MREA’s in-person conference was professional and personal development success.

MREA was honored to host the 2021 MREA ‘Rural Strong’ Conference last week, November 14-16, at Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd. MREA members agree that it was great to be in-person, the sessions were engaging, but most of all it was fun! The conference attendance was close to our 2019 attendance, and 43 percent of attendees who filled out the post conference survey were first-time conference attendees. 

The conference started on Sunday night with the MREA Awards Banquet. MREA was pleased to recognize the 2020 Educators of Excellence and Innovation Program award honorees, who weren’t able to be recognized in person last year. 2021 Educators of Excellence, Kristen Schwarz, Dr. Jackie Stevens, Howard Van Otterloo, and John VanKempen, were also honored and celebrated.  MREA’s Innovation Program Award honorees from Menahga and Bertha-Hewitt Public Schools. Learn about the award honorees.

Thank you to Baird, ICS, Ingensa, and JLG Architects, MREA’s award sponsors.  

Monday morning was kicked-off with a presentation from Ron Berger on why rural schools are the heart of communities. Ron showed examples of authentic projects where schools contributed to and enhanced communities. Sam Walseth presented a legislative update Monday afternoon, which is always one of the most anticipated and well-attended sessions at the conference. 

On Monday evening, we opened up the Gallery Walk, where over 65 vendors showcased their services to attendees while people mingled, ate, and enjoyed themselves. This offered a great opportunity for MREA Associate Members to network with and advertise to over 100 rural districts.

Executive Director Bob Indihar working with the Future Educators.

2021 Awards Ceremony

On Tuesday, Dick Beardsley brought the crowd to a standing ovation when he presented on ‘staying the course.’ He took attendees on an inspirational journey of his life, the adversity that he faced, and where he is now. We were honored to learn about Dick’s story and were inspired by his courage and resilience.  

General Sessions were put on by experts in rural Minnesota education. From teachers to superintendents, our general sessions provided attendees learning opportunities, inspiration, and practical tips. We are incredibly humbled and honored by the presenters who dedicated their time and energy to help us put on this incredible event. We are all stronger when we share our ideas and expertise. Our vision is that attendees can take back ideas they learned at the conference and make an impact in their own districts. 

One of the most exciting things about the conference this year is that MREA welcomed 12 future educators from 3 different colleges to the conference. These were juniors and seniors in colleges around Minnesota who are going into education as a career-path. MREA provided a rural conference experience where these future educators could mingle with educators and see the wonderful things that are happening in rural education.  Through this effort, MREA hopes to entice these future educators to consider teaching jobs in rural Minnesota. The feedback from the college students was incredibly positive, and we plan to expand this program next year and welcome more students. 

Other changes at the conference were that we moved the Awards banquet to Sunday night, the Gallery walk was moved from Tuesday morning to Monday. We eliminated Sunday early bird workshop, but replaced it with Tuesday morning sessions. We will review post-conference surveys to evaluate the success of our changes. 

As MREA seeks to understand how attendees perceived the conference, we were honored to read some great comments in our post-conference survey about what attendees found most valuable.  

  • “Chance to network with other districts and colleagues”
  • “Great to see an organization represent and advocate for rural MN schools”
  • “The new track for preservice teachers is a wonderful idea. My students felt so welcomed and celebrated. Furthermore, we all felt that MREA members completely sold us on the value of teaching in rural districts”
  • “I really enjoyed the award ceremony and the final speaker! They were definitely my favorite parts of the conference”
  • “It felt really good to be attending professional conferences again. It was positive and uplifting. Dick Beardsley was exceptionally great. A story that puts life in perspective, personally and professionally”
  • “It is always wonderful to be able to talk with and hear from people who are experiencing similar things as you.”
  • “Being able to come together to be able to talk about the highs and lows of our field and walk away inspired to do better is what makes me love this conference. This conference is one that I truly enjoy and love coming to. I always take away great information.”

Thank you for making this year a great experience. We look forward to seeing you November 13-15, 2022 at our next Annual Conference!