Oklahoma Bar Journal

From the Executive Director | I Learned a Lot in Education

By John Morris Williams

Earlier in my career, I spent over seven years as in-house counsel for the Oklahoma Education Association. My undergraduate degree is also in education. So, I am always curious and interested in what is happening in education law.

In the years I spent representing educators across the state, I met some extraordinary people performing tasks at all levels. From cooks, janitors and bus drivers to superintendents and even some educators in higher education, I found a dedicated group of professionals who supported the world of “lifelong learners.”

I learned a lot during my time working in education and about the vast amount of law that is dedicated to or impacts education. Special education, Title IX, due process in employment proceedings and much more are encompassed in a vast area of the law. Having not worked in these areas in years, I am certain this edition of the Oklahoma Bar Journal will be most educational.

At the OBA, we are directed by the Oklahoma Supreme Court Rules for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education to ensure that OBA members are lifelong learners as well. The MCLE Rules and Regulations are another set of laws relating to education I had to learn. Last year, there were more than 800 separate CLE providers, and OBA members attended more than 140,000 hours of CLE. I can say with certainty that the concept of lifelong learning is well embedded in our profession.

isavira | #434574677 | stock.adobe.com

Something that differs greatly within our profession is that we were well positioned to move to virtual learning prior to the pandemic. The gradual increase in online learning prior to 2020 had us moving solidly toward half of all CLE hours being obtained online. 2020 took that trajectory and sent it in a direction of almost all hours being obtained online due to the obvious reason that people could not be physically around each other.

One of the things I learned during my time in education is that learning models differ for different groups. Most adults can tolerate about 50 minutes of sitting and listening. Children, dependent on the age group and other factors, often tolerate much less sitting and listening. However, some adults need different accommodations. Online learning is perfect in many instances. If one needs more frequent breaks or to space the viewing time, attending a prerecorded program has great benefits. Live programs with chat features offer some interactive participation; however, none of these are replacements for the social and other attributes of in-person learning. Hopefully, we are moving to a better mix of online and in-person learning opportunities.

I am proud of the fact that the OBA was well-positioned to offer all the online learning opportunities we did during the worst of the pandemic. Two years prior to the pandemic, we petitioned the Oklahoma Supreme Court to allow members to get all their annual CLE hours online if they wished. When the pandemic hit, we didn’t need to seek a rule change as many other states had to consider. Also, in the last year and a half, we provided well over one million dollars in free CLE to ensure that our members, who may have been struggling during the pandemic, had one less thing to worry about. We tried to provide programming that was relevant to not only the legal issues that presented themselves but also information on dealing with the emotional and psychological impact of a world that had suddenly changed to, at times, almost zero personal interactions.

Another significant thing I learned during my years in education is that people who truly care usually are the most impactful educators. When I submitted my plan to our elected leadership and CLE Department to provide significantly more no-cost and low-cost CLE during this time, I encountered people who truly cared about our members. This compassion was also demonstrated by our sections, committees and numerous volunteer speakers who stepped up to produce high-quality CLE. We had to do some workarounds to ensure MCLE credit was recorded and reported in the Zoom and BlueJeans programs, but it all worked out. Another thing I learned while working in education is that smart people who care can do just about anything, sometimes without having perfect tools and resources.

However, the most important thing I learned during my time in education is that it’s all about the learners. It seems I never left my time in education law, I just got to work with a different set of laws and learners. Lucky me.

To contact Executive Director Williams, email him at johnw@okbar.org.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 7 (September 2022)