Editor’s note: This speech was originally given by Allison Slone at the Kentucky Board of Education meeting on June 8, 2022.
About four years ago, the old me – the one who didn’t like to speak in front of crowds, the one who didn’t like controversy or conflict, the one who never dreamed of going against the grain unknowingly – opened a door to a life of advocacy and leadership.
Those of you on this board do not know me as anything other than someone who speaks up for her colleagues and students, someone who doesn’t easily back down from a fight, and someone who speaks her mind even if her voice shakes. I no longer recognize the person I used to be. Of all the accomplishments, the awards and recognitions, and even the opportunities, being appointed to the Kentucky Board of Education has been the highlight of my career. Sitting at this decision making table with each of you was the absolute highlight of this entire experience. You are quite literally…superheroes, not only to me but to all the children in the Kentucky Public School System. You are some of the most dedicated, transparent, and solutions oriented people I know and I am so grateful that your work is not finished.
With this position comes great responsibility, so I thought I would give you my top 10 points of advice for being on the KBE.
- The portal – and yes, it’s just what it sounds like – deep, dark, and misunderstood, but the only place it transports you to is sleep, not because it is not important and vital information, but more because you’re so busy being a teacher you’ll often put off the reading until the night before in the hotel.
- Be prepared for frequent communications with other KBE members as you attempt to help each other understand what is in the portal. Patrice will be great at advising, but Dr. Poe will be your savior when it comes to policy, procedures, and legalities… what he doesn’t know…. Never mind he does know. Don’t question him…just go with it.
- You will need cell phone numbers of all the ladies so you can coordinate clothing…it’s imperative to know if it’s casual, semi-casual, business attire, or a ̈come as you are event. Or just call Holly. She always looks impeccable and she will also share where she bought her outfit and what kind of deal she got on it. Oh and be sure to always compliment Dr. Thompson (if he ever shows up again) on his attire. He gets a little out of sorts if he’s left out of the compliments.
- Have a suitcase packed and on hand and don’t forget to join the various hotel members benefits programs. You could potentially earn a free weekend vacation, but you have to promise to not take papers with you to grade.
- Pick up several professional leave forms from your school office staff and have them ready to turn in at a moment’s notice and just so you know, thank yous and small tokens of appreciation make principals very happy people.
- Always choose the chicken salad for lunch. Trust me. It’s delicious no matter where lunch is ordered.
- Bake them cake…. They will love you for it.
- Say yes to every opportunity. You wont regret it. Your time is short. Make the most of it.
- Go ahead and pick out six passwords for your computer and the portal. You will probably need a new one at every meeting. Then be prepared that none of them will match the new password requirements.
- Take note of this next part of my goodbye speech, because I am tasking you to keep these ideas foremost in the members minds.
I believe each of you know me well enough to know that I would not be true to myself if I didn’t spend my goodbye doing more than saying goodbye. So today, I challenge each of you as individuals and members of this Board to the following:
- When hosting events, schedule as many as possible at times when teachers and school employees are available to attend. Teachers should be present when issues of teaching are on the table. Host these events at various places all across the state from east to west. Not only does this make those educators feel valued, it allows you, the decision makers, to experience the rich history, the unique culture, and the diverse people of our extensive Commonwealth.
- Ensure teacher voice is not just heard, but valued, invested in, and utilized when decisions are made that impact our classrooms at KDE, in our Legislature, around this table, and encourage our local boards to add both teacher and student voice to their membership.
- Improve the legitimacy, usefulness, and value of professional development. No longer shall teachers be mandated to attend professional development that does not directly apply to or impact their own growth or the growth of their students.
- Address student behavior. No longer should we allow behavior to disrupt the learning process. No longer should we allow teachers and others to be verbally and physically abused in our schools. I say this, to add, that most importantly, no longer shall we allow our students to suffer from life events, abuse, mental health issues and other life altering traumatic issues without providing services, counseling, and safe places in our schools.
