I must admit, I left the SOS March tired: of division, fighting, the fight, politics, and of people whose only interest in education is abstract, political, or both. I was ready to start sitting out the current education wars while I hone my craft, believing full well that the current popular interest in deforming education will wane, and that at some point in my career, be it 5, 10 or 20 years down the line, there would be an opportunity for real change that actually benefits students.
It was probably a good thing, then, that I didn’t come home after the march. Instead, I took a pit stop at Swarthmore College, where for the past week, along with sixteen other brilliant and passionate educators, I participated in an institute on teacher leadership in all its many forms led by professors of education from around the northeast. Leaving that experience and finally making it home, I cannot remember the last time I felt such rejuvenation, energy, and hope for the future of education.
No amount of writing could do justice to just how much I took from this week. If nothing else had happened other than putting 17 teacher-leaders with 4-10 years of experience* in the same dorm for a week, it would have been a life affirming experience. After feeling alone and isolated at my own school for much of the past two years, I can’t express what a relief it was to meet so many others in similar situations. I met people with whom I will correspond for years to come, and from whom I have much to learn.
On top of that, I got to experience sessions looking at all forms of teacher leadership, gaining the practical suggestions and supports I could only have dreamed of getting during my time in school leadership roles. Although I will not be filling any official leadership capacity at my new school, the tools I gained will be ones I will have access to for the rest of my career. The week also forced me to consider other avenues of teacher leadership I have not previously, including conducting action research and taking on student-teachers.
The week has left me with much on which to think in the coming months and years: the importance of personal and shared professional rituals, the most effective ways to mentor and coach new and novice teachers, the most meaningful use of adults’ common time to support collaboration, and the ways in which writing can support adults’ development.
I feel incredibly blessed to have had this opportunity, which I am thankful is not completed: this group will reconvene during the year and again next summer to share our progress in the individual projects we each developed and to further learn together.
In the meantime, with support from the people I’ve been working with over the past week, I am hoping to form a Critical Friends-like group of social studies teachers who are strong teachers in NYC small schools and whom find themselves in instructional leadership roles or otherwise without access to similarly strong teachers at their school sites.
* The one major problem with the whole experience: the institutional racism latent in education reared its face here: 15 of the 17 participants were white.