When I graduated from college in December of 1998, I was determined to get a job. Most of my classmates figured they would sub for the remainder of the school year and then look for a teaching job in the fall. I knew there were schools out there looking for teachers mid-year, and I wanted my own classroom right away. I hoofed it to district offices to hand in my resume, scoured postings for jobs that matched my qualifications, and I ended up starting my first teaching position on December 14, 1998. I was teaching at Huntington Woods Elementary in Wyoming Public Schools, a district in a suburb of Grand Rapids, MI. Huntington Woods featured a balanced-calendar, team-teaching, multiage classrooms, and was a William Glasser Quality School. Students in the district could opt to attend Huntington Woods rather than their neighborhood elementary.
I was hired as a third through fifth grade teacher and was fortunate to be placed with a skilled and generous team teacher. The job was an incredible blessing because it opened my eyes to non-traditional teaching methods. We implemented William Glasser’s Choice Theory, which meant that we did not use external rewards or punishments. Classroom management was based on strong, positive relationships and meaningful, individualized learning. I learned so much during my two years at Huntington Woods.
The woman who opened Huntington Woods as an elementary school of choice in the district was moving two hours north to Traverse City to open a charter school founded in the same philosophy. My husband and I wanted to move away from Grand Rapids to sow our own oats, so I asked her if I could have a job at her new school. She said yes and we moved north.
It was an incredible adventure. The teachers quickly bonded together as we faced challenges and exciting opportunities that come along with opening a brand new school. As we all were trained in Choice Theory and multi-age instruction, I became a leader because of my experience at Huntington Woods. That led to my first administrative role as assistant principal, and then I became co-principal of the school. I served as both an elementary and secondary principal, and learned much about both what to do and what not to do in that position.
My fourteen years at Grand Traverse Academy (GTA) were another incredible blessing, from the ways I grew as an educator and leader to raising our young boys in a terrific town. But, there was something missing all of those fourteen years. I am not sure if it is something that many charter school educators are missing, or if it was because so much of our professional development was delivered in-house, or if it was because our philosophies differed from traditional public school philosophies, or if it was just me. But, I was not connected in any way to educators outside of our school. And, that was a tremendous disservice to not only my professional growth, but to our students as well.
Last night I was relaxing with my husband, Jim, by the campfire at our home in downstate Michigan, near Grand Rapids. We were chatting about some exciting things that have been happening at our school. For the past five years I have served as the principal of Quincy Elementary in Zeeland, MI. Although the transition from Traverse City to Zeeland was not easy for our family, it has been amazing for me professionally. I am in an incredible district whose mantra of, “Safe, Valued, Loved” mirrors my own philosophy. My Quincy school staff quickly became like family, and my principal colleagues are my friends and mentors. Additionally, my eyes have been opened to the power of being a connected educator. Not just connected through social media, like Twitter, but also connected with teachers and principals across my district, across our county, and across Michigan.
At the campfire, I was telling Jim about our birthday book cart for students, the prize wheel for staff birthdays, about trying recess before lunch next year, about Facebook Live read-alouds, about staff room service, and so much more. After each thing I shared, he said, “That was a great idea.” And I responded, “Thank you, not my idea. I stole it from someone else.” As we talked, the tremendous power of being connected to other educators became more and more apparent.
I asked Jim if he thought I would have written books if I had stayed at GTA, and I agreed with him when he said probably not. I loved my school and my team at GTA, but I didn’t understand the value of learning from each other and telling our stories. Every educator deserves to have the opportunity to be connected to other educators in their community, in their state, and across the country or the world. It is only then that you realize simultaneously that you have so much to learn AND you have tremendous things to offer other educators. It is only through being connected that you become empowered to share your story, to learn from others’ stories, and to seek continuous growth. Even if our philosophies differ, even if we are in very different communities, even if we teach different subjects or grade levels, we have so much to learn from each other.
Charter school educators, traditional public school educators, private school educators, virtual educators, EVERY educator deserves to be connected, to be empowered to share their skills and story, and to learn from others in the same way. I understand that for the most part, I am preaching to the choir here. If you are reading this, you likely are a connected educator. How can we become even more inclusive, so that all educators have an invitation to become connected?
Every time we talk to a new teacher entering the field, let’s talk about the power of being a connected educator. Every time we speak to a group of educators, regardless of the topic, let’s share the power of being a connected educator. I am committed to doing a better job of helping educators get connected. I love seeing things like Jennifer Hogan’s 21 Day Twitter Bootcamp. Please share your ideas to spread the message about how powerful and easy it is to be connected as we help ALL educators learn and grow together.
“TELL ME AND I FORGET. TEACH ME AND I REMEMBER. INVOLVE ME AND I LEARN.”