Editor’s Note: The following post by Mark Gardner, NBCT, is reposted with permission from the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP) Stories from School blog. His bio is below.

This past weekend I was surrounded by people ready to change their worlds. Teacher leaders from all over the nation converged in Denver for the regional Teach to Lead Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

It was inspiring, enlightening, and exhausting (in a good way).

Much of it was also about forging connections, perhaps future partnerships. I had the opportunity to deliver a breakout session with  Katie Taylor of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP), and serve as a critical friend and consultant to teams of teachers from Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and other states who were seeking feedback on the teacher-leadership projects they were building back at home.

One thing I figured out quickly, though, was that Washington is unique.

In Washington, there is a partnership (even if there is not always agreement) between the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Washington Education Association (WEA), and CSTP to promote teacher leadership and advocacy, including but not limited to the development of National Board Certified Teachers. This collaboration between government, union, and non-profit is a unique and powerful alliance of stakeholders whose mutual and exclusive networks, interests, and audiences facilitate great opportunity for teachers in the state of Washington.

Since I was attending the TTL Summit as a presenter and critical friend, I didn’t bring a specific project I was seeking feedback upon. However, time after time as I listened to coach and advise teacher-leaders from around the nation, I found myself asking the same questions and getting the same responses: almost nowhere else is there a concerted partnership between organizations at the state level to promote and support development of accomplished teaching and teacher leadership.

Yes, class sizes are too big. Yes, we’ve gone 14 years without the voter-approved pay raises for teachers. These are serious problems in need of remediation.

But what we do have is an alliance that has brought dramatic increases in National Board Certification, teacher leadership development, and advocacy for students. I wonder how bad things might have been without the OSPI, WEA, CSTP partnership. Just imagine how backwards our new evaluation law might have ended up (even if the current law isn’t perfect, it’s so much better than what is being mandated elsewhere) had we not had teacher leaders from OSPI, WEA and CSTP equipped to influence policy.

In Denver, I met a team of teachers who wanted to transform collaboration in their building, but they lacked support and had exhausted their funding. Here in Washington, someone in that situation might be able to turn to CSTP for a teacher leadership grant to fuel their leadership fire.

In Denver, I met an NBCT lamenting the lack of support for candidates and wondering how to build new models within her district and state. Here in Washington, we have WEA’s JumpStarts, HomeStretches, and other supports… supports so effective and ubiquitous we almost take them for granted.

In Denver, I met a team seeking to find ways to build a teacher-driven professional development system that is meaningful and relevant. Here in Washington, just one example of the  resources we have is the Transforming Professional Learning iGrant process facilitated by OSPI to help districts and teams improve and implement stronger professional learning systems.

We have a ton of room to grow here in Washington. However, we also have some talent and resources that can and do help facilitate this growth. Regardless of teachers’ opinions about OSPI, their union, or non-profits, we are in a unique situation in this state where teaching and teacher leadership is supported unlike anywhere else across the nation. (What is worthy of note, as well, is that it seems that the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board, among others, are recognizing the need for high-level partnerships in order to facilitate ground-level transformation.)

We are lucky. And like anyone who is lucky, we don’t always realize what we have until we see those without the same luck. Other teachers throughout the nation are struggling to do great, system-transforming work, with far less than we have here.

About the Author

Mark Gardner is a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescent Through Young Adulthood English Language Arts. He is in his third year in a hybrid role teaching high school English and working as a Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA) to facilitate professional development experiences for teachers around content literacy and effective practice, as well as to support new teacher induction. Gardner works in Washington State’s Camas School District and is a regular contributor for the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP) Stories from School blog.