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NEA News

‘Strength, Brilliance, Power’: Educators and Students Gather at NEA National Leadership Summit

The purpose of the Summit is to develop activist leaders and prepare them with the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to lead relevant, thriving associations and to lead in their professions
leadership summit
(L-R) NEA Secretary-Treasurer Noel Candelaria, NEA Vice President Princess Moss and NEA President Becky Pringle at the 2023 NEA Leadership Summit in San Francisco.
Published: March 30, 2023

Key Takeaways

  1. NEA’s National Leadership Summit provided 1,500 educators with sessions to help transform public education.
  2. To address today’s pressing challenges within public education, more than 150 breakout sessions were offered to increase awareness of the NEA Leadership Competency Framework— an educator-developed tool to define and assess the leadership skills, knowledge, and abilities of education leaders.

In March, educators across the nation attended the NEA National Leadership Summit, in San Francisco, to develop their activism and hone their skills as leaders within their associations, schools, campuses, worksites, and communities.

The theme for this year's summit was Joy, Justice, Excellence: The Strength of Educators. The Brilliance of Students. The Power of Community, and the two-day event (March 10-12) centered on the NEA Leadership Competency Framework, which consists of seven domains: Advocacy, Communication, Governance and Leadership, Organizing, Social and Emotional Intelligence, and Strategy and Fiscal Health.

The NEA framework helps educators tackle the challenges within public education and transform them into opportunities, as they explore and expand their own leadership development journey.

“You are fueling your resolve to lead,” NEA President Becky Pringle said during her opening remarks to educators. “And you’re meeting this moment to protect our democracy by calling out those who don’t believe our students have the right to learn in a safe environment; by pushing back against those who are inciting culture wars; those who want to keep parents and educators divided…ban books, punish teachers, discriminate against already-marginalized youth, all of these schemes and disrespect that are causing our educator shortage to spiral—in every single one of our career families.”

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NEA Member Angie Powers of Kansas shares her thoughts on the NEA National Leadership Summit.

Powerful Keynotes Deliver Inspiring Messages

This year, NEA partnered with three dynamic keynote speakers: Dr. Christopher Emdin, the Robert A. Naslund Endowed Chair in Curriculum Theory and Professor of Education at the University of Southern California; Helena Lourdes Donato-Sapp, 13-year-old author, speaker, artist, and activist; and Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.

Emdin challenged educators to fight for public education to ensure “an education that rejects memorization and standardization, but rather activates the imagination with a path towards true liberation,” he said.

Leaders such as Dr. Chris Emdin, “unapologetically challenged us to fight for the public education every student deserves,” said NEA Secretary-Treasurer Noel Candelaria on Twitter.

And then there was Charles Best, a former public school teacher who now leads, a nonprofit organization that provides a simple way to address educational inequity. Best emphasized that the power of one of us, strengthens the power for all of us.

“I could not teach, the way I teach, without DonorsChoose supplying my classroom,” tweeted Sarah “Mili” Mililanta-Laffin of Hawaii.

Photo of Helena Lourdes Donato-Sapp, 13-year-old author, speaker, artist, and activist;
Helena Lourdes Donato-Sapp is a 13-year-old author, speaker, artist, and activist who believes that her generation can and must tackle topics such as racism, ableism, homophobia, misogyny, poverty, and climate change. Credit: Kinser Studios

But the showstopper was Donato-Sapp—NEA’s youngest keynote speaker at 13-years-old—who is breaking barriers and creating stepping stones for future leaders to come. Her remarks centered on disability justice.

The young activist shared her personal story about her learning disabilities, as well as the various intersectionalities that shape Donato-Sapp’s advocacy work.

“I am a girl. I was born with special needs. I am adopted. My birthparents were Haitian immigrants. I am beautifully Black. I am dark-skinned Black. I have queer fathers. One of my fathers is a Filipino immigrant. My other father was raised in severe poverty in West Virginia. …And I have multiple—and invisible—learning disabilities.  I am not just one thing; I am many things.”

And from these many things, she stood before an audience of educators to underscore what those in the room know and believe: Representation and recognition shouldn’t be measured by merits and standardized tests, but rather a child’s dedication, talent, resilience, support systems, and more.

“I am going to use my learning disabilities to illustrate this, but just know I could have used race, class, gender, family structure, and a bunch of other identities as well,” said Donato-Sapp, who didn’t pull back from challenging educators to give students like her a fair chance at education.

“Those of us with disabilities…and others who deeply struggle and don’t know why yet—we deserve a fair chance at a good education. We see you favor the students who are quick and who were made for school. We see you and the way you love them more than us. We see it in a glance, we feel it in your energy,” said Donato-Sapp. “We must work together to end discrimination for students with disabilities.”

NEA Vice President Princess Moss echoed the sentiment: “We must, as educators, look for our students’ unique interests. Pay attention! And then we must nurture what we find.”

The 2024 National Leadership will take place in Chicago, Ill. on March 1-3. Visit the NEA Leadership Development page for additional information and updates at

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.