“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!
After the faculty decided that Woodlake Elementary School’s theme would be “One Team, One Dream,” the teachers began to enthusiastically search for ways to incorporate the theme in their classrooms. As you walk down the halls, you will now find bulletin boards varying from Olympic rings to even a football goal post made out of pool noodles. For my classroom, I found music rules that spell out the word, “TEAM,” on Teachers Pay Teachers. In their first music lesson, the kids loved it when I incorporated the song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, to help teach the rules. I also discovered the funky song, “Teamwork”, from Music K-8 to use for our entire school to sing before we start our daily morning meetings.
As the devastation from the flooding in Louisiana became clear, we realized that our lessons on “team” would take on a greater meaning than expected in just the first two weeks of school. Throughout the week, our Principal and faculty members shared stories about how others had helped us following Hurricane Katrina. We also acknowledged the faculty members that had experienced flooding last week along with discussing those with family members that had homes flooded. On Friday, August 19th, the St. Tammany Parish School System held a drive to collect donations and school supplies for students impacted by the flooding. It was clear as the students arrived with bags overflowing and envelopes filled with donations that our students had taken the lesson on “team” to heart. They were proud and eager to be there for our “teammates” throughout the great state of Louisiana. Although it has been heartbreaking to see the devastation wrought by the floodwaters, I know that Louisiana can overcome this, because we truly are “One Team” sharing “One Dream”!
For more information about the St. Tammany Parish School’s supporting flood victims, you may visit http://www.stpsb.org or check out the following video:
This summer I had the opportunity to attend the International Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama with my fellow State Teachers of the Year. For the camp, I was assigned to Team Kibo along with other State Teachers of the Year and teachers from Columbia, Canada, Singapore, Germany, and New Zealand. Along with getting to know this amazing group of educators, I was excited to discover that my Crew Trainer was a fellow Louisiana educator, Spencer Kiper. Not only was Spencer an awesome Crew Trainer as he guided us through all of our activities, he is also the 2016 National Aerospace Teacher of the Year. Geaux Louisiana!
As a music educator, I had three goals for my Space Camp experience. The first was to discover ways that I could integrate the lessons and activities from Space Camp into my music curriculum. The second was to look for lessons that I could share with my fellow Woodlake Elementary teachers. The last was to discover how music training could benefit students interested in a career at NASA. Although these were lofty goals, I am proud to say “Mission accomplished!”
One of the lessons that I am looking forward to integrating this year was an activity called “Strange New Planet”. You can find the lesson at the following site:
While the purpose of the activity was to teach students about planetary observations, I noticed that our instructor often varied the speed for the “spacecraft” to make observations. I could easily add moving to a steady beat and varying the tempo for this activity.
For my second goal, I’m planning to share a lesson called “Pocket Solar System” with the third grade teachers at my school. Not only do the third grade students study the planets, but this activity also incorporated the use of a number line and fractions. Check out the lesson and video of the activity at the site: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-view.cfm?Doc_ID=392
As for my third goal, I had to do a little more digging to accomplish this mission. While at Space Camp, the director of the program announced that she had been a music major. In addition, we were told that Wernher von Braun, the former director of the Marshall Space Flight Center, was also a musician and a composer. As a music educator, I know that music develops skills for creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration. All of these would definitely be necessary for working at NASA. However, I discovered that my musical training had even greater benefits than those mentioned.
One of the activities I was most excited to take part in was the Lunar Mission. For our mission, I was the Pilot that had to bring four astronauts to the moon, and bring the four astronauts currently working on the moon home. When I first saw the Orion shuttle, I got nervous as I looked at all of the buttons and switches. I was given a book that had the actions I needed to take and the time that each action needed to occur. We were able to practice nine minutes of the mission. The next day we had to complete the full hour and a half mission. Although I was worried about fulfilling my role, I quickly began to see how my percussion background was an asset. The binder of directions was like a score, our Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) was like a conductor, and the myriad buttons and switches were my instrument. While playing my percussion instruments, I’m thinking about what I’m playing in that moment while preparing for what will be coming next. I’m also aware of my part and how it relates to all of the other instruments. These skills were extremely helpful while performing my role of Pilot. In the end, our mission was a success and Team Kibo won the award for Best Mission. We definitely performed like an orchestra as we brought each of our skills and backgrounds into beautiful harmony.
As we are about to embark on a new school year, I go forward confident in the knowledge that my students are gaining the knowledge and skills to be the “Space Cowboys” of the future.
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!”
“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”.
“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.
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.