“And I can change the world. I will be the sunlight in your universe.”- Eric Clapton
Although I’ve already written about two of my incredible experiences in our nation’s capital, the rest of the week was also filled with inspiration. During a welcome speech, the Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Chris Minnich, stated that he hoped that the State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) would “continue to challenge our beliefs” throughout our week. Looking back on the week, I can certainly see where our beliefs were challenged.
On Monday, the STOYs headed to the Smithsonian Castle. After a short introduction, the STOYs were divided into groups and escorted to their chosen museum. I had opted to visit the African Art Museum as I incorporate music from Africa into my music lessons. My favorite part of the tour was actually when we were shown the artifact preservation room. After returning to the castle, the STOYs talked about their experiences and discussed ways we could integrate what we learned. In the afternoon, the STOYs were able to preview the results of a study regarding assessments. I must admit things got intense as the STOYs questioned the findings of the study, debated the merits of assessments, and discussed things that we would like to see changed. Following this, I attended a presentation on teacher preparation programs at the U.S. Department of Education. The day ended with a bus tour of the city. Unfortunately, a storm hit during our tour, but I will never forget standing inside the Lincoln Memorial watching the lightning flash across the sky.
After our amazing day at the White House, I had thought it would be difficult to focus on our subsequent activities. Those fears were laid to rest as we arrived at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Wednesday morning. We began with receiving an update on national policies in education. We then selected our breakout sessions. I first attended the session regarding implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Part of this discussion was led by Audrey Jackson, 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. She had been a member of the national task force regarding ESSA implementation. Next, I decided to go to the Excellent Educators for All session. This was focused on recruiting and retaining teachers and was facilitated by Nate Bowling, 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year. During this discussion, I was proud to share information about our programs in the St. Tammany Parish School System. I also imparted information about the Louisiana Department of Education’s Believe and Prepare Program. Later, we boarded a bus to go to the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center. While eating lunch, we were informed about Microsoft’s work to advocate for the needs of students and were shown activities for coding that we can use with our students. Although I wouldn’t use the coding programs in music, I would like to use the coding activites with my students in the after school program at Woodlake. Again, we were able to decide on breakout sessions for the afternoon. This time I participated in sessions for teacher evaluations and professional development.
On Thursday, the STOYs headed to the ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) office in Virginia. The ASCD employees had formed lines down their hallway and were clapping and cheering loudly as we entered. What a welcome! Then, we were treated to musical performances by students from a nearby elementary school. After another warmhearted welcome speech, the STOYs were divided into groups. I was part of the first group to do the Teacher Voice video project. Following hair and makeup, we were filmed sharing a message regarding the teaching profession. Later, we went to our “homeroom” where we were able to select books from the ASCD library, and we discussed our next steps as STOYs. The third session involved another research study that the STOYs had been asked to take part in this year. Our activities for the day culminated in attending the 2016 National Teacher of the Year Recognition Gala. Along with our National Teacher of the Year, the Secretary of Education, Dr. John King was a guest speaker. During his speech, he stressed the need for educating the whole child.
Throughout the week, there was much talk about elevating the teaching profession and teacher appreciation. While we did discuss teacher salaries, there is also so much more to the issue. Overall, I don’t think we have sufficiently acknowledged the “lack of time” factor. However, I believe this contributes the greatest to teacher stress levels and burnout. This will have to be addressed at all levels in education in order to influence the future of education. In addition, I have been able to share my voice beyond my school and district this year. As I’ve been included in state and national discussions on education, I’ve been aware of how precious this opportunity has been. As in Eric Clapton’s song, the teachers that are given a voice will stay. Through having a voice, teachers will truly “change the world” for all children.