The Distance You Have Come

Last week, I had the honor to attend the 2016 Teacher Leader Summit in New Orleans. The Teacher Leader Summit was a three day event where over 4,000 educators from across the state gathered to connect, share best practices, and reflect on the needs of our students and schools. Although it was my first time to participate, I had heard so many positive things about it from my fellow educators that I was eagerly looking forward to attending the Summit.

On Wednesday, I began with attending sessions regarding the recent policy changes with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This year, I have been able to take part in many conversations regarding ESSA at the national level. During the ESSA session at the Summit, I was better able to understand the impact ESSA will have on funding at the local level. It was also interesting to hear the questions and thoughts of my fellow Louisiana educators in regards to implementation of the new policy.

The next morning, all of the Summit participants gathered to participate in the opening session. There, we were greeted by cheerful and inspiring music performed by students from Encore Academy. Next, we were showed a video celebrating the successes of our students and teacher leaders. Our guest musicians then taught the assembly a song with an uplifting message about changing the world. Following this sweet song, I had the honor of being a keynote speaker. During my speech, I talked about the need for our teacher leaders to light the way for education in Louisiana. I then led the assembly in singing a modified version of “This Little Light of Mine”. It truly was inspiring to hear so many voices joined together in song. Next, our State Superintendent of Education, Mr. John White, spoke to the audience. During his speech, Mr. White celebrated Louisiana’s improvements in education including the fact that Louisiana is the most improved state for the ACT. While commemorating our improvements, Mr. White also spoke about the work that is still needed to be done. As he talked, I thought of the song, “The Distance You Have Come”. We still have much work to do to improve education for all in Louisiana, but it is important to celebrate our progress thus far.

Along with speaking during the opening session, I had the honor to present two sessions on Thursday with former State Teachers of the Year, Dr. Holly Boffy, Jean Woodside, and Laurie Carlton. We were also joined by Joni Lacy the Talent Project Coordinator for the Louisiana Department of Education. In our session, we talked about our journeys as a teacher leader being altered after being named the State Teacher of the Year. We also shared strategies for elevating the teaching profession.

Later that day, I had been invited to a special meeting held by John White. At this meeting, there were several members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), representatives from state and national educational organizations, and representatives from other states wanting to learn about our Teacher Leader Summit that were also in attendance. During the meeting, Mr. White gave a brief synopsis on the history of the Summit and Louisiana’s teacher leader programs. While celebrating the successes of the program, he also talked about the funding for the Summit and the challenges faced in hosting such a large event. While answering questions, he shared things that he would like to see improved for the next year’s event.

For the last day of the Summit, I chose to attend a panel discussion regarding the teacher leader programs in each district. I also went to session by Leading Educators where I learned about their teacher leadership program.  As I returned home after my last session, I was extremely grateful that I had been able to take part in the Summit. Not only was it extremely informative, it was inspiring to be among such dedicated educators that share the common goal of elevating education in Louisiana.