What happens to a self-proclaimed technophobe, who is in her 26th year of teaching and looking for a new challenge to keep her invested in growing and learning? One who believes that zoom means to go fast, or zip through a task. One who has never ACTUALLY filled out a Google form?
Well, if you are me, you open an email from your union president and apply for the Teacher Leadership Initiative, cohort two, where you get to learn new skills like joining webinars, being part of Zoom (yep, there is another one) sessions, posting assignments on the Collaboratory, and working with Google docs. The thought of engaging with that extensive level of technology scared the crap out of me, however, the lure of collaboration, validation and the chance to have my voice heard allowed me to conquer my fears and stick with the program.
See the problem, be the solution.
What I learned
As the program began, I was overwhelmed by the number of techy things I was required to do. But week-by-week, I was getting the hang of posting my responses, raising my hand in a Zoom session, and contributing on the Collaboratory. During a webinar session, we discussed what it meant to be a teacher leader, to lead from the classroom, and as I listened to everyone contributing I had an epiphany. In my notes (yes, hand written notes during a webinar) I had written, “see the problem, be the solution.” This was a transforming/illuminating moment for me because I could always do that for students, for my department and other teachers in my building, but I had not done that for my district. I saw the problem with mentoring new teachers, but I was waiting for someone else to fix it. After that webinar, I knew that TLI was giving me the tools to recognize a problem, figure out a solution and present that solution to the district leaders. TLI also gave me a sense of heft/weight/stamp/seal to add to my, admittedly high, confidence in offering teacher created solution to the district.
Teacher attrition rates are high in all states, but it was daunting to see over 100 new teachers being hired by the district each year. Even more disheartening to discover that our core subject areas were being hit the hardest, in some cases losing 30 % of their teachers. Add in new knowledge, thanks to a TLI strand on Social Justice, and now our low achievement makes a bit more sense. The lowest performing students are getting the most inexperienced teachers, and often getting one new teacher after another as they move from grade to grade. So how do we keep teachers in our district? Make connections; use our mentoring program to best advantage. At best you could describe our mentoring program as self-directed, at worst willy-nilly. But I knew that we could make it better.
Imagine being given an opportunity to reflect on your craft, exam your passion and, create a project that looks at the problem you identified, and offers create ways to solve it. That is the beauty/genius of the TLI Capstone; it is an opportunity to become part of the solution…whether you have been asked to or not. For me that passion is in working with new teacher and mentors teachers in hopes of slowing our teacher attrition rates. Attrition rates that have climbed as high as 30% in core subject areas, causing our lowest performing students to have the most inexperienced teachers. Our self-directed mentoring program needed to be revamped, starting with the mentor teachers. I believed I was just the person to do it!
The proposal, silently rejected
Since I was a building and district level presenter, I had created and designed NCTE presentations; I led with my strength and proposed that the mentor teachers come in for a one-day training facilitated by me. In the summer of 2015, I submitted the rationale, the agenda, the PowerPoint presentation, and the follow-up and waited for a response. And waited. Nothing like a little silence to speak loud and clear, but I was firmly set on my course, I WOULD present to the mentor teachers. I sidled up to the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Ed at a football game and asked him if he had read my proposal for a training with mentor teachers, and as I had practiced in an assignment, I gave him the elevator pitch. He played it off, as if he had it in the queue and would get to it. But that deer in the headlights glazed look gave him away, he had never even opened the email. Mid year, I approached him at another school function, and asked about what he thought of the training. An off the cuff admission that he had not read any of the documents I had sent hit me with these words; “I am waiting for you to send me the perfected copy, not a draft.” I laughed and placed a hand over my heart and replied, “Then you must not have read my proposal because I don’t deal in mediocrity, only perfection.” Fast-forward to the end of the school year; yes an entire academic school year of SILENTLY BEING REJECTED.
Before my TLI experience, I would have metaphorically circled the wagons and gathered my collegial clique and trash talked the administration and their lack of foresight; as well as their inability to utilize their greatest resources: teachers, and more specifically, me. But not this time. I went back to my notes, re-read my competencies, looked through my color-coded binder, refreshed my memory on my teacher strengths survey and decided that I was not going to take no for an answer because our students were too valuable a commodity, and teacher attrition could be slowed if we trained mentors and built relationships with new teachers. I needed a new hook, because my elevator speech had failed. My unlikely ally? Charlotte Danielson used in my district for teacher evaluation. Teachers cringe when her work is mentioned, but “she” was the new bait I dangled from the hook. I sent a new proposal, to which I had added information from Danielson regarding mentoring. The added information got me the results I was seeking. My vision was gaining traction and became a reality in August of 2016.
So what happens to the veteran teacher who has extensive knowledge and no place share it? What happens to the veteran teacher who has all the components of a leader, but no one to lead? What happens when a veteran teacher leaves with all of her knowledge? If you are me, you make a decision to explore new options, learn new skills, increase your knowledge and commit to sharing that knowledge and skill with teachers who need it the most, new teachers and mentor teachers. After all, the teacher who retires with the most knowledge simply retires with the most knowledge, and the teachers who come after her have no institutional memory to draw on, no experts to consult, no shoulders to stand on. Remember, you are already a leader. And it's okay, as a veteran teacher, to step out and say yes to something you never would have said yes to before. So say "yes!" I'm going to be uncomfortable. Say "yes!" I might be the only one in the room who doesn't know or understand how to do something, and that's okay, as long as you are willing to learn and grow. So, what will you do with your wealth of knowledge? Spend it on those who come after you? Or hoard it like obsolete coins until it becomes worthless? Me, I chose TLI. I choose to spend freely and spend often.
Spend freely on those who come after you!