By Carly Baldwin
My professional journey actually started when I was born.
My mom was a middle school math teacher for more than 30 years. She is a National Board certified teacher and one of the first Presidential Award of Excellence for Math and Science Teaching winners. Many vacations were taken around math conferences and professional development opportunities.
I just assumed that’s what teachers did; they taught their students and never stopped learning or improving their craft. So when I started teaching, I became a National Board certified teacher because that’s what teachers did. I applied and became a state finalist for the Presidential award, because that’s what teachers did. My peers celebrated my success, but they didn’t quite understand how the professional development changed my outlook on teaching.
But I knew I couldn’t be the only one that wanted to improve and lead the profession from within the classroom. I believe that teachers need a positive community, one that supports and challenges them to become better. Every teacher has a voice and given the opportunities, the ability to lead. I started on this teacher leadership journey to find my voice and that like-minded community, and I would challenge every teacher to do the same.
I applied to the Hope Street Group Kentucky Teacher Fellowship, which is focused on empowering teachers and coaches them to serve as spokespeople for positive change through connecting with other teachers, and local and national policymakers.
During our orientation, I sat in a room with teachers who shared my vision of what teachers are, what they can do and what they should be. My mom provