Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
2023 Iowa BEST Summit keynote

A Culture of Caring Requires Everybody: Key Takeaways from the 2023 Iowa BEST Summit

Allison Bruhn
Allison Bruhn
written by

Allison Bruhn, Ph.D.

Educator Wellness
Skill Development
Teaching & Learning

Another Iowa BEST Summit is in the books! After months of planning and a whirlwind few days, I’ve had the chance to recover from the exhaustion and the blisters on my toes (next time—no heels!).

In addition to coming away from the conference with some big takeaways, I am also brimming with gratitude. Putting on a statewide conference for 1700 people is no small task. It literally takes a village, and I am fortunate enough to work with an incredible village of friends and colleagues who, quite frankly, get stuff done…reviewing proposals, inviting keynotes, organizing strands, communicating with vendors, making videos, and stuffing swag bags amongst a gazillion other behind-the-scenes things that make this conference go. So, to the Scanlan Center team, I sincerely thank you.

And like the ominous voice above the corn fields whispers, “If you build it, they will come.” Scanlan team, you built it. And 1700 caring, compassionate professionals who care deeply about students showed up to our own “Field of Dreams” at the Iowa Events Center. And this brings me to my three takeaways from Iowa BEST…

#1 A culture of caring requires everybody. 

Our conference theme this year was “Creating a Culture of Caring.” If we are going to create a school culture in which faculty, staff, students, and administrators feel valued and cared for, then we truly need all hands on deck.

This means collaboration and input from teachers and students, alike, but also from our critical related service providers like school nurses, counselors, psychologists, and social workers. It also means, as Dr. Ian Roberts put it during the Friday morning live podcast, we need administrators who are in the arena—superintendents like him who are walking through buildings, observing, and listening to the people doing the hard work—day in and day out.

As I sat through the keynote, the podcast, and various sessions, it dawned on me that the scope of Iowa BEST is unique because we truly bring so many different voices together.

Educator Wellness Podcast at the 2023 Iowa BEST Summit

#2 We can’t wellness our way to improved well-being.

As much as it pains me to say that, I know it’s true. While I firmly believe that physical fitness, nutrition, and spirituality contribute to a healthy mind and body; yoga, breathing techniques, and green tea are just tools we can use to destress and decompress.

I absolutely love that we had sessions to help educators learn how to stretch, move, and eat healthy. I also realize that lasting improvements require healthy systems. For educators, this is the school system.

As a researcher and practitioner, I am drawn to multi-tiered systems of support like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) because they are not just about implementing best practices. PBIS, for example, also focuses on the systems to support positive, healthy, and safe school environments–systems components like time, resources, ongoing professional development, administrator support, and technology. These structural supports are critical to the implementation of any program, curriculum, or intervention.

People interacting

#3 Adults have the power to change lives.

If ever there was a doubt about that, all you need to do is listen to Dr. Adam Saenz’s keynote. A few of us at the Scanlan Center were joking around about whether or not we would cry this year, as we shed lots of tears during last year’s keynotes with Dr. Brooks and Dr. McDowell. And as much as we tried to hold it together, Dr. Saenz’s story pierced our hearts.

He reminded me why I got into this profession. It wasn’t because I was craving a chance to teach Punnett squares to my 8th-grade science students (though, the geek in me does love the DNA unit). And it wasn’t because I just couldn’t wait to grade hundreds of papers each night.

I became a teacher because I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives. It’s the same reason I became a professor—to train the next generation of educators and to research the practices that will make the lives better of our most vulnerable populations.

My hope is that all of our Iowa BEST attendees walked away with that message, too, that YOU have the power to make a difference for kids.

One way to do that is to look for the good in people, and when you see it, say it. I’ll start. Iowa BEST attendees, thank you. Thank you for showing up, for listening, for interacting, and for learning.

Not only did you show up for yourselves, but ultimately, you showed up for your students who will hopefully reap the benefits of all you learned from spending an inspiring two days at Iowa BEST.

4 people sitting at table
Registration at the 2023 Iowa BEST Summit
Person smiling
Person breathing
Resilience presentation
Rylee Lueken, award winner, with parents
Crowd of people listening to keynote
Dr. Adam Sanez