I’ve Had the Time of My Life

It is hard to believe, but this will be my last blog as the current State Teacher of the Year (STOY). On July 8, 2016, I will be heading to International Space Camp in Huntsville, Al. There the STOYs will be joined by other teachers from all over the world. We’ll be starting camp with the Parade of the States where each STOY comes dressed in a costume that best represents their state. While many STOYs have struggled to figure out what to wear, I immediately knew that I wanted to Second Line for the parade. I have my umbrella, music, and a two minute speech ready to go. At the same time, we’ve been asked to bring small gifts from our states to exchange with the other attendees. Of course, I will be handing out Mardi Gras beads. As for the rest of our activities, I don’t have a lot of information. I’ve heard that we will possibly be launching bottle rockets, parachute zip lining, and doing helicopter rescues. The representatives from Space Camp have said several times that we don’t have to participate in these or any other activities if we are not comfortable. However, I’ve promised myself that I will take part in every activity that is offered. I’m viewing Space Camp as a chance to challenge my mind and my spirit. Be sure to follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter!

Immediately following Space Camp, I’ll be heading to Baton Rouge for the Cecil J. Picard Symposium and Gala on July 15, 2016. The keynote speaker for the morning session is Sean McComb, the 2014 National Teacher of the Year. I’ve also been asked to speak along with Carolyn Bosely, 2016 Louisiana Principal of the Year. For the afternoon, the sessions will be presented by the Louisiana STOYs. In my session, I’ll be combining the things that I’ve learned this year along with my love for music. At the Gala, the Louisiana Department of Education and Dream Teachers will be honoring the semi-finalists and finalists for STOY and Principal of the Year (POY) along with Louisiana’s Milken Awards recipients. Then, there will be the announcements for Elementary, Middle, and High School TOYs and POYs. The final culmination will be the naming of the 2017 State Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year. I had the opportunity to meet all of the finalists for TOY and POY in June. In addition, I was able to participate in the interviews for TOY. I truly believe that each of these finalists would serve as an amazing representative of education in Louisiana. I can’t wait to see who will be named the next STOY and POY!

Shortly after being named STOY last year, I had a meeting with Carla Jackson, the 2015 Louisiana STOY. While learning about the various facets of my new role, I asked Carla, “What will you miss about being the State Teacher of the Year?” As I’ve gone about my activities this year, I’ve asked myself that same question many times. There were many things that I considered to be “once in a lifetime” opportunities like throwing my first pitch for an LSU baseball game and being recognized as a Saints Teacher of the Week. In each of these instances, I savored each moment and now have amazing memories that I will treasure for the rest of my life.

As for the rest, I’ve had a much more difficult time answering this question. Throughout this year, I’ve been asked to speak to a variety of organizations and education stakeholders. At this point, I already have two presentations and two speeches scheduled on my calendar for the next school year. Therefore, I can’t say that I will miss this aspect of the role as it will carry on into the future. In addition, my personal learning network has grown by leaps and bounds within Louisiana and across the United States. The connections that I’ve made this year will continue into the future and will help me to further grow professionally as well as personally. My knowledge of the greatest issues facing education in Louisiana and throughout the US has also grown. As a teacher, I know that you can never close the door on knowledge gained. At the same time, I’ve learned a great deal about educational policies and how to serve as an advocate for positive change. As I go forward, I know that my voice will only grow stronger and more powerful. I’ll also be sharing all that I’ve learned as STOY in order to help other educators to discover their voices. This year I’ve also enjoyed writing my blogs. I am planning to set up a new blog under the name Stomp’nChat sometime in the next few months. I’m also excited to tell you that new doors are continuing to open. I’ve received a full tuition scholarship to Walden University. After much deliberation, I’ve decided to pursue a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership starting in August. Before being named STOY, this was not a path that I would have pursued. However, this year has shown me the steps I need to take in order to grow as an educator and as a leader.

