Last year, several teacher leaders from the state of Arizona wrote a grant proposal to the Gates Foundation to bring a local convening of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) here. We (Taryl Hansen of the Arizona K12 Center, Misha Freeman of the Littleton school district, Cheryl Redfield of the Gilbert school district, myself, and our mastermind, Kristie Martorelli of the Dysart school district) received the grant and got planning! We arranged for people to share inspirational stories of teacher leadership, and assisted teacher leaders in exploring their passions and expanding their voices and influence. It was a successful weekend full of enthusiasm!
My keynote is below:
I’ve been looking forward to this weekend and I’m so excited now that it’s finally here. This weekend we are here to celebrate teachers and teaching. Look at who is in this room right now. I see a room filled with change agents, leaders, and people I am so proud to call colleagues. Thank you for your contributions to education and your school communities. It has not gone unnoticed.
You are about to hear your colleagues’ diverse, personal stories of leadership. We’re going to hear what inspired them, and what motivates them to maintain leadership. Any of these could be you. You were chosen to be here because one of these organizations sees leadership in what you do. You’ll be able to listen for your stories in these amazing teacher leaders’ stories. I’m sure that you’ll hear patterns, and recognize your experience in theirs. As Maya Angelou said, “The sum of us is greater than all our parts.” This weekend we will be learning from each other, together, to become stronger as a whole. This weekend we are planting the seeds that will grow into a better future for our Arizona schools and students.
I’ve learned that there are plenty of people out there telling stories about teaching, teachers, and schools. If you don’t tell your story, someone will tell it for you. This weekend is about amplifying your story and your passion.
You are here not only because you are the most phenomenal teachers we know, but also because there is a passion gnawing at you, knocking on your subconscious. This weekend will be your chance to find it or turn up the volume on that thing that inspires you to lead. Is it your students, your community, inequality that you witness in our system, or making a change for the better? Some of you might be waiting for an invitation to lead. This is it.
This where my leadership story begins. I went through the National Board certification process beginning around 2006. The process opened my eyes to the professional in our profession. It taught me more about the complexity and depth, the art and science of our chosen career. It taught me how to reflect on my practice and why that was so important. As I was completing the process and thinking about what my next steps may be, someone asked me that question…what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Or, as I heard it, how could I find the courage to speak out on behalf of my profession? I knew the answer right away. You see, in my view, the importance of National Board Certification lies in what it conveys about the teacher who achieves it. It is the evidence of a dedicated professional teacher who is an expert in the field of education, who embodies leadership, lifelong learning, and a commitment to schools, colleagues, and students. It is the ultimate evidence of a dedicated, knowledgeable professional.
I had been noticing for a while how people outside of our field make the decisions that affect our teaching and our students’ daily lives in our classrooms. Meanwhile, I’m the one with a BA and an MA in teaching and learning, a National Board certified teacher with 15 years of experience in the classroom! With all the qualifications, I kept wondering… when I would be qualified enough to play a part in the decision-making process?
I don’t see any other profession led by outside forces more than us. Maybe that’s because our profession is so important. But it’s because it’s so crucially important that it should be up to the expert practitioners to lead. So I decided it’s time to tap into classroom experts as the source of solutions. Teachers must be heard and lead the way.
As Dr. Dennis Shirley told some of us this summer at the Teacher Leadership Institute, “Let’s imagine a profession where the practitioners lead.”
So I started talking to anyone who would listen. I started blogging and networking with other bloggers and following their blogs. I started reading EdWeek and participating in Arizona K12 Center’s #edweekeveryweek. I started working as a Candidate Support Provider so that I could assist other people that I knew were National Board certified teachers – they just didn’t have that piece of paper yet. My leadership journey isn’t over…it evolves all the time. But through this journey I’ve gotten to know and work with so many teachers right here in this room. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with teachers from all over the US who are advocating for the same things we are. My professional life has changed due to using my teacher voice beyond my classroom walls. But the most important thing is how it has continued to enhance my classroom practice.
Because that’s why we do this. That’s why we care.
So that’s how I got here. That’s how my flame was lit. The belief that teachers should lead the profession of teaching. I decided to act without fear. Your flame is already lit. That’s why you’re here. It’s our job to light more flames, those of policy makers, administrators, parents, community members. We need to help our colleagues find their teacher voice outside of the four walls of our classrooms. Hope is not a plan. This weekend you will make a plan. We will make plans together.
So what would you do if you weren’t afraid? Let’s find out. Let’s be fearless!
Here are some other “take aways” that I got from our weekend of fabulous teacher fellowship:
Betsy Hargrove, the Superintendent of Avondale schools spoke eloquently about 4 important things teacher leaders must have: Hope, Love, Faith, and Risk. The minute we start negativity among ourselves, it opens the door for others to speak negatively about us.
Andew Morrill, the Arizona Education Association President, speaking about the AEA said: “We are a fan club for educators around the state.”
Howard Paley with the Rodel Foundation gave this advice: “Inspire people to want to change.”
Kathy Weibke of the Arizona K12 Center spoke passionately about teachers using our voices: “We cannot lose another generation of children to ill-gotten policies.”
Daniela Robles, a teacher leader and board member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards noted: “When we build the capacity of teachers, we build the capacity of students.”
My personal “Wow!” moment was meeting Katie Paetz, a music teacher who was just beginning a highly contested school board seat in the Osborn school district. I was so inspired by her willingness to take a large personal risk to do what is best for students. Talk about getting teachers at the table! A wonderful footnote to this story is that Katie won!
Have you attended a local ECET2 convening? What was your experience?