I felt the blood rushing to my face. I was standing in front of a group of teachers presenting on a topic I was very familiar with and all of the sudden, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what I was saying. The teachers were very gracious, but I was cringing. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the strategies to make my next move. I sure could’ve used some coaching in that moment.
I often have the opportunity to work with teachers as a professional learning provider or coach around the implementation and assessment of the three-dimensional learning expected from the Next Generation Science Standards. In this work, I’m expected to be the “expert” and the collaborator, but sometimes I need coaching too.
It doesn’t seem possible that my time in the classroom is over.
At the start of this school year, I accepted a position as a principal, after spending the last 15 years in the classroom. At some points, those years seemed to zoom by, but there were moments where time seemed to stand still, the daily struggles nearly overwhelming. Thankfully, the fulfilling days far outweighed the tough times.
While I’m enjoying the challenges and rewards afforded by my career shift, I have times where I’m nostalgic for my days in the classroom. As much as I enjoyed being a teacher, I also revel in discovery, and I expect to learn from each of my jobs. In reflecting on my teaching career, I realized that teaching has taught me… nothing.
Several years ago, a mentor approached me with an opportunity for which she thought I had just the skill set. It was a far stretch from my comfort zone and my knee-jerk reaction was to reply with a “thanks, but no thanks.” You see, this was at a time when I was just a little seedling of a teacher leader. I was growing, absolutely, but I was still nestled safely beneath the surface, not yet ready to push through the ground and share with the world who I am, what I know, and what I think.
Despite my reluctance, and inspired by the confidence of someone I respected immensely, I applied to be part of a cohort of teachers who were tasked with blogging about standards for learning, instructional best practices, assessment strategies, and basically anything to do with the how-to’s of being an effective practitioner. As a fourth year teacher, what I didn’t know far exceeded what I did, but I was obsessed with learning about learning and I had an insatiable appetite for books, articles, and blogs that discussed how to be a better teacher. Because of this, I accepted the position and felt mildly confident (at the time, that was a big deal) in my ability to put something out into the world that at least one person could find beneficial.
Until it came time to write my first post.
“Tell me the facts and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe.
But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”
— Native American Proverb
Leadership is hard; it’s littered with the unknown, filled with the unexpected, packed with the unanswerable, and bursting with challenges great and small. Yet at its core, leadership is an essential element to successful school culture — to developing, building, and even changing the ways in which schools operate, teach, learn, and grow.
When exploring school culture and its correlation to leadership, though, it’s essential that we think of the term of “school leader” in a more global sense. At their core, teachers are leaders. And when the “leaders” of a school realize this fact and empower teachers to help enact change, welcoming them into the STORY of their school, the impossible becomes the reality, the unimaginable becomes the routine.
You see, teachers are leaders because they’re at the center of the humanity within the work; living in and yet simultaneously crafting the story of the school, the narrative of the culture, and this is absolutely essential because the reality is this: a story entertains; it engages; it endears us to others; it enrages; but most importantly, it EMPOWERS. Without the story, we’re left with blank slates. Simply put, we — and our school cultures — are incomplete. As Michael Margolis, CEO at Get Storied said, “If you want to learn about a culture, listen to the stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.”
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?