Last week I was fortunate to attend the biennial PEN Conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota. PEN stands for Progressive Education Networka consortium of schools specifically dedicated to the tenets of Progressive education—to which we belong. I last attended a PEN Conference in 2007 in San Francisco, and it’s always an affirming gathering of like-minded educators with a plethora of workshops and keynote speakers all aligned around Progressive education. 

This year’s conference theme was Educating for Democracy: Navigating the Current and Channeling the Future of Progressive Education. I attended an opening night panel of experts addressing the education gap students of color face in the Minneapolis public schools and heard other keynote speakers talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion issues in Progressive schools. The provocative conversations forced us to examine ourselves closely. Fortunately, with the efforts we are making at St. Francis to address this topic (including having DEI trainers in the Middle School today), I felt good about the ongoing work St. Francis does with faculty and students to address this area; while recognizing how much work remains for us.

I also attended workshops on mentoring new faculty in Progressive schools (and took away some ideas to bolster our program), how to handle difficult conversations in the classroom (which is another focus for us this year across divisions), and how to create a Progressive middle school musical. Couldn’t pass that one up! I was excited to see that much of what we have been doing for years is what they were suggesting. 

I also had the privilege of visiting a fellow Progressive school, St. Paul’s Academy, which is a K-12 school on two campuses (sound familiar?). I visited the K-5 campus, noting the many similarities between us: small class sizes, morning meetings, a strong focus on SEL (social-emotional learning), and even a buddy program and “minis” (our version of projects). It’s great to see another school in action so similar to our own, and it was easy to see that their kids were happy and proud of their school, just like ours.  

One final, cool note: One of the panelists was NFL legend Alan Page. If you don’t know, this Hall of Famer (the first defensive player in the NFL to win the MVP!), had an illustrious career after hanging up his cleats. He graduated from law school and eventually became a judge in the Twin Cities. He was elected to the Minnesota Supreme Court and served there until the mandatory retirement age of 70. He is now a passionate advocate for education and has also co-authored several children’s books with his daughter, a second grade teacher in Minneapolis. I bought one of their books and shared his story at both our Lower School and Middle School Morning Meetings this week, emphasizing the importance of being a learner for life (part of our Mission statement). I plan on reading it aloud to some Lower School classes in the next week or two before donating it to our school library. 

What a fabulous conference and affirmation of all the special things we do at St. Francis!