Raising Our Ranks — Enriching Students’ Lives 

ISNA’s 24th Education Forum provides educators with opportunities

By Magda Elkadi Saleh and Abir Catovic

May/June 2023

As I write this article, my mind goes back to two Education Forums: The first one I attended (2000) and the first one at which I presented (2001). Both were memorable events, and the knowledge gained and shared at both remain relevant and useful. 

In 2000, I was a new principal trying to learn the ropes and lead my school to success. I vividly remember attending Safaa Zarzour’s session, “A Day in the Life of a Principal.” I took copious notes and referred to them and the handouts for many years. Two great takeaways kept my mind focused on the tasks at hand and helped me prioritize my days. 

First, the realm of knowledge vs the realm of influence, especially when working with the board. This concept helped me relieve my frustrations about things over which I had no control or authority and focus on the things that were my responsibility: What I needed to know but really wasn’t responsible for, what I was responsible for and needed to keep others informed about, and what I was jointly responsible for with the board and needed to communicate to others. 

Second, the priorities quadrants, namely, Important & Urgent, Important but NOT Urgent, NOT Important but Urgent, and NOT Important & NOT Urgent. 

I couldn’t have imagined then that years later I’d be a co-presenter during the annual Principals’ Pre-Conference. 


In 2001, I took a group of my teachers and my vice principal to the Education Forum. I remember looking out at them as I prepared to present for the first time: “Effective Communication.” 

I spent a lot of time on my first-ever presentation and have recycled and reused it many times during the past 22 years. Its lessons and takeaways come from Islam and our beloved Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) example, and thus hold timeless and beneficial lessons for all of us. 

Since I began sitting on the Education Forum Planning Committee 12+ years ago, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of serving with a team of Islamic school educators and leaders who call for, review and select those proposals that we feel will best benefit our professional peers. Educating and helping our children develop into the leaders of tomorrow is no easy feat, and we take our responsibility in this regard seriously. As a collaborative effort, many decisions are based on the feedback ISNA receives from the attendees’ session surveys. 

This Year’s Theme: Raising Our Ranks — Enriching Students’ Lives 

All planning committee members were asked for their input. The original seven themes were narrowed down to three, and then to one. The selected theme resonated with all of us, and we hope it will resonate with this year’s attendees. 

We often get bogged down with the weight of our jobs. However, we need to remind ourselves of our crucial roles as educators and leaders — not a self-imposed importance, but one decided upon by God. All of us must remain cognizant of the fact that God elevates the ranks of those who seek knowledge and then pass it on to others. 

What You Can Expect at This Year’s Event 

We have a great lineup of speakers from Islamic schools, universities and educational organizations on a wide array of topics in addition to the regular sessions and the four pre-conferences. 

This year’s pre-conferences — Weekend Schools, Arabic, Quran, and Leadership — run from Friday morning to late afternoon with breaks for lunch and Jumuah. We hope that the speakers, all of whom are leaders in their fields, will delve deeply into these topics that are so important for our schools and communities. 

The Arabic, Quran, and Leadership pre-conferences have been constants for years; the highly successful Weekend Schools pre-conference was added last year. While the forum’s primary sessions are geared mainly toward full-time Islamic schools, we know that 90% of Muslim students attend public schools and receive most of their Islamic education at weekend schools. Therefore, as our weekend schools must receive the same attention and support as our full-time schools do, this pre-conference is designed for them. 

Starting after Friday’s dinner and keynote address, the forum’s four tracks will be led by the invited educators, leaders and field experts. The tracks are: 

Arabic & Quran. Sessions will focus on best practices with practical applications for teaching and assessing students at different levels using various strategies and methods.

Curriculum & Instruction. Topics will range from the more traditional to the latest developments in curriculum and instruction from Chat GPT to Brain-Based Learning, to Identifying & Teaching Students with Exceptionalities, and so much more.

Islamic Education. Resources and strategies will be shared to guide and assist educators to develop Prophetic characters in their students. The film and media resources used to reinforce Islamic education and project-based projects are designed to make Islamic education more engaging and relevant for our students.

Leadership. Leaders from our schools will share their tried-and-true strategies in effective leadership from leading with compassion to writing a great handbook, becoming a reflective practitioner and embedding culturally responsive leadership in our schools. 

The planning committee thoroughly reviews all submitted proposals to ensure that the presentations are relevant, practical and engaging. All attendees are expected to actively participate in the presentations and workshops and share their personal experiences while learning from those of others. 

The full program, as well as registration information, can be found at https://isna.net/education-forums/. We pray that all attendees leave feeling refreshed, recharged, inspired and ready to move their classrooms and schools to the next level. 

Benefitting from Previous Education Forums 

I was happily surprised when, one day in 2013, a mother of one of my school’s students asked me to present my 2001 “Effective Communication” to our parents. So many presentations from the early forums are online and can be found with a simple search. 

During the years of Covid-19, the Education Forums were virtual. All presentations are available on ISNA’s YouTube channel. In addition, there’s a wealth of knowledge online from the Education Forums held in Chicago and Los Angeles. 

Peer-To-Peer Learning at the Education Forum

Every professional, K-12 educators included, knows the importance of ongoing development in his/her expertise. Education is ever-evolving, and the students change from year to year. Therefore, educators and administrators are always looking for the latest educational theories and strategies. For 23 years, ISNA has provided just such an event: the Education Forum. The 24th Education Forum will be no different.

The Education Forum utilizes the Peer-to-Peer teaching model. Educators who work at Islamic schools, which have been operating in the U.S. for 30+ years, have been training their students for success and have a wealth of information to share with others. In addition, professionals involved in educational research and youth-related fields can provide valuable information to our schools’ teachers and leader. 

The Education Forum begins with a call for papers. Due to the multitude of Muslim educational professionals, many proposals were submitted. The forum’s planning committee reviews the submissions and selects those presentations that provide the most up-to-date information and practical strategies. This is a difficult process, for the submissions tend to be excellent — however, only a limited number of presentations can be made.

The Peer-to-Peer teaching model encourages connectivity and collaboration within classrooms and boosts morale and well-being. This also holds true for the Education Forum. Participants like myself have developed long-time friendships with colleagues who they can reach out to for help and support. Such contacts would never have been made if this forum didn’t exist. In addition, learning how peers overcome some of the obstacles that they face on a daily basis helps one develop the courage to experiment with the shared strategies. Finally, the forum allows us to see that the struggles within an Islamic school are common to schools in general and that good intentions and collaboration, along with divine help, can overcome all obstacles.

Magda Elkadi Saleh is head of school, Bayaan Academy Tampa and member, ISNA Education Forum Planning Committee. Abir Catovic is a board member of WISER (Weekend Islamic Schools Educational Resources). 

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