At last year’s Better Together: California Teachers Summit, keynote speaker Dr. Jill Biden told the crowd at Saint Mary’s College of California that she is always the oldest student in her class – and that being a lifelong learner is a sign of a true educator.

Dr. Biden’s speech really touched me. I’ve been teaching for 12 years – abroad, in Seattle and now California for the last six years. When I’m in the classroom, and my kids make me laugh every day, I know this is where I belong. But having the opportunity to listen and learn from my peers every summer has reinvigorated my passion for teaching and inspired me to become a lifelong learner, like Dr. Biden.

I’ve attended the Better Together: California Teachers Summit every year since it launched four years ago. The Summit is a professional development opportunity unlike any other – a free statewide day of learning, sharing and inspiration that takes place at over 30 locations across the state. This year’s keynote speaker promises to be equally inspiring – If you haven’t seen Sir Ken Robinson’s widely-popular TED Talk, I highly recommend it.

Like Sir Ken, I am committed to creating a learning community that fosters creativity and authentic connections and experiences. This means letting go of control, accepting that you don’t have all the answers and meeting my students at their level and their pace. For example, my students have been participating in the Water UCI Conservation Challenge to explore ways to reduce our water footprint and design innovative ways to save and protect our water. By building bridges between my students, water scientists, and other local organizations, we are showing – rather than telling them – the importance of science in their everyday lives.

I’m constantly looking for opportunities to collaborate with other educators and members of the community to build meaningful links between the classroom and the real world – but I’m often limited to time and resources. The Summit is a unique opportunity to expand my reach and perspective – and gain access to the latest resources, strategies and technologies that are transforming classrooms across the state. By allowing teachers to chart their own professional development path and choose what topics and sessions they want to attend, the Summit allows teachers to experience what it looks, sounds and feels like to personalize learning for ourselves.

It’s also a chance to recharge and re-energize ahead of the new school year. I love teaching, but it’s hardly an easy job. By bringing new and seasoned teachers together each year, the Summit is a much-needed reminder of why we chose to teach in the first place: to make a difference in our kids’ lives.

Nelly Tsai is a National Board certified teacher. She teaches middle school at Lakeside Middle School in Irvine, Calif, where she was named Irvine Unified School District Middle School Teacher of the Year. She was also a semi-finalist for Orange County Teacher of the Year. She plans to attend fourth annual Better Together: California Teachers Summit at the Summit’s headquarters site at Cal State Fullerton.