Wednesday, January 31, 2018

How will you Be the One?

This last weekend, I had the enormous pleasure of participating in the Alabama NBCT Network Conference; the theme was Be the One. I listened to brilliant people share their thoughts, formally and informally, on ways we, as accomplished teachers, could be the one...the one for our profession, our colleagues, our communities, but most importantly, how we can be the one for our students. In an effort to capture many of these simple ideas and pass them along to others, here are some ways we can each Be the One.

  • Tell a colleague that you see the hardwork and dedication they put into their students each day. Teachers typically are not looking for praise, but some acknowledgement for their work really goes a long way, especially when they face challenges.
  • Get to know your students. Really know them by learning their strengths, challenges, background, learning preferences, hopes, fears, and dreams. Look for the untapped potential. See all the opportunities where you can empower each of your unique learners. 
  • Continue to sharpen your teaching practice so you can provide students with the level of support and challenge that each one needs. This can be done formally and informally through conferences, Twitter chats, book studies, webinars, or workshops. Living in the digital age, there are more opportunities than ever to connect and learn from others. Learning is often more fun when done with others. Grab a colleague and ask them to join you.  That gives you a sounding board as you work to make big ideas work for our specific students.
  • Share your professional learning with others. Did you read a great article? Watch a compelling video? See an inspirational speaker? Share that with others, face-to-face or on social media. Have you had an epiphany with a change you've made in your teaching practice? Write a blog post for an educational organization (they are always looking for great "in the trenches" content). Go to your school or district administrator and volunteer to share what you've discovered that works well for your students. Submit a proposal to formally present at a local, state or international conference. This is an opportunity to pay the professional learning forward for all those people who have shared their learning with you. 
  • Connect with your elected officials. This can be done informally by tweeting, posting or emailing a picture or story of something great going on in your classroom or school. Invite them to be guest readers or an extra set of hands during a hands-on learning activity. When you have Family Literacy/Math Night, student concerts, parent workshops, or special tournaments send them an invitation. Hand write them a note sharing your appreciation for the support that have shown. You can even formally host a Bring a Legislator to School Day and have elected officials spend the day (or a couple of hours) working along side students and forming a firsthand view of what learning looks like in today's classrooms.
  • Look at what areas you are passionate about: literacy, math development, teacher retention, STEAM, educational technology. Seek out opportunities where you can join committees and drive decisions that impact the lives of our students.
  • Join professional organizations. Through these orgainizations you connect with other similarly-minded individuals who can push your thinking. In turn, you can provide your unique insight as you work to grow our profession and positively impact student learning.
  • Volunteer to coach new teachers in your school or district. Offer your classroom to preservice teachers. The reality of a classroom can be overwhelming to preservice or early career teachers. This is a powerful way to provide them support, guidance and encouragement as these are the ones who will be taking the reigns of our profession in a few years. 
These are the ideas I walked away with this past weekend. What are some other ways that we can be the one?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Your Words and Silence Speak Volumes

Yesterday, I spent the day at a brilliant conference, the Alabama NBCT Network Conference, where we explored ways to "be the one." While I learned much and connected with so many phenomenal educators, there is one thought that continues to resonate in my head. It was spoken by one of the opening ignite speakers, Tammy Dunn (@tammydunn01). She said that not only are we responsible for our words but also our silence. Reflecting on this idea, it occurred to me that while I have been a long time advocate for teacher-voice and student-voice and the power of one to make a difference in the world, I had never contemplated the times when I remained silent.

Sometimes remaining silent needs to be intentional. All you have to do is spend a little time online to see that staying out of conversations is what is best for ourselves, our colleagues, and our profession. If a situation is one where there is only griping without a mindset to find a solution, sharpen our teaching practice, or improve our communities, it is best to not be pulled into the mire. There are other arenas where our voices will have an impact without being drawn into rants with those who have closed-minds and no desire to divert from their current mindset. Experience has taught me that there are always going to be individuals who are going to try to pick a fight with anyone over anything.

However, the silence that caused me to pause is the one where we choose not to speak up when it is imperative that we do. As educators, we know our students, their families and the communities in which we teach. We are passionate about our content and know the strategies to provide each of our students with the best possible learning experiences. I truly believe that a majority of teachers pursue this career because they want to do what's best for students and positively impact their future. (See NBPTS What Teachers Should Know and Be Able to Do)

As accomplished teachers, we know what works and doesn't work for our learners, our colleagues, our schools, and our districts, yet when we are at the grocery store, airport, or ballpark and we hear people maligning education, often we remain silent. We receive policy or practice change, and even though we know it is not what is best for students, we hold our tongues. We see non-educators telling negative stories about schools, but we don't take the time to share one of the many success stories we witness unfolding every single day in our own classrooms or schools.

It is scary when we are in a situation and we find ourselves at the crossroads between being the voice for our students or remaining silent. Reaching out to those writing policy and making decisions for our students can be intimidating. However, if we want our students to believe that they each have the power to make the world better place for someone, shouldn't we each be doing the same? If we want to empower our students, we must break the silence and lead the way to a brighter future. Our learners deserve it!

Here are a few other pieces that I've written on the importance of using our voice: