Editor’s note: This is a blog post from Sally Brothers, NBCT and past Teach to Lead Summit Participant. The original post was published on The Standard.
If someone had told me when I was a novice teacher that something truly magical would happen in my career twenty years later, I would have found it hard to believe. It was a perfect storm of sorts; it began with my journey of achieving National Board Certification. This achievement gave me the confidence to apply for a Teacher Leader role in a new initiative begun in my district. For four years now, I have had the luxury of teaching half days and spending the other half of the day helping teachers turn great ideas into possibilities and then into reality. Two years into this role, an idea for hosting African American Read-ins in celebration of Black History month was shared with English Teacher Leaders. I jumped at the opportunity even though it was short notice, and decided to put a spin on it by asking a former student to take charge of it. What happened transformed my teaching career
From a rag-tag group of students, of which I knew only one, twelve students created a program that involved performing poetry from renowned poets, family members, and of their creation; singing spirituals; performed interpretive dances; sharing pertinent historical documents; and sharing biographies of important Black American figures. In a debriefing following the event, students basked in the joy of sharing their knowledge about topics they felt were important and longed to have a class based on this experience. My coaching training and understanding of Design Thinking for the Teacher Leader role instantly took over and before we all knew it, the students had developed a solid plan for a multicultural course. After contacting district personnel, my students had the opportunity to present their idea before the superintendent, and a new course was born.
MOSAICS is a course designed by students and led by student voice. It is my job as the teacher to align all ideas with our state standards and to maintain a level of rigor worthy of college bound students. As I worked on preparing this course over the summer from my students’ outline, I was encouraged to share this experience by applying for the Teach to Lead Summit in Washington. I am so glad I did. Teach to Lead brings together educators from all corners of our country to work together to develop ideas into plans that improve educational experiences.
Being accepted to attend a Teach to Lead Summit is the greatest feeling because someone you don’t know recognizes that your ideas have validity and that they deserve the time, attention, and the resources required to become real, viable plans. And, Teach to Lead gives us a whole weekend of training, collaborative opportunities, continuous feedback, and work time to think seriously about our ideas and to develop a solid plan that includes immediate goals, short term goals, and long-range goals. One of the greatest obstacles as a teacher is finding enough time to get everything done. We aren’t afraid to work long hours; we just rarely have enough hours to balance everything. Imagine spending a whole weekend with four team members you select to bring with you, one critical friend who is paired with you who has specific expertise suited for your idea, and a whole room full of others to connect with and collaborate with to work on your idea only.
Teach to Lead validated my expertise as an educator and confirmed that my ideas will positively impact education. Since September, the amount of new commitments I have made happened because of the confidence I gained through the Teach to Lead experience. Rather than close the door and do what I do best in isolation, the door is wide open. Folks pop in all of the time, and my students are out in the community representing and presenting the solid work they are doing to build meaningful educational experiences and to build a stronger multicultural community. Because of the encouragement and support of Teach to Lead, magic is happening here.
Sally Brothers, NBCT, has been teaching English at Arcadia High School since 1997, where she has served in several teacher leadership roles. Two years ago, she began as the Teacher Leader for ELA grades 6-12 at the Arcadia Campus and has worked with the team of teacher leaders at Arcadia to develop a cohesive and unified Professional Development program for both the high school and middle school. Sally earned National Board Certification in English Language Arts/Adolescent and Young Adult in 2013 and has become certified to coach future candidates; a program she and four other teachers began implementing in Greece last year. She has also been the lead teacher for the development and implementation of the MOSAICS multi-cultural course. She recently returned from the NCTE Summit in Washington, DC where she continued her work with the USDOE for her Teach to Lead project: Mosaics.