“What’s around the river bend? Waiting just around the river bend?
I look once more just around the river bend.” – Pocahontas
As I boarded the plane on January 19, 2016, I truly had no idea what was waiting for me “around the river bend”. I was on my way to the 2016 National Teacher of the Year Annual Convening in San Antonio, Texas. Many of those previously named the Louisiana State Teacher of the Year had tried to explain the experience. I knew to expect fellowship and collaboration. I also had a general idea of the topics that were to be covered during the week. However, there was much about the week that remained “just around the river bend”.
Almost immediately after arriving, I began to meet many of the other State Teachers of the Year (STOYs). We had already begun forming connections through social media, but I was amazed to see how quickly the camaraderie developed between us that first evening.
On Wednesday morning, we were first welcomed by Paul Ferrari, the Director of Educator Engagement and Outreach for the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO). He stated that the purpose of the conference was to elevate teachers, advance leadership, and help amplify teacher voice. He also asked us to think about our goals as STOYs by asking us, “What is your story going to look like after your year ends?”
Next, Chris Minnich, the Executive Director of CCSSO, explained the background and purpose of CCSSO. He also spoke about the resources that are available to the STOYs to help with our advocacy efforts. With advocacy, he urged us to “Be FOR something- not against something you don’t like”. He also said that we now had the opportunity to “change the discussions” about education.
Sarah Brown Wessling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year, then addressed the group. She called being a STOY a “doorway experience”. We each had chosen to walk through a door that would change our stories forever.
Then, we formed groups according to our subject areas. I was paired with Mairi Cooper, Pennsylvania STOY, Andrea Santos, West Virginia STOY. Mairi teaches high school orchestra while Andrea teaches Spanish and drama. In our groups, we shared information about our favorite lessons. We then discussed the commonalities between our lessons.
In the afternoon, Sarah Zuckerman from America Achieves gave us an overview of the history of public education in America. This was followed by CCSSO’s Peter Zomoa speaking about the policy changes that have made with the “Every Student Succeeds Act”. It was interesting to compare the recent changes to those outlined in Sarah’s presentation. He urged us to use these changes to engage our local and state leaders in discussions about policy.
At the end of the day, the STOYs from the South met with our home room facilitator, Dr. Holly Boffy. I was especially excited to have her lead the discussion as she is the 2010 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. During this time, Holly asked us to identify the things that led us to being named a STOY, and she asked us to reflect on our experiences thus far as a STOY. I loved it when Anna Morris, the Mississippi STOY, pointed out that we really can’t compare our experiences with each other. We’re each writing our own stories as a STOY. There may be areas that are similar, but it is truly up to each individual to decide how our year will look. By the time we went to dinner, it was evident that we had formed the “State Teachers of the Year Class of 2016”.
Please check my blog later this week to see what was waiting for me next “around the river bend”.