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.
This is something that often eludes me as I work through my day. Where does the time go?
One of my all-time favorite pieces on Tchers’ Voice is Sarah Brown Wessling’s blog post, A Letter to My Children: What it Means to be a Teacher. Throughout the post, Sarah shares the struggles and sacrifices that we all make as we attempt to meet the needs of not only our biological children, but also all of the smiling faces that walk through our doors every day. As a single father, coach, and teacher, this piece really hit home. Being a teacher is a balancing act. And that’s especially true if you’re a teacher leader.
Whenever I’m asked why I became an educator, my answer is short and sweet: “Because I want to change the world.” Not that I’m naïve enough to believe that my work will achieve world peace, but I have faith that there are enough like-minded souls spread throughout the globe to make a significant difference. Some of us are blessed with the opportunity to possess a leadership role within our profession. And it’s tough! Not only do we have to ensure a quality education to our own students, but we also have an obligation to provide support and resources to our colleagues.
So how do we find balance? Well, when you figure that out, please let me know!
While I do joke about it, there is truth to my previous statement. Even those of us that have lived a dual life for several years struggle at times. That being said, I’d like to share some of the lessons I’ve learned with you.
I am the baby of my family. For as long as I can remember, this placement has meant constantly trying to make sure everyone was taken care of and happy. By the time I reached school age, people pleasing was common practice for me. I wanted to make others proud of me. I wanted to be well received and would do whatever necessary to be well liked.
This led me to being a socialite among my middle school and high school peers. Yet, in seeking the approval of others, I taught the people around me what to expect of my behavior. I believed living for others, and living up to what I thought they expected of me, was the right thing to do. In school, I thought my role was to say what the teacher wanted or expected to hear. I was good at determining the “right” or “correct” response, so teachers enjoyed my presence in the classroom.
This people-pleasing mentality followed me into my adult life, but it wasn’t as effective. Although supervisors liked and respected my ability to follow commands, my ability to push back or give critical feedback on an idea was constantly compromised. I often sat in silent disagreement because I was too scared of retaliation to challenge any idea. It was easier to compromise my own beliefs to keep peace among the group, even if I knew my ideas had validity. Being likeable was much more valuable.
Five years ago, I had my first tangible opportunity to become a teacher leader. Selected to be part of a statewide grant, over a three-year period, I was asked to develop my own thoughts and support them with evidence. Intentionally, the facilitator didn’t validate my ideas. She forced me to take my own stance, knowing this experience would set me up to brush against my own insecurities. Rather than responding with excitement that someone was interested and invested in knowing who I was at my core, I grew frightened and afraid, crying out for the approval I knew well. Approval was always my validation and these new rules were uncomfortable.
Editor’s Note: This post is sponsored by GoFundMe.
As a 1st grade teacher in an urban Boston public school, I know that summer can be a challenging time for many of my students who have parents working long hours.
I wanted to do something to help my kids and their families have resources for fun, healthy activities to keep them busy and engaged while out of school, so I came up with the idea for “summer baskets.” I just needed a way to raise the funds for the baskets, and that’s where GoFundMe came in.
On August 22, 2016, President Barack Obama named a cohort of 213 mathematics and science teachers as recipients of the celebrated Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Teaching Channel is excited to announce that Laureate Kristin Gray is among the honorees. Kristin will travel to Washington D.C. to join this group of the nation’s top math and science teachers to be recognized. They will celebrate, network, and engage in outstanding STEM-based professional development.
We caught up with Kristin for a quick chat to find out more about the award.
What Does It Mean To Be A Teacher Leader?
Teacher Leadership. The definition seems elusive.
Two deceptively simple words, when strung together, are more complex than the Google search algorithm.
The reality is teacher leadership takes many shapes. Teacher leadership can be formalized with a title, but it can also emerge informally as that one teacher who is your go-to person — every time. Some teachers are leaders in the classroom, always on the cutting edge with new pedagogy and technology. Some extend their influence into the extracurricular and co-curricular spheres as coaches and advisors to students honing their talents and pursuing their passions. There are teachers who emerge as leaders in their school buildings as team leaders, department chairs, instructional coaches, and the like. They sit on committees and give input as a part of shared leadership teams. And sometimes their influence will reach throughout their entire district as they plan, implement, and deliver professional development that helps move the entire school community toward it’s goals and vision. But it doesn’t end there.