Teachers are storytellers.
And like any storyteller, it’s our ultimate goal to reach our students through our instruction. If we’re lucky, we’ll inspire curiosity and a love of learning that will last a lifetime.
Teacher leaders take their storytelling to the next level by sharing their practice, insights, expertise, questions, challenges, triumphs, and more with a larger audience of colleagues, families, communities, and policymakers within the education ecosystem and in society at large. The goal is to resonate here, too — to connect, impact, influence, inspire — in the hope that they will be able to play a small part in transforming climate, culture, and teaching and learning opportunities in schools. But in order to affect this kind of change, teacher leaders must not only tell stories, they must tell effective stories.
Every teacher has a story to tell; but finding and crafting a compelling, authentic story is a skill that requires attention, effort, and a few great strategies. So, let’s dig in and begin the process of uncovering your stories.
There are 3.3 million teachers in the United States, which means there are 3.3 million stories that need to be heard. What I’ve been wondering lately is, is it possible for these collective stories to become a critical catalyst to ensuring transformational teaching and learning experiences for students in this country, especially those who are subject to low expectations brought on by their race, nationality, language of origin, or disability?
No one knows teachers like teachers, and no one — in schools — knows students like teachers. This is one of the reasons why when we started ECET2 — Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers — we immediately penned the phrase, “Know Your Story, Share Your Story.”
Sitting down to talk with Kristin felt like talking with a friend.
Kristen Swanson, founder of EdCamp and current Director of Learning at Slack, brings to the table an accomplished career in education and leadership, but during our interview, I was most in awe of her humility and down to earth nature.
It was incredibly clear that, in her life, she listens, connects, and elevates the ideas of others. These qualities are all components that likely enabled her to create the EdCamp platform. For readers not familiar, EdCamp is an “unconference” where participants drive the content, structure, and flow of their professional development on the day of the event. EdCamp provides ownership of ideas, participant voice, internal motivation, and relevance to teachers seeking to redefine their professional learning experiences.
What if I told you there’s a new teacher out there struggling who needs you — would you share your story?
I remember my first year like it was yesterday. I accepted an interview for a permanent position on September 30th. I thought this was strange timing, given the new school year had just begun; however, to me, it was also serendipitous.
There was no question in my mind that I would take the chance to sit for an interview and teach a lesson to what would become my first class of students.
I was so excited to learn I would have a real job, I hardly took the time to wonder why several teachers left this position in the short month since the school opened its doors, or what it meant when a series of administrators and faculty characterized the group of sweet, cooperative adolescents I met as “challenging.” In fact, it didn’t even phase me that, after announcing what my new salary would be, my then-superintendent asked, “So, do you still want the job?”
Our new series, Women Leaders in Education, shares powerful narratives from female trailblazers in education. Our first interview is with Linda Darling-Hammond. An educational leader focused on bridging education and policy, Linda Darling-Hammond is an advocate, author, reformer, professor, and policymaker. She has been instrumental in shaping many areas within the education ecosystem, including teaching standards, assessments, educational systems, and education policy. Teachers across the nation continue to be inspired and encouraged by her powerful and thoughtful messages.
I grew up with the belief that I could do anything — that being born a woman wouldn’t impede my path to achieving my goals or obtaining a leadership role. One of two girls, I was raised learning how to fish in the ocean, play sports, and dance. Moreover, both of my parents held two jobs so traditional gender-based roles were not my norm. I often felt empowered because I was surrounded by strong female coaches and role models who inspired me to reach beyond what even I thought possible.
It wasn’t until high school that I understood being a strong, intelligent woman may not always be a popular choice. While running for student body president, I campaigned against a young man who wore a gold colored t-shirt to school every day and took on the nickname “golden boy.” Void of a dense platform, I assumed my marketing, clever ideas, and rich resume would convince the student body that I was the best candidate. Unfortunately, this was an incorrect assumption and I lost in what might be considered a landslide. That moment gave me pause and made me doubt whether I really could do anything. Surely I had the talent to be a leader, but would others be able to see it too?
Last April, a group of colleagues and I applied to the New York Teacher Leadership Summit (powered by Teach to Lead). It was billed as an opportunity to:
- Develop the skills to design and advocate for a teacher-led initiative
- Network and build relationships with critical national thought partners
- Connect with teacher leaders and administrators from across the NY Metro region
Driven by our love for our south Bronx public middle and high school students, we aspired to improve our practice. To do so, we wanted more professional learning opportunities and a structure to help us share what we learned with each other. We submitted a proposal that would allow us to do just that. Our proposal was one of twenty selected from across New York State, and we were excited to join other teams working to create opportunities for teacher-led learning and leadership at their schools, in their districts, or across the state.
We’re looking for five teachers or instructional coaches who are interested in building their ELL content and instructional practice through collaboration on the Fab Five ELL Squadster team.
As I shift my instruction to meet the requirements of the Next Generation Science Standards, I often ask myself: How can I make science a phenomenal experience for my students? I think the key to unlocking the answer to this question lies in discovery — in my willingness to figure out what the NGSS asks of me, as an educator.
As part of Teaching Channel’s Next Generation Science Squad, I spent a weekend in Washington D.C. working with the Squad to develop my understanding of the NGSS and was fortunate to attend a training on the latest EQuIP (Educators Evaluating Quality Instructional Products) rubric by Achieve.
As I approached the workshop, I wondered why I needed a rubric to ensure that my instruction is NGSS aligned. I didn’t see the logic. Wouldn’t that take substantially more time when I’m already working hard to incorporate the new standards without a rubric? Aren’t we professionals who know our craft and what we’re expected to do? Aren’t we well versed in pedagogical approaches and strong teaching methodologies? I felt I was doing a pretty good job with this “NGSS thing.” Why fix something that isn’t broken, right?
We’ve found collaboration with one another to be an invaluable component of our professional learning. In every conversation we have around the math, the lesson, and student work, we learn so much. Since we know it’s not always easy to find the time to meet, especially living on opposite coasts, we’ve found ways to be creative in our scheduling, planning, tools, and technology to make it happen.
We were fortunate to begin our journey together over two years ago when we worked on a project supported by Illustrative Mathematics, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia, and Teaching Channel. The project connected educators from around the country in a planning, teaching, and reflection cycle unlike anything we had ever experienced. Recently, NCTM’s publication Teaching Children Mathematics, published an article on this work and hosted a Twitter chat that generated an energetic conversation about collaboration that sparked a new idea for us to try.