Team Experiences

The Digital Equity Education Roundtables (D.E.E.R.) Initiative

Digital Promise | Office of Education Technology at the U.S. Department of Education | Fall 2022 | 09.28.2022

I had the honor of being invited to the National Summit on Digital Equity in Washington D.C., recognizing my commitment to providing insight into the Digital Equity Roundtable Discussions (D.E.E.R.). Through my intensive community program, I received an invitation from Digital Promise, a nonprofit organization established by the U.S. Congress under the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act reauthorization, in acknowledgment of my contributions to community leadership, particularly in promoting equitable access to education through technology through Maine West High School's Principal's Leadership Team and Community Development Department.

At the summit, I gained profound insights into the critical importance of digital equity and its far-reaching impact on education nationwide, networking with like-minded and accomplished figures about the topic. This often-overlooked issue highlights the growing necessity of technology in our rapidly evolving world. It underscores the urgency of addressing communities left behind regarding education, societal progress, and overall well-being due to their lack of access to essential digital resources.

Many thanks to all the Digital Promise and Office of Education Technology fellows, notably Zohal Shah, for making this a reality.

What did you learn about leadership from this team experience?

This experience has significantly impacted my understanding of leadership. Firstly, it highlighted the power of proactive initiatives. The journey began with the creation of community-centered organizations, illustrating that leadership transcends mere guidance. Instead, it involves taking the first step, initiating change, and inspiring others to join the cause. This proactive approach has shown me that leadership is not just about reacting to situations but actively shaping them. 

Secondly, the importance of effective networking and relationship-building became evident. Leadership often requires connecting with people from diverse backgrounds, and I learned that skillful networking can open doors to unique opportunities. Engaging with community leaders, officials, and educators broadened my perspective on leadership, emphasizing its multifaceted nature. The experience also reaffirmed that leadership is fueled by passion. My commitment to community engagement and equitable access to education through technology drew the attention of organizations like Digital Promise. This highlights the transformative power of passion in leadership, serving as a driving force for perseverance and unwavering dedication. 

Furthermore, being the youngest participant and the only high school representative at the summit emphasized that leadership knows no age boundaries. I realized that genuine leaders recognize the significance of passion and determination, regardless of age, and that young leaders bring fresh perspectives and innovative ideas to the table. This journey has broadened my horizons and strengthened my belief in the potential of leadership.

What was most challenging about this team experience and how did you navigate it?

Navigating the most challenging aspect of this team experience, the transition from a local community-based leadership role to a national stage, required that I go about it in different ways. First, I prioritized transition preparation. By conducting thorough research and gaining a deep understanding of the broader issues surrounding digital equity in education, I positioned myself to engage in meaningful conversations and effectively share my insights. Seeking guidance from mentors and field experts further enhanced my knowledge of the national landscape. 

Effective communication emerged as a critical component. To bridge the gap between my local experiences and the national stage, I needed to convey my ideas and initiatives clearly to a diverse audience at the summit. The ability to articulate my local perspectives on digital equity was vital for success. 

Additionally, I faced the challenge of overcoming intimidation as the youngest participant in a room filled with CEOs, directors, and seasoned community leaders. To conquer this obstacle, I relied on self-assuredness and confidence, reminding myself that my unique perspective as a young leader brought valuable insights to the table, and that at the end of the day, I pulled my own chair to sit at the table.

Adaptability was also key. Adapting to the summit's format and structure presented another hurdle. Swiftly grasping the agenda and understanding the roles of various speakers and panelists required flexibility and adaptability. These qualities enabled me to actively listen and make the most of this experience.

What strengths did you bring to the team and how did they impact the experience?

As the founder of an intensive program at my high school centered around community engagement and service, I brought several strengths to the team and the entire experience. 

One notable strength was my ability to connect and collaborate with diverse groups and individuals who played a crucial role in this experience. Through my work in community relations and civics, I established connections with different organizations and community leaders. This network proved invaluable during the summit as it allowed me to bridge gaps, facilitate conversations, and work effectively with a wide range of stakeholders. Moreover, my communication skills were instrumental in conveying my passion for digital equity through community organization to the summit's attendees, facilitating productive interactions with various stakeholders.

Additionally, my dedication and passion for the cause of digital equity fueled the team's motivation and commitment. I strongly believe in the importance of equitable access to education through technology. My enthusiasm was contagious, inspiring team members and stakeholders to engage actively in discussions and work collaboratively to develop effective strategies. This passion not only energized the team but also contributed to the success of the summit by ensuring that the issue of digital equity received the attention it deserved. 

Moreover, my experience in community organizing and leadership helped me understand the intricacies of addressing complex issues like digital equity. I was well-versed in the strategies and approaches needed to mobilize communities, advocate for change, and create an impact. This knowledge enabled me to guide the team effectively in developing practical solutions and initiatives to address digital equity challenges. 

How did this team experience contribute to your understanding of the interpersonal/team leadership competency you chose to develop through this program?

This experience significantly contributed to my understanding and development of interpersonal and team leadership competencies. The summit exemplified the importance of collaboration and teamwork, as it involved multiple stakeholders with unique perspectives. Being among the youngest attendees, I had to adapt to diverse communication styles, build rapport with individuals from various backgrounds, and foster unity within the team, strengthening my ability to lead and contribute to collaborative efforts.

Conflict resolution became a vital skill in such a diverse team, allowing me to diplomatically navigate differences of opinion and maintain a positive team environment. I learned the significance of addressing conflicts constructively to achieve common goals.

As the founder of a community engagement and service program, I took on a leadership role within our team. Balancing leadership with active participation taught me that effective team leadership involves guiding and contributing. It's about setting an example, motivating others, and fostering shared responsibility.

Effective communication was paramount, whether presenting insights or participating in discussions. This experience reinforced the importance of active listening, persuasive articulation of ideas, and adapting communication styles to suit the context and audience.

Building relationships with influential individuals, including Secretary of Education Dr. Miguel Cardona, emphasized the value of networking and relationship-building in leadership. Establishing authentic connections is essential for garnering support and creating meaningful change.