Rural Rising: Insights from the National Forum to Advance Rural Education


On November 11-12, The EdVenture Group participated in the 2021 National Forum to Advance Rural Education hosted by National Rural Education Association in partnership with the Rural Schools Collaborative. Held in Indianapolis, Indiana, the #RuralEdForum brought together hundreds of practitioners and researchers to discuss and amplify important conversations relevant to rural education. This year’s program was delivered in a hybrid format, with our Senior Education Researcher Dr. Meaghan Cochrane, Manager of Innovation Amber Ravenscroft, and Program Manager Kayla Benson attending. Below, they share some of the most impactful learning outcomes of their experience.



What was that most impactful session you attended and why?

A: The most impactful session I attended was Turning Academic Studies into Community & Life Projects, led by facilitators from Monmouth College and Western Illinois University. This session focused on re-imagining the academic classroom and integrating pedagogy with place to take full advantage of assets uniquely available to rural regions. The facilitators provided a strong foundation in learning theory, including Bloom’s Taxonomy of Affective Learning, to explore how schools can embrace the “wildness of children” beyond the four walls of the classroom to ignite their curiosity and playfulness for learning.


K: Considering my West Virginia roots, and The EdVenture Group’s focus and commitment on Appalachia, I found the Anecdotes from Appalachia: Principals’ Perspectives on Key Performance Indicators for Improvement session very informative and impactful. The session was facilitated by Dr. Krista Mann, with The University of the Cumberlands, and focused on her recent dissertation. The session reviewed reactions, data, emotional responses and action plans of principals who had recently faced state designations for improvement in their schools. Learning about the deep-rooted grief and personal impact on principals facing these designations was eye opening and impactful as a reminder of connection and commitment that exists in to communities and schools.


M: As a former Middle School and High School English/Language Arts teacher, the session, “There Aren’t Books About People Like Me: Rural Literacy Representation” at the National Forum to Advance Rural Education was especially interesting and impactful! In this session, presenters Dr. Amy Price Azano and Dr. Rachelle Kuehl of Virginia Tech University shared their rural literacy project from the Appalachian Rural Talent Initiative with session attendees. Representation in classroom literature is very important for rural, suburban, and urban students; however, few examples of rural lived experience are often found in classroom curriculum. A wide variety of books at varying grade levels were shared throughout this presentation offering a range of rural perspectives for rural students to connect with in their reading and learning.


Based on knowledge gained during the #RuralEdForum, what is one piece of advice you would provide to rural educators?

A: For me, the most impactful takeaway from the #RuralEdForum was the need to focus on reframing the “rural” narrative. My advice to rural educators would be to embrace and uplift the rural nature of your schools, communities, and students. Focus on local assets, rather than local deficits, and empower our youth to be the change they wish to see in their communities.


K: My advice, based on knowledge gained in this session and in the #RuralEdForum as a whole, is the continued need to focus on each of the smaller pieces that make up the big picture of what our rural schools and communities are facing. Considering data-driven structures is critical, but often the rural voice and perspective is not at the forefront. To lead effective turnarounds and have continued, sustainable success, we have to continue to consider our specific school and community culture and DNA, and the deep rooted, emotional ties that carry tremendous weight in everything impacting our students.


M: Educators in rural schools should include books with rural representation into their curriculum for students to feel a sense of belonging and familiarity in the texts they are reading—this creates a greater sense of awareness of self and place during their learning. When reading rural literature, students from rural communities can form a greater attachment to place and find familiar setting, imagery, characters, and scenarios within the assigned rural literature. Students should be provided with a variety of examples of rural literature to read both inside and outside of the classroom to form an enhanced sense of belonging and shared experience.


How will what you learned during the #RuralEdForum be applied to your work at The EdVenture Group?

A: The EdVenture Group customizes all educational programming to meet the unique “needs” of our rural schools, educators, and communities. The #RuralEdForum has had a profound impact on how I view the idea of needs and tailoring programming. While emphasis on support and technical assistance is important, I plan to reframe programming to focus on what is locally available within the ecosystem to build a holistic approach to school support that taps into place-based learning and teaching.


K: There were many valuable lessons learned during the #RuralEdForum that I will apply to my work with The EdVenture Group, but something that sticks with me and I hope to remember every day is a story shared by a student on the panel presentation. This student shared that a teacher told them daily, “You were put on this earth to solve problems, not create them”. This teacher made every effort to connect with and know each student personally, and the student shared what a lasting impact that made for them, and many of their classrooms. I want to focus on living by this daily- making intentional, lasting connections; and diligently working to identify and solve problems on a daily basis.


M: The EdVenture Group looks forward to showcasing these books for rural readers within our literacy programming for our West Virginia Family Engagement Center. Books discussed throughout the presentation included several set in West Virginia, which included:

  • Free Verse, Sarah Dooley (2016)

  • Missing May, Cynthia Rylant (1992)

  • Shiloh, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1991)

  • Ashes to Asheville, Sarah Dooley (2017)

For more information on The EdVenture Group's #rural focus and programming, visit https://www.theedventuregroup.org/programs.

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