- Recognize and own that “and other duties as assigned¨ has become more than any teacher can endure and sustain. Acknowledge that this language in our contracts has been abused and misused to take advantage of the dedication, time, and big hearts of our teachers across the Commonwealth. We need district leaders to understand and accept that we are also spouses, parents, grandparents, caretakers, homeowners, and so much more. It is time this contractual language is changed and teaching is professionalized.
- Model for district and school level administration, that questions, challenges, and communications from teachers and school employees should be both encouraged and celebrated. Embrace solutions oriented mindsets to implement positive change. Our teachers should be able to share their ideas, speak their minds and ask tough questions without fear of retribution or reprimand. We should want innovative thinkers, inquisitive minds and teachers willing to take risks. When we silence our teachers, we stifle creativity, risk taking and passion. We also silence our students in the process.
- Increase diversity in the teaching profession, as well as the acceptance of that diversity. No longer shall teachers of color, various races and ethnicities, sexual orientation and gender identity be discouraged to work in our public schools by anyone in or outside the system. No one teaching in our schools should be fearful of being themselves. No one working in our schools should be reprimanded for who they love, the color of their skin or their identity. If we are preaching diversity, equity and inclusion among our students, why would we not demand and support that for our teachers? Everyone should be welcome in our classrooms.
- Develop a whole community approach to public education that engages all stakeholders in every aspect of education. An open door policy for all who work and participate in the learning process and the outcomes of a well balanced education will result in a more innovative, productive, and successful system. Input and engagement equal buy-in. Buy-in equals ownership. Ownership equal responsibility. When we all take responsibility for the learning and success of our students, our community excels. When our community excels our state excels. Administrators are experts of management, organization, and infrastructure. Teachers are experts of content. Parents are experts of their children. When we all work together our children win.
- Continue to speak on the behalf of our teachers who are experts in their field of study. Not only do our teachers have many college and graduate level degrees, they participate in countless hours of professional development and continuing education in their particular field of study every single year of their careers. They are extensively trained in curriculum design, researched based instructional strategies, and data analysis. They spend countless hours of their own time as life-long learners of pedagogy, learning theories, and classroom management. Successful planning and implementation of instruction through curriculum design by Kentucky Public School teachers is critical in preparing students to meet the challenges they will face in moving not only themselves, but the Commonwealth forward. To limit classroom discussions, limits the potential of our students. Interference is designed to limit. Instead, we should look to expand the opportunities we value as educators so that our students are challenged to meet the needs of a diverse society.
- As we all know, teachers wear many hats and are asked to do many things that are not necessarily written in any contractual language, nor part of our education journey to becoming teachers. Most recently and more frequently teachers are quite literally shielding our students from the negative ammunition of words, hate, and divisiveness, the killing of our ability to design and implement curriculum that gives students the chance to grow as individuals, and from weapons of mass destruction. I ask that as we walk into our schools each and every day and lock the doors behind us, that you use your positions to shield us with the power of the pen, policy, and legislation that will protect our rights to teach, promote our professionalism, and prevent any more bloodshed of innocent children, teachers, and school employees on school grounds.
This experience and the work I do on my own time to ensure teachers are not only heard, but have the information and resources needed to be successful have brought me much joy, numerous opportunities, and valued friendships.
I entered this role as a first, but not a last. As a leader I stand before those who will come after me, then beside them as a means of support, until the day I can stand behind them and watch them glow. Not grow, but glow.
As for the people I leave you with, out of respect for everyone’s time and fear of leaving someone out, I have written each of you a personal note instead of crying – I mean speaking.
Thank you to Lt. Gov. Coleman for trusting me to be the first. Thank you for being a leader of teachers, an exceptional colleague and most importantly a friend.
Thank you Gov. Beshear for being the teacher’s governor and for prioritizing education. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be the first teacher of the Kentucky Board of Education and for ensuring there will always be a teacher in this space where decisions made impact the profession, the classroom and the students.
Thank you to Kentucky’s 45,000+ teachers who have supported me and trusted me to be their voice.
In the words of the great Julia Sugarbaker, “One of the things I pray for…is that people with power will get good sense, and that people with good sense will get power.” This room is full of good sense and power and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been part of it.