CHoosing Yes


Author: Glenna Carlton Sigmon | Illustrator: Sherrill Knezel

The past year has been an adventure full of growth and opportunity. Here is my story of finding my leadership voice and changing my life by embracing the power of "yes."

No matter how exciting, opportunities are also intimidating. They force us to step outside our comfort zones and confront our fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure. But this past year, when opportunities presented themselves, I chose yes--despite my anxiety and fear. Now, I am proud to call myself a teacher leader.

I believe teacher leadership is the most effective way to solve problems and positively impact our students’ learning.

I’m a leader by nature and a life-long learner by choice. I had only been a public school teacher for two years when my administrator asked me to serve as the team leader for my grade group. I’ve led everything from collaborative lesson planning to a multicultural picnic at school. Yet, even last year I didn’t consider myself a true leader. I felt like I had a lot to offer but very few opportunities to share the information. The state of Florida says I am “highly effective,” but I didn't felt my talents were being used effectively. The opportunities for sharing my learning were limited a few colleagues and the occasional after hours professional development.

The first step of my teacher leadership journey could easily have been missed. It came via an overflowing inbox, buried among hundreds of daily emails. Fortunately it didn't stay buried and with the click of the mouse, my journey to transformation began. I was invited to apply for the Florida Teacher Leader Fellowship.

This first opportunity was my first chance to chose “Yes." I applied for the fellowship. When I received my acceptance letter, a wave of emotions followed: surprise, anxiety, excitement. Why had they chosen me? Why was I qualified for this? I didn’t know many teachers who were offered opportunities to lead without leaving their classroom, and I didn't recognize the names of anyone else who had been accepted. I wasn’t sure where I would find support.

I quickly learned that beyond school buildings and districts, are many organizations who want to support teachers. At the first Fellowship convening, I heard from respected representatives from the Gates Foundation, Florida governor’s education committee, University of Florida’s Lastinger Center, and Center for Teaching Quality. Each speaker emphasized:

Teacher leadership is a catalyst for transforming education for teachers and students.

After that first meeting in March, I became part of a dynamic learning cohort for several months. During that time, I experienced the power of virtual learning communities. In the video below, I share some of the lessons I learned, and value I gained from that experience.

Saying yes to the Florida Teacher Leader Fellowship opened so many doors to other opportunities! I was busy engaged in learning and professional growth every month of the summer. In June, I attended a three-day storytelling retreat at CTQ headquarters in North Carolina. There I gained confidence as an advocate both for students and the teachers who serve them. I met other teacher leaders from all over the country who inspired me and expanded my support network beyond the fellowship in Florida. Through the retreat activities, I realized the power of intentional messaging. If I wanted to affect change, I needed to message that change meaningfully.

In July, I was accepted to lead a team of teachers to the Teach to Lead summit in Minnesota. Although excited, I knew we would need financial support to attend. With my newfound confidence, I reached out to Dr. Jonathan Prince, our district’s deputy superintendent. Using a technique I learned at the CTQ retreat, I shared our vision through an elevator pitch. Then, I directly asked Dr. Prince to provide financial support for our team's transportation needs. I also requested his leadership support for our project goals. To my surprise and relief, Dr. Prince became an enthusiastic partner, securing the needed funds and meeting with us afterward to support the implementation of our action plan.

In August, I had the opportunity to attend an intense five-day institute where I learned how to more effectively interpret the new Florida State Standards and shift my instruction to better help students. As a result of this experience, I understood more deeply how to structure my instruction so my students could find success with the math standards. I also better understood how to support my colleagues in making instructional shifts to better engage their students. From my learning at this institute, I am able to model lessons for the twenty five teachers in my school. Teachers share with me that these model lessons help them discover new ways to engage their students with challenging concepts.

Recognizing the knowledge and skills I had been able to develop through these leadership opportunities and because of our collaboration, Dr. Prince created an instructional coach position in a school labeled by the state of Florida as a failing, and then asked me to transfer from my school to fill that position. I was shocked.

Even after a year of amazing leadership opportunities, I had not imagined leaving my classroom as the next step. I loved teaching my twenty-two students and collaborating with my current team of eight teachers. I struggled with the decision to leave them. Yet the opportunity to impact so many more students and support so many teachers with what I had learned was exciting. I chose to say yes to the most intimidating challenge yet: transitioning into a formal leadership role in my district.

Diving into a brand new role, I draw upon the learning from every opportunity from my spring and summer learning. Using the expertise I gained from the Gate's Institute, I meet with each grade level twice a week to create and discuss lesson plans aligned to the Florida State standards. Using a skill I learned during online collaboration with CTQ, I recently began video journaling with the teachers I serve. So far, eleven teachers have expressed interest in recording their instruction then debriefing and reflecting on it together. By opening our classroom doors to share instruction in this way, we will build a library of resources (similar to those on Teaching Channel) that can be shared across school buildings for even greater collaboration and learning.

A few months into this new role, I see frustration turning into determination among the teachers and students of this once-failing school. I have constant requests for instructional coaching and receive messages every day from teachers who have tried successful new ideas in their classrooms. The school is alive with possibility, and I love my new role in helping to spread the excitement and momentum generated by teachers and their students.

I am honored to potentially impact 560 students and 25 teachers within my school.

My understanding of teacher leadership continues to deepen and grow. I realize that teacher leaders collectively work to strengthen the profession and improve the system for all students. I am a better teacher when I am connected to supports that help me learn. I became a leader when I gained confidence that my ideas support others.

Teacher leadership is not only cultivated in individuals, but needs to be built and supported by systems.

I’m grateful that I chose yes for all the intimidating and exhilarating opportunities along the way. Now I feel responsible to create and share opportunities with my colleagues both in and beyond my school. The most important lesson I’ve learned through my teacher leadership journey is this: the primary focus of leadership should be to identify, grow, and support new leaders.

That’s the power of teacher leadership.

Author Bio: Glenna Carlton Sigmon is an instructional coach at Chester A. Moore Elementary School in Fort Pierce, Fla. She is a Florida Teacher Leader Fellow as well as a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory. Glenna has participated in Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers (ECET2) and Teach to Lead. She is also a member of the St. Lucie Public Schools’ Teacher Leader Cohort. Find her on Twitter @glennasigmon.

Illustrator Bio: Sherrill Knezel is a K-12 art educator and graphic recorder who has worked in the Wauwatosa School District in Wisconsin since 1992. She teaches at the elementary level and is a member of the Center for Teaching Quality Collaboratory. Read Sherrill's essay The Power of Visual Notetaking and find her on Twitter @sherrillknezel.

Sherrill and Glenna connected at a CTQ Storytelling Retreat in June 2016. Read more about that here.


Illustrations created by Sherrill Knezel

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