Our journey began with high hopes and curious minds, and what we discovered during those five eventful days left an indelible mark on our perspective as educators. The ISLA annual meeting was more than just a gathering; it was a rendezvous with a diverse and welcoming community of school leaders from around the globe, united by a common purpose.
Throughout the conference, we immersed ourselves in a wealth of knowledge through captivating lectures, workshops, and discussions, all centered around our shared interest in better supporting refugee and immigrant students. We engaged in impassioned discussions that spanned a wide spectrum of educational topics. From the crucial need to rethink literacy education and decolonize curricula to the pressing matter of addressing racism within our schools and empowering teacher leadership, there was no shortage of profound insights.
In addition to these enlightening experiences of lectures and workshops, we visited three distinct schools, each chosen to provide insights into innovative approaches to immigrant and refugee education. These school visits provided valuable insights into the diverse ways American schools support immigrant and refugee students, showcasing the contrasting approaches compared to Finland. Finland's approach is solid, but the U.S.' challenges require a different paradigm that encompasses various facets of society.
One vital lesson we took away from our discussions was the significance of cultural and societal awareness. We were reminded of the need to critically examine the narratives we share and those that remain unspoken. We learned to see through the lens of the speaker, understanding that perspectives can differ vastly based on individual experiences.
The conference bestowed upon us invaluable takeaways that will shape our educational endeavors for years to come.
The conference bestowed upon us invaluable takeaways that will shape our educational endeavors for years to come. Foremost among them was the establishment of a global network of open-minded and reflective educators and leaders. This network is dedicated to advocating for the best interests of students, particularly those whose backgrounds may not offer an optimal starting point for their educational journey.
Furthermore, the meeting reaffirmed our belief in the positive impact of our existing practices. We have long championed fostering a sense of belonging, involving parents in understanding the intricacies of school life, and promoting trust in our educational communities. ISLA also equipped us with the tools necessary to further develop our practices, particularly in the realms of anti-racism and trauma-informed school policies.
If we were asked to distill the essence of our trip into one core message, it would undoubtedly revolve around the significance of human connection.
If we were asked to distill the essence of our trip into one core message, it would undoubtedly revolve around the significance of human connection. Our experiences in Minneapolis emphasized that age, gender, and ethnic backgrounds are secondary to our shared humanity. In our pursuit to make the world, and our education systems, more equitable and inclusive, the three pillars of Edison High School resonated with us: we belong together, we believe in our capacity to effect change, and we become a positive force in the world.
Our journey to Minneapolis was an awakening, but it was also a reminder that the lessons learned there are equally applicable in our daily lives as educators back home. As we continue to advocate for a brighter and more inclusive future for our students, we carry the spirit of ISLA with us, knowing that our commitment to change begins with the way we encounter each other and the world. This experience underscored the transformative potential of even a brief exchange program, and we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Fulbright Finland Foundation, to the U.S. Department of State, IREX and our hosts at the University of Minnesota.