As I’ve said before, experiences matter a great deal more than years of experience. All educators have a story to tell. Our stories must begin with a critical self-examination of this question: To what extent am I a producer or a consumer? How do I contribute to my profession? I recently engaged in this reflection on my own level of contribution to my profession and this is what I learned when I put it all together.
We are often to close to it, struggling just to accomplish the work that accompanies each new day. When we take a moment to truly reflect, we realize just how far reaching our impact has been and can become. Here is my story:
I’ve been a teacher for over 10 years at three different districts with very different stories. In that time, I have served well over 1,500 students in my classrooms. What was my impact? If you go into my classroom, pretty consistently you will find me working directly with my students before and after school, during study halls to support them. You will see that students are motivated and engaged in learning. You will see a community of learners that help, support, and encourage one another. You will see students that are given choice and voice in shaping their learning experiences through passion projects and authentic, hands-on learning experiences. Every so often, I get a handwritten note or email from a former student thanking me for working with challenging them, and helping them discover their passions and potential to pursue them.
I am in my first year in a new school and district. This has been a great experience for me, as I have had to step out of the spotlight quite a bit and really embracing my role as a new learner. This year has been all about building and cultivating relationships with my colleagues and students, as well as seeking first to understand how our system works here. In my previous position, I was a primary leader in my department, building the master schedule for our science department, creating a schedule that would enable 11 different teachers to work out of 9 different classrooms. I also led and facilitated numerous PLC meetings, as well as coordinating the science supply ordering and delivery process every Spring and Summer.
Over my last two years in my former district, I served as one of seven Lead Teachers in our building as part of our Iowa TLC program. In this role, I served on our Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) and facilitated and led many professional learning experiences for our staff of over 100 teachers. I also led and Facilitated our Culture and Climate Team, as well as several technology trainings for our 1:1 iPad initiative.
From 2011 to 2015, I served as a President of my local Education Association. In this role, I met and cultivated relationships with various teachers, administrators, and district leaders. I also built partnerships with parents, and board member as I served on many of the strategic planning and and district planning panels. I also had the privilege to serve as Facilitator of our district’s Superintendent’s Advisory Team, recruiting a diverse set of teachers from together from across the district to engage in an ongoing solution-building processes to build the capacity of our system. Other experiences I had include serving as a member of several committee groups, including our School Improvement Advisory Committee, TLC Grant Writing Team, TLC Review Team, Negotiations Team, Insurance Committee, Calendar Committee, countless hiring teams, and many others.
This year, I have participated in the Continual Improvement Network at Drake University. This is a network of metro superintendents, principals, and aspiring administrators engaged in ongoing collaborating, capacity building, and idea sharing and has been a great way for me to learn more and build a broader understanding of issues and challenges in educational administration, as well as share ideas and possible solutions for these changes.
Since 2015, I have also served on Drake University’s International Advisory Council, learning from professors, business leaders, and other school leaders across the state and around the world about educational trends, philosophies, approaches, and ideas. I’ve also had the opportunity to visit and learn from other schools in Eagle, Colorado (As part of Johnston’s TLC Grant Writing Team), and the Toronto DSB schools in Canada (as part of the Drake Educational Leadership program). This national and international perspective has made me a much more well-rounded leader.
I also participated in the Teacher Leadership Initiative through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Center for Teaching Quality. Through this year-long experience, I was able to participate in many leadership training modules, engage in learning and collaboration with other aspiring leaders across the country, improve the quality of my writing through online forums and create a capstone project that captured my learning. As part of this experience, I was one of only two Iowans selected to attend CTQ’s Rising Leaders Retreat in North Carolina.
I’ve taken the Level 1 and 2 Cognitive Coaching Trainings through Sue Schirmer at Heartland AEA. I believe this training will be very helpful in my future role as an administrator, enabling me to work with teachers to support them in their cooperative learning.
In this training, I learned that my initial focus should really be on listening very carefully and trying to really create effective paraphrases that target the state of mind and really capture the heart of the issue to drive the thinking of the coachee. As I work more with teachers and begin to coach them more, I understand that much of what is communicated is unsaid, meaning the words used don’t tell the full story. I will devote just as much of the thought and attention other clues and can perhaps learn more from that that from the specific words used.
Also, in my questioning, I need to think about asking questions that honor the existing state of the coachee, but also drive their thinking to look at things differently and really push them to think in ways that they may not have done on their own. In my questioning, I need to think about asking questions that honor the existing state of the coachee, but also drive their thinking to look at things differently and really push them to think in ways that they may not have done on their own. Without this value-added perception by the coachee, the coachee is unlikely to sacrifice their valuable time to seek ongoing coaching conversations with the coachee.
In my eight days of training, I really came to appreciate all the layers that exist within the context of being an effective cognitive coach. Above all else, I will use the piece about not seeking closure for my own sake most of all. I need to put that aside and really focus on what the needs are of my coachee. Also, in coaching the coachee, I will need to ask questions in a way that supposes the best in my coachee and tries to empower them, while also pushing their thinking to a place they would not get on their own.
Perhaps the most valuable training I have received was an Ethics for Educators Training through ISEA. In this training, I really came to appreciate the reality that educators are 24-7 employees and that we must continually model a mindset of professionalism and ethical decision making. I believe administrators should hold themselves to an even high standard in this regard.
This course reviewed and explored the meaning of professional ethics for educators, including the Code of Iowa for Professional Conduct and Ethics as defined by the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. It was developed in collaboration between the ISEA and the BoEE. The course included the requirements of the Iowa Teaching License, examination of a variety of actual cases that the Board has addressed and a method to use when making decisions. It was very interactive and engaging, as we learned about cyber-bullying, infractions can cause suspension or termination of one’s license, and other legal issues.
Don’t be afraid to share your story! You’ve had much more of an impact than you may even realize! 🙂