After three years of closed schools, educators meet again in person at the 23rd Annual ISNA Education Forum
By Education Forum Committee
The ISNA Education Forum (EdForum), hosted by ISNA in collaboration with the Council of Islamic Schools in North America (CISNA) and the Aldeen Foundation, was held in Chicago on May 13-15. The organizers brought school board members, teachers and administrators together to offer professional development and guidance to advance the mission of Islamic schools.
The program committee, chaired by Dr. Azra Naqvi (principal, Hadi School of Excellence), selected the theme of “Elevating Education in a Changing World.” Educators must respond to society’s needs, especially during times when lives have been disrupted. Attendees welcomed the opportunity to learn and exchange ideas with colleagues and experts.
The EdForum featured three tracks: Arabic/Quran, Curriculum and Instruction, and Leadership. Islamic studies was integrated into all topics, just as Islamic values are integrated into every aspect of an Islamic school. Over 350 participants attended the event.
This year’s EdForum included two networking sessions and one general session. The morning networking session, conducted by Ibrahim Yousuf, featured participants sitting with their colleagues from the same grade levels so they could collaborate on the many topics relevant to what they teach.
CISNA hosted Saturday’s Leaders Networking session (Chocolate and Conversations). Attendance was more than expected, as school leaders, board members and just about anyone interested in leadership decided to show up — and it wasn’t just for the delicious chocolate! It had been a long day, but they were happy to meet in person and learn from each other informally. They left with valuable resources and insights.
The Arabic Track
The Friday sessions started with Dr. Talaat Pasha’s (director, Arabic Language Institute, American Islamic College, Chicago) full-day preconference on “Planning for Teaching.” Pasha presented key concepts and strategies essential to the teaching/learning process to the 28 participants. The workshop was full of hands-on activities — aligning individual lesson plans with long-term planning, outlining learning objectives, developing warm-up and introduction activities, planning specific learning activities, aligning with lesson objectives, developing activities to check understanding, developing a conclusion and a preview, creating assessment activities and creating a realistic timeline.
Saturday started with Alice Saba’s (senior teacher, College Preparatory School of America; CPS) assessment session. Featured were hands-on activities and practical tips to train the attendees on Understanding by Design and backward design of assessment. The session’s 55+ Arabic and Islamic studies teachers were introduced to test validity, reliability, summative and formative types of assessments and using assessment for effective learning. The attendees shared their positive feedback.
ISNA vice president Magda El-Kadi Saleh (principal, Bayan-Texas) engaged the attendees with her talk on integration across the curricula. She spoke about how integrating curriculum in Islamic schools can help Islamic schools realize their visions. The attendees expressed their admiration of her knowledge and methods.
In the afternoon, Samar Dalalti Ghannoum (University of Redlands) gave two sessions. In the first one, she trained participants how to use standard-based to teach language communicatively. She covered the ACTFL 5 Cs, around which teaching a foreign language teaching revolves: Communication, Culture, Comparison, Connection and Communities. In addition to explaining and giving several examples of the types of communication (interpretative, presentational and interpersonal), she introduced McCarthy’s 4Mat system, which helps teachers differentiate teaching language content to reach all of the students.
In the second session, she trained the attendees on vocabulary teaching and assessment. She was joined by Fadi Abo-Goush (CPS), who has introduced several drills and interesting techniques on teaching vocabulary.
The Curriculum and Instruction Track
This track was rich in presentations on topics that both engaged and increased the attendees’ depth of knowledge and skill sets. Presenters came from schools located around the world.
This track started with Ibrahim Yousef’s (principal, Nashville International Academy) very well-received “Positive Discipline” presentations. The following day featured Habeeb Quadri’s (superintendent, MCC Academy) “Raising Complete Children”; Saad Quadri’s (MCC Academy) double-session on “Islamic Integration in Curriculum”; and Yahya Van Rooy (elementary school principal, Next Generation School, Dubai), Qur’an Shakir’s (Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality) and Beth Garrido (academic regional supervisor, English Immersion Program, The Dominican Republic) presented a session on “Differentiated Instruction.”
Each session was attended by 50+ educators, all of whom left with renewed energy and new ideas and strategies to implement in their schools.
Leila Shatara (president, CISNA) opened this track with a Friday night session on “School Administration.” The biggest complaint, which was made of all sessions, was that there wasn’t enough time for this very important topic. Nevertheless, participants felt that the session was “informative, interactive, and relevant.”
On Saturday morning, the forum held two double sessions on “The Leadership Challenge” with William White (board member, CISNA) and Sufia Azmat (executive director, CISNA). Even though it took three hours, attendees felt there was not enough time! Some comments were: Well done and valuable. Excellent and eye opening. Insightful! Very well presented and informative. One attendee commented, “It provided me an opportunity to self-reflect as a leader (a director and board member) and the impact I have on our staff and the rest of the board in a new way.” Another said, “I have learned so much from this session. It was engaging and interactive, and so much learning occurred in such a short time.”
Jenay Morrisey (Management and Program Analyst, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Education) discussed“Federal Education Programs and Benefits for Private School Students and Teachers.” She was joined by Ziad Abdulla (board member, CISNA). Both of them provided guidance to school leaders on the available Title funds and how to access them.
The forum was a wonderful opportunity to meet in person after three years of virtual education forums. Attendees left energized and excited to implement what they had learned, as well as with new connections nationwide — connections that we hope will continue and grow.
As we move into 2023, we will consider the attendees’ recommendations: add more preconferences, repeat key sessions at different times so more people can attend them and livestream the sessions so educators who could not attend in person can benefit from them.
Dr. Patricia Salahuddin, facilitator of the Clara Mohammed Schools Network received the ISNA Education Forum Lifetime Service Award in recognition of her distinguished service for Islamic education in North America. She has served on boards of the Clara Muhammad Schools, Council of Islamic Schools in South Florida, Florida Islamic Schools, and board vice-chairperson of Islamic Schools League of America, and PACT team/network member.
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