As you can see, I’ve come to the realization that the role of STOY really doesn’t end. Instead, the changes will be in how I continue to serve as STOY. So, what will I miss about being the current STOY? There truly is only one thing that I can’t take into the future with me- the Dream Machine. I’ve whole heartedly enjoyed driving the beautiful Mercedes Benz from Mercedes Benz of Baton Rouge this year. From its safety and technological features to the smooth way it glides over the road, I’ve relished driving this beautiful work of art. As you can guess, I love to sing along with my radio. There really is a difference between singing in the Dream Machine versus my older cars. It’s like comparing singing in your shower to singing on the stage of Carnegie Hall. The Dream Machine is definitely the Carnegie Hall of automobiles. Although I won’t be taking the Dream Machine into the future, I now have the personal goal of one day owning a Mercedes Benz. It’s nice to have dreams!

Thank you to the Louisiana Department of Education, Dream Teachers, the St. Tammany Parish School System, the Times Picayune, my students, and all of those at Woodlake Elementary School! As the song says, “I’ve had the time of my life… and I owe it all to you!”

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Summertime

“One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing and you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky”

These lyrics from “Summertime” were repeating in my head as I was flying home from Washington, D.C. last Friday. All of the State Teachers of the Year (STOYs) had been sponsored by Scholastic to participate in the Education Commission of the States’ (ECS) 2016 National Forum on Education Policy. In addition to the STOYs, governors, legislators, chief state school officers, and other education stakeholders were in attendance.

On June 29, 2016, the Forum began with the STOYs attending a special session. Prior to the Forum, we had received reports regarding shortages in the teaching profession. During our special session, we were asked to contribute our thoughts on this issue. From support networks for new teachers to autonomy and strong leadership, the STOYs were ready with their solutions to this growing concern. Next, Representative Dennis Roch from New Mexico and Dr. Margie Vandeven, Missouri’s Commissioner of Education, shared their advice on speaking with the policymakers that would be in attendance at the Forum.

Following lunch, the opening session was kicked off with a speech from the President of ECS, Jeremy Anderson. He explained to us that the purpose of ECS was to create better education policy through researching, reporting, counseling, and convening. Next, there was a panel discussion on dual enrollment. During this discussion, Governor Steve Bolluck of Montana said that his state gives coupons for credits. This means that anyone that teaches a dual enrollment class receives a coupon for taking college courses. I was intrigued to hear that this coupon could be used by the teacher or passed on to their children or students. The panel discussion was followed by an Ed Talk on ESSA with David Adkins. In his Ed Talk, Adkins said that “every journey in education is personal”.  After the plenary block, there was a concurrent block where we were able to select a session to attend. I decided to attend the session on school finance. This was mostly centered on the formulas used for school funding and the emerging issues of increased funding for high needs students. The day ended with roundtable discussions. I was excited to participate in the discussion on the arts. During this discussion, representatives from the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts shared with us the 2020 Action Agenda from the Arts Education Partnership. I was proud to share the Louisiana Music Education Working Groups’ recent recommendations for improving arts education in Louisiana. Other participants shared ways that they integrate the arts into their classrooms.

Thursday morning began with an Ed Talk by Brandon Busteed from Gallup. He started with looking at the Latin roots for the word “education” and then stated that “we’ve created a system of stuffing into and haven’t created a system for leading things out of” as the Latin roots suggest.  Later, he also stated that “Hope is a stronger indicator of college completion than test scores or grades “. This was followed by another Ed Talk with Fredi Lajvardi. Lajvardi shared the story of how his high school’s robotics team was able to defeat MIT and other universities in an underwater robotics competition. He said that the key to their win was that the imagination of his students was released when they didn’t worry about failure. The incredible accomplishment of his students has been told in a documentary, a book, and the movie “Spare Parts”. The morning’s plenary block ended with a panel discussion on poverty and what states are doing to close the achievement gap. For the concurrent block, I attended a session on turnaround innovations. I found it interesting that the panel recommendations included giving teachers more autonomy and increasing enrichment programs.

