Jeff’s Homework

I was driving with my family this weekend to Bearizona in Williams, Arizona to see the new bear cub, Katy Beary.

Katy Beary
Katy Beary is the tiny one in back. Boo Boo is the larger bear in front.

I couldn’t help but reflect on my last drive north on the 17 a few weeks ago with Jeff Charbonneau, the 2013 National Teacher of the Year. We were speaking at Northern Arizona University’s fabulous “There’s A Reason I’m A Teacher” conference. Jeff flew in to Phoenix so we had a lovely drive to Flagstaff. Jeff enjoyed the gorgeous red rocks of Sedona and took pictures of saguaro cacti for his son (his son knew saguaros are found only in our beautiful Sonoran desert – impressive!). Jeff loved Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon. I learned that they have tumbleweeds in Jeff’s part of Washington state and they also play “Hit the Tumbleweed” while driving.

Jeff and me at Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon.

I was reminded that every time I hear Jeff speak, he gives me homework! At the 2014 Teaching & Learning Conference in Washington D.C. in March, (Put that conference on your calendar for next year. More info here) Jeff gave us a challenge to spend five minutes a day lifting up our profession.

Jeff also facilitated a breakout session on teacher leadership at the conference. He said, “You lead by doing the work together.” This really hit home for me because I’ve always believed that teaching is too complex and too important for one person to do alone. We must build authentic partnerships with other adults in our buildings and across the country and world through the virtual community.

Ron Thorpe, the visionary CEO of the National Board, had a serendipitous comment in a keynote that same day, “What our children need to see is our profession as a whole.” Our students deserve teachers who support each other and learn from each other. We are stronger together and our schools will be more successful when we collaborate and lead from within.

So Jeff, I’ve been working on your homework assignment. I’m writing my own story of education today. As I’ve said in many of my speeches lately, I’m tired of the media writing the story of what is happening in today’s schools. I’m the expert! I’m the one in the classroom every day, gorgeous boots on the ground!

Not kidding about the gorgeous boots.

We know that isolation is the enemy of teachers. So I’m going to lead by influence. I’m working on increasing my positive on-line presence. I’m going to work with on-line communities and teachers to cross-pollinate ideas and break through the silos of our own schools and districts to learn from each other and support one another. I am lucky enough to work with teachers at Sunset Hills that I can count on like family. We learn from each other and learn together. But I also created a Class of 2014 State Teacher of the Year Facebook page as a way to keep in touch with my fellow STOYs during the times we are not geographically close during our year. What I didn’t realize is how much that community would impact me and all the others who have joined the page. Teaching can be lonely and isolating, even in an amazingly supportive building like Sunset Hills. I find myself heading to the STOY Facebook page to share ideas and stories, get inspiration, and a shot of positivity to keep me going strong. Then I can bring that energy and affirmation to the people I am lucky enough to work with every day.

Here are my tips for other busy teacher leaders who want to carve out five minutes a day to take Jeff’s challenge of lifting our profession. Our profession needs it right now and our students deserve to have positive, energized teachers.

-Get involved with the Center for Teaching Quality here. You can join collaborative on-line communities with brilliant teachers from around the country and world. Real transformation is happening here. Got ideas? Share them. Need ideas? There is enough here to inspire you for years to come. And it’s free!

-Spread positivity. Use Facebook, a blog, the parent who drops off their child in the doorway of your classroom. All people hear about schools from the media is negative. Let’s get the real message out there and tell the stories of the amazing things happening in our schools with our students.

-Join the conversation on Twitter. I held out because I didn’t understand it – what’s a hashtag? But once I got on I found it remarkably easy to navigate. Now I’m so hooked I have to set a timer so I don’t fall into the Twitterverse for hours of reading, learning, and communicating. If you want to get started and need some practical tips, check out the 2012 Illinois State Teacher of the Year Josh Stumpenhorst’s You Tube video here on “How Teachers Can Harness the Power of Social Networking.”

Like all good teachers, Jeff only assigns meaningful homework. Voices from the teaching community can be the stone in the pond that disrupts the status quo in education. We can end top-down leadership and for-profit “reforms” if we learn and collaborate as teacher leaders. Use your teacher voice to lift our profession. It doesn’t matter what medium you use. Just use your voice. Tell your story.

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