I remember the first district committee I attended. It was a last minute agreement to fill in for a colleague. I was ill prepared and unsure of myself. It didn’t help when they asked for a teacher perspective on an internet filter discussion, and I realized that around the table sat all district or school level admin, and I was to be the teacher voice. I knew what I would want to happen, but to say that I should speak as a voice for all teachers seemed a bit far fetched. I attempted to answer and then just stared at the eyes that all had turned to me. I didn’t really know what else they wanted to know, and I didn’t really feel comfortable speaking in a group.
Cutting the silence, a man at the table said, “hey, you’re turning as red as your sweatshirt.” Mind you, my sweatshirt was like Coca-Cola red. I awkwardly laughed and wished for the meeting to be over then and there.
I doubt anyone at the table, including the speaker, remembers the exchange that took place years ago. But, it is that event that propels me to take on more leadership and hope that more teachers don’t need a red sweatshirt moment to feel inspired to contribute their voice.
As a new calendar year begins, I reflect on this past year, which has seen lots of change, personally and professionally. And, I consider what I want to take with me into the coming year around teacher leadership, as we begin these most uncertain times ahead.
Figure out Systems Thinking.
The Center for Strengthening the Teacher Profession calls out the need for teacher leaders to know Systems Thinking. I don’t know that a teacher in the classroom will ever fully understand the systems at work in a district, state or national level. Actively engaging in the classroom routines prevents the full amount of energy required to truly understand all systems and be present at all conversations. But, I know that when I get frustrated, road blocked or wonder if it’s worth the fight, I remember that 75% of my current state is due to a lack of knowledge about the current systems influencing me. So, I cast a wide net, keep track of progress and share that learned knowledge with those who come after me.
Don’t Ask to Speak.
I used to panic when speaking. I would rehearse what I would say at least 10 times in my head prior to speaking. I’d swear that you could see my chest moving as my heart pounded rapidly leading up to the moment that I would say my first word. This happened all the time, even at those little committee meetings, with say 10 people at the table. As I learned to trust my voice, I began to talk more. So much, that one person above my rank, referred to me as “the one who asks all the questions”. Perhaps that was to be a slight, but I took that moniker and wear it proudly. I hope that when people see me at the table, they expect questions and thoughtful conversation. Never doubt that you have the right to be at the table and should lend your voice for as Whitman wrote: “That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” What will your verse be?
Mind you, this does not replace the need to listen and engage in a conversation with people included and, more importantly, missing from this conversation.
Stand up for More than Myself.
Most of my confidence as a teacher leader comes from the fact that I don’t speak for myself alone. When I speak, I bring others’ stories, formally and informally shared, to my ideas and sharing. I bring my students’ needs and stories to the table. The 2016 Teachers of the Years exemplified this idea with their recent #NoHateInOurClassrooms and promise to Stand Tall for their students. If you are given a platform, what will you use that platform to share?