2024 Keynote Speech

As you embark on your journey as an educator, I urge you to never forget about the Derby hats in this story and the hats both you, your peers, and your educators created & you see today throughout the room. The ones you’ll love and the ones that take a bit more time to appreciate. The ones that seem to have it all together on the outside, but need a bit more love to reach their full potential and the ones that need assistance from a variety to shine. Each and every hat makes the Derby celebration unique just as each and every student will make your classroom and school community extraordinary, so long as you provide the opportunity for those students to shine as who they truly are meant to be. As educators, our students are the statement pieces, each one different, and each one deserving to be educated, engaged, and empowered each and every day they walk into your classroom doors.  

Students work on their projects at Educators Rising in Hubingen, Germany.

Embracing Transformative Educators

Cindy Holland (Wiesbaden Middle School, Germany, DoDEA Europe East District Teacher of the Year 2024)

Be Empowered, Be Educated…spending a week with students who are exploring options in their life journey, reflecting on their future and questioning if they want to enter the profession I hold dear was empowering for me as an educator.  Having the opportunity to make memorable and meaningful connections was a theme I personally carried throughout the week.

Excerpt from Educators Rising 2024 Keynote Speech… “As education ebbs and flows with trends, societal views of education change, and students’ needs change, embrace this change, as it keeps us focused on the moment and the students in the classroom.   Just like your experiences will serve to guide how changes benefit your students, changes in the field of education need to be used to tweak our philosophy so it is always relevant to the needs of the students in the classroom.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of my philosophy was based around purposeful integration of curriculum and instructional focused interactions.  Coming out of the pandemic, my philosophy changed to embody the emotional needs of my students; realizing basic needs must be met before learning can occur.  

I have made many changes in how, what and why I teach to make what happens in my classroom meaningful and memorable.  What was important and needed for my students 5 years ago is different from what my students need today…and these needs will be different from what YOUR students in 4-5 years from now will need.  

The important part of this message is to remember teaching is an active verb, as is learning. Therefore, when students believe they are seen as a person, not just a data point, students become active stakeholders in their own educational journey.  When students begin to embrace their learning they become empowered to impact their future, especially in a learning climate that values their experiences and strives to make daily tasks relevant to the world in which they live.

My challenge to you is to embrace a teaching philosophy that establishes an open and inviting climate inclusive of all learners; views students as active stakeholders and helps connect students’ learning to their world. 

This is a journey of juxtapositions - it will break and reward you; it is draining and fulfilling, it is thankless yet full of thanks.  This will be the greatest love-hate relationship you will ever endure… 24 years later I still love answering the question, so, what do you do?  I AM A Teacher.”

Tana Wood (SHAPE American High School, Belgium, DoDEA Europe West District Teacher of the Year 2024)

Educators Rising was an amazing opportunity for teachers and students alike. Spending the week immersed in teaching and learning alongside teacher leaders and future teacher leaders was profoundly inspiring to me, and the interactions with our student leaders reinvigorated my dedication to teaching. Here, I would like to share an excerpt from my Educators Rising 2024 Keynote Speech.

In education, individual and personal change is nurtured through the connections we make with others, which means being open to other perspectives, learning and growing through the collective interactions and relationships we build and develop with one another. Another way of looking at this type of change is to consider how this change sustains, supports, and grows the profession of education. Those who find purpose within the change, whether through personal improvement or societal improvement, otherwise known as change agency: to do the hard work to empower themselves and others. Through purposeful action, those who work toward positive change can drastically impact all facets of education, from curriculum development, instructional strategies, student social emotional support, and system policies. 

Students participating in Educators Rising work together on an assignment.

The butterfly does not know it is a butterfly, and it cannot resist change. It must literally embrace change in order to experience progress. Situated in an ideal environment, the transformation would be simple and easy, but the butterfly also cannot control its environment, so it has evolved to develop ways to go through its deep transformation despite the conditions around it. And when it emerges, no matter what those conditions, it brings a little color and light to its surroundings, ensuring that the next generation of flowers and plants can continue on, stronger and more fortified. That is the task of the educator now and in the future. Be the butterfly. Embrace change agency. Spread some love and light wherever you go. Soar.

Embracing Transformative Educators

Marla Echols, (Rota Elementary School, Spain, DoDEA Europe South Teacher of the Year 2024)

As an advocate for elevating student and educator voices and sharing best practices with others, it is an honor to share the experiences of three DoDEA student leaders and DoDEA’s 2024 State and European District Teachers of the Year. We were educated and empowered. May we, as educators, continue to reignite our passion, humor, empathy, and love for teaching all students each day as we are reminded, through their words, that the way we make our students feel is the most powerful and essential step to meeting our goal to educate, engage, and empower learners to succeed in a dynamic world by providing equitable learning opportunities for them to explore, create, and thrive while being seen, heard, and valued as their authentic selves. 

Excerpt from Educators Rising 2024 Keynote Speech… “Maya Angelou once said, "People will forget what you did. People will forget what you said. People will remember the way you made them feel." Today, I want us to reflect on these words and consider how we can build meaningful relationships by focusing on the way we make others feel.

Think for a moment about a time when you felt welcomed, cared for, and like you were "apart." Now think of a time when you did not feel welcomed, uncared for, or left out. In those moments when you felt out of place, did it matter what anyone said to you? Did it matter what anyone did? I'm sure many of us can agree that what really sticks with us is the way we were made to feel.

One thing I try to do is meet people where they are, embrace them for who they are, and build relationships. In order to do this, there are a few things I have found to be essential. I'm going to share those things that work for me, and I hope that you can find what works for you to build, foster, and maintain healthy relationships where how you made a person feel is the lasting memory they have - which I hope is a good feeling!

I have a simple framework that I like to call the "4LJ": Listen, Live, Laugh, Love, and the "J" stands for Join…” I then went on to explain each of these concepts. 

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