During our lunch, the keynote speaker was Dr. John King, the U.S. Secretary of Education. He spoke about the opportunities of ESSA. From ensuring equity in education to engaging a broad group of stakeholders, he said that ESSA is “not a compliance exercise”.  Instead, he described it as a “change exercise”. Following his speech, there was a panel discussion on ESSA. This panel included Audrey Jackson, 2016 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Jacksom had been selected as a teacher representative for the ESSA implementation discussions with the U.S. Department of Education. Throughout the meetings, she had shared with the STOYs updates on the discussions and asked for our input.

For Thursday afternoon, I chose to attend the concurrent block session on “Building Capacity in K-3” as I teach in a K-3 school. Along with some initiatives from various states, we heard that ECS will be creating guides to action for policy makers for the k-3 grades. This was followed by the plenary block beginning with an Ed Talk from Elizabeth Huntley where she talked about the importance of early childhood education. Next, there was another panel discussion on college affordability where it was stressed that discussion on higher education should involve the value of a college education and the programs being offered. The day ended with another Ed Talk by Evan Marwell, the CEO and Founder of Education Superhighway. He talked about the power of digital learning. I was surprised to see in his graphics that 50-74% of schools in Louisiana don’t have internet connectivity. His solutions for solving this problem included setting up fiber matching funds, aggregate procurement, increase options, and revamp state contracts.

The last day of the Forum began with an Ed Talk by Shanna Peeples, 2015 National Teacher of the Year. Her talk carried the message that time, trust, and hope is important for impacting student success. Next, there was a panel discussion on teacher shortages. Later, I also attended a concurrent session on the issue of teacher shortages. These discussions took a look at the indicators for teaching shortages and policies for recruiting and retaining teachers. The Forum ended with an Ed Talk by Dana Goldstein, author of “Teacher Wars”. It was fascinating to hear the history of the politics behind the teaching profession and how teachers are either portrayed as “angels or villains”. I loved it when Goldstein stated that teachers are neither. Instead, she said that teachers “are professionals wanting to grow”.

As you can see, the National Forum on Education Policy covered a wide variety of issues in education. I left the Forum better informed on the “why” certain policies are put into place and a better understanding of how I can influence and shape educational policies as a teacher. Yes, I’ve learned how to “spread my wings” and “take to the sky”.

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Pictured with Andrea Santos, 2016 West Virginia State Teacher of the Year, and Amy Neal, 2016 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year

With Imagination (I’ll Get There)

“I have a goal to see beyond my vision. With imagination, I’ll get there.”

– Harry Connick, Jr.

After attending my first Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meeting last August, I wrote in my blog that it was like the words of the song Pure Imagination and that I had “discovered a room brimming with possibilities”.  As I waited to speak before BESE on June 21, 2016, I recalled the words in my blog, and I realized that this presentation was the result of many people coming together to imagine the possibilities.

In January, I had shared with BESE the benefits of music education and asked questions regarding the current state of music education in Louisiana. This led to the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) conducting a survey on my behalf. At the same time, a Music Education Working Group was formed. Our task force consisted of 16 participants from across the state. It also included teachers, administrators, professors, independent music education providers, leaders of professional music education associations, and related government agencies. Over the past few months, our working group has studied the results of the survey and created recommendations for ways that Louisiana can improve music education for the next school year and beyond.

At the BESE meeting last Tuesday, we presented the results of the survey along with our ten priority goals for improving music education. These goals included the areas of instruction, certification, professional development, communications, and accountability. For each goal, we included information on why we believed this goal was necessary, indicators for measuring progress toward the goal, and steps that can be taken to accomplish the goal.

The LDOE has now reviewed the recommendations and taken steps or plans to take steps to address each goal. Although there is still much work to be done, I know “with imagination” and determination we will reach our ultimate goal of setting the standard for music education in the United States.

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With Music Education Working Group Members Danny Belanger, Mike Ruybalid, and Dr. Gina Anthon

If You Knew My Story

At the end of May, the Louisiana Department of Education announced the finalists for the Louisiana Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year awards. You may check out the list of finalists and semi-finalists at the following website:  http://www.louisianabelieves.com/teaching/award-programs. I am excited that I will be able to meet each of these finalists next week.

