“Don’t be afraid, take the road less traveled”- Lauren Alaina
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Next Steps Conference in Princeton, New Jersey with my fellow State Teachers of the Year (STOYs). Even though the conference was for just three days, the lessons I learned will last a lifetime.
On the evening of our arrival, we were welcomed by representatives from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS). We also had a big surprise. The STOYs learned that we’ll be able to bring a guest to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in January. Next, we attended a dinner where pictures of our “Aha” moments from our year as STOY were shown. Following dinner, we attended homeroom where we discussed aspects of our year as STOY and contemplated what our plans are for the future.
The next morning we began with a writing activity. Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, asked us to write a letter explaining an epiphany that we experienced during our year as STOY. Following our writing activity, I attended a session led by Laura Goe from ETS. Over the past year, the STOYs have participated in a research study with ETS. Laura gave us an update on the findings of the study, and we discussed the items that would be placed in the “Executive Summary” of the study. Next, the STOYs attended an Opportunity Fair. During the fair, we were able to speak with representatives from a variety of educational organizations and learn about potential involvement with these organizations. From writing to fellowships, there were many opportunities for us to consider. Then, I attended a session with Scholastic where they shared the results of another study that we have been participating in this year. We also discussed how we could use the results from the study in our advocacy work. Following the Scholastic session, we participated in round table discussions about our potential paths for the future. The day concluded with a tour and dinner at the Grounds for Sculpture.
On our last day, I began with attending a session on policy with a representative from the Education Commission of the States (ECS). She showed us how to look for the policy updates in our states. In addition, we received a State Education Policy Checklist to help guide us in our advocacy work in the future. Next, the STOYs had to share a favorite lesson or practice in just three minutes. It was definitely a challenge to cover everything in the time limit, but I loved learning about all of the amazing ideas. Following lunch, the STOYs were asked to record a podcast using the letters we wrote about our moment of epiphany. Then, we had the chance to explore the campus of Princeton University. Our incredible weekend concluded with a special dinner where we heard from several inspiring speakers including Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year.
As I was driving home from the airport following the conference, the song “Road Less Traveled” came on the radio. I immediately thought that it was the perfect song to describe my trip. The focus of the conference was on our next steps following our year as STOY. The STOYs are certainly being called to take a “road less traveled”. We will be serving as teachers, leaders, advocates, speakers, and writers. More importantly, we will be paving the way for our students and fellow educators. Change begins with us!