Thursday, February 4, 2016

Taking a Lead, Be Part of the Conversation

These past few months, I have been busy with teaching, attending professional learning conferences, and preparing for my National Board Certification. I began the quest for National Boards this year and I am working on my portfolio. I am hoping to submit component 1 and 2. I kept putting it off for years and I finally decided that this was the year and so the journey has begun.

This past weekend, I attended the national conference Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) in San Diego, California. ECET2 convenings bring together teachers from across the country in the spirit of leadership, collaboration, and professional growth. This was my first time attending an ECET2, which I found to be similar to the California Teachers Summit event from last summer 2015. Some of the similarities were that educators were excited to collaborate and have conversations with teachers from all grade levels, backgrounds, and teaching experience. I encountered teachers that had from one-year experience to 35 years. The theme in conversations was mainly about teacher leadership and what that may look like at your school, district, or state.
My Friend from Vermont, Sharon Davison, and I at the ECET2 Conference    

I was a Colleague Circle Facilitator at ECET2 and this was my table. They are truly talented educators with fresh ideas and and have a true sense of teacher leadership. I was delighted to able to listen to their perspectives and share ideas.  
          In listening to the conversations, I noted that teachers defined teacher leadership in diverse ways. Some considered themselves leaders, because they were young and innovative. While others because of their experience and official title they had at their school. This led to my self-reflection and how I see myself as a leader. My perception of this has evolved. My evolution as a leader comes from my experience in the classroom, my encounters with strong mentors, and supportive administration. I am in my 16th year teaching and I feel I am continuously learning and developing from every year I teach. Just like I teach my students, I learn from them. I learn about their struggles with learning new content, hence I continuously learn new strategies to modify instruction so that they have access to the content and high rigor, but are still able to feel successful. Through this learning about my students, it leads me to how teachers learn.

This is my perspective on how teachers can feel empowered and then feel compelled to lead in their profession. Teachers need to feel, like in any profession, that they have something to contribute. We need to feel that our professional contributions are valued. When I first started to look at myself as a leader, was when teachers and administrators facilitated a forum where we could come together and collaborate. Although these meetings had an agenda, they always allowed room for teachers to lead discussions, to share strategies, and to discuss students.

It was through these discussions, that I realized the importance of having a place for teachers from all grade levels and content areas to meet and discuss instructional strategies and student needs. This is how I actually came up with the idea for my first leadership project, the Common Core Café. I negotiated with my district and pretty much anyone who would listen about allowing me to have some space at the district to have these meetings. I just needed some space, so that teachers from all over the district could come and learn from each other. I also asked for teachers to be compensated for attending the sessions. After all, teachers are professionals and need to be compensated for their time. This process took time, a lot of energy, and dedication. It was not easy. However, I was fortunate to have an administration that believed supporting teacher collaboration was important. The heart of this project was also to provide teachers with the tools and support from our colleagues as we were implementing the new Common Core standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the English Language Development Standards. These new California Standards were overwhelming and teachers needed to support each other to be able to master the instructional shifts.

            I knew that the only way we were going to be able to tackle this new shift in our professional career, was through strong mentoring, and the sharing of highly effective instructional strategies. This was the recipe to the success the Common Core Café has had. We are in year three of this project and we have proven that teacher-led workshops are they key to having a meaningful professional learning experience. We are the only ones in the classroom actually teaching the new standards. We are the ones writing curriculum, since there are limited materials that are aligned to the California Standards.

            Two years ago, I joined the Instructional Leadership Corps. The project, led by SCOPE, the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, was conceived to build a statewide network of accomplished classroom teachers and other education leaders who provide expertise for the instructional shifts needed to implement the Common Core Standards in ELA and Mathematics, and the Next Generation Science Standards. This project allowed me to build a team. We now have six teachers at my district that lead this work and present at the Common Core Café sessions and at school sites. We have even started a parent component. We have a Café for parents, where they are able to have conversations with teachers about the instructional shifts and how to best support their child as they learn to dive deeper into the standards. We started last year, and this year we have delivered 2 sessions. The community has really appreciated having teacher leaders presenting the parent sessions, since the topics are more about real classroom practices and not an overview of the standards. We just had one last night for Kindergarten through 5th grade parents. We made language arts and math games to make the session interactive and hands on.

One of our sessions was highlighted in this video. The footage is towards the end of the video and you can hear my voice narrating. This was a huge recognition and highlight of our work. 

            What we have been able to accomplish locally is truly an indication that teacher leadership is valued. As educators, we are hesitant at time times to come out of our classroom walls and take initiative. I understand since the vast job of teaching takes up most of our day. However, being a teacher leader is about investing in our profession and ensuring that we are part of the conversation. It's about initiative and talking risks.

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