I know that each of these great educators has gone through a strenuous process in order to be named a finalist for the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year programs. This process has included essays, interviews, and even being filmed teaching. On June 21, 2016, all of the finalists will be meeting at the Louisiana Department of Education. They will be filmed answering interview questions along with being recognized during one of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) meetings. The finalists will also learn more about the interview process and the awards ceremony during a special meeting that day. I have been asked to talk about the role of the State Teacher of the Year (STOY) and share my experiences as the STOY.

Over the next two following days, each of the finalists will be interviewed by a panel of judges. This panel will include representatives from various education organizations, Dream Teachers, and other community stakeholders. I will be among the team interviewing the finalists for the Teacher of the Year. Many have already asked me about what I’ll be looking for in the interviews. Truthfully, I want to know the story of why each person became a teacher. I also want to know what they are passionate about in teaching and what motivates them to excel in this profession. I especially want to learn about their vision for education in Louisiana. It’s like the song, “If You Knew My Story,” from the musical Bright Star. I am eagerly looking forward to learning the story behind each of these amazing educators and hearing how each of these “Bright Stars” will elevate the teaching profession.

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.

Be True to Your School

I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at a luncheon for the St. Tammany Retired School Employees Association (STRSEA) on Thursday, May 12, 2016. This luncheon took place at the Abita Springs Town Hall. As I entered the building, I was excited to see several retired employees from Woodlake Elementary School. Throughout the festivities, I also enjoyed getting to meet the other attendees and learn about each person’s background in the field of education.

After being welcomed by the President of the Association, a special memorial program took place to honor STRSEA members that passed during the last school year. I was truly touched by this program as it included honoring a person that had subbed frequently at my school the last few years. Following this program, a student from Pearl River High School was awarded a $1,000 scholarship. Then, I was asked to speak. For my speech, I reflected on the things that I have learned this year as the Louisiana Teacher of the Year. One thing that I have learned this year is to have a “teacher voice” through social media. I shared how this has made an impact on others while encouraging each attendee to share their positive stories about education on social media.

After the program, I was invited to join the STRSEA for lunch. During the meal, several members spoke to me about their concerns over possible changes in Teachers Retirement System of Louisiana. They also shared how the members of the association were working to advocate on behalf of all educators. Although my purpose for the meeting was to inspire and empower, I left the meeting feeling inspired and grateful for the advocacy efforts of STRSEA. As in “Be True to Your School” by the Beach Boys, the members of STRSEA are staying true to the schools and teachers in St. Tammany Parish. Thank you for your continued service and devotion to education!

Closing Time

It’s hard to imagine, but the 2015-2016 school year is at an end. Today is the last day for teachers while the last day for students was Friday, May 20th. For the teachers, it’s like we’ve been running a ten month marathon. We have finally crossed the finish line. We’re now exhausted, yet triumphant. Paradoxically, we also don’t want the race to end.

The end of the school is difficult because it means goodbye. We have to say farewell to our third grade students as they will attend middle school for fourth grade. We also have to say goodbye to many of other students, families, and faculty members as they move to different schools. While I know that these changes are necessary, I can’t help but think of Shakespeare’s quote, “Parting is such sweet sorrow”.

We also have to say goodbye to our bright and cheerful classrooms. Instead, everything is being boxed up and put away for the summer. I always find it strange to see the bare walls where there was once a cheerful display of students’ work.

In contrast, the next school year will bring new students including an entirely new group of kindergartners. We will also have new families, PTA representatives, and faculty members.  Yes, the buildings, classrooms, and our purpose will remain unchanged. However, the people will change. In essence, the Woodlake Elementary School of 2015-2016 will no longer exist. Instead, we will build an entirely new school community that will help us to successfully navigate whatever challenges lie ahead. Like in Semisonic’s song, it’s now “Closing time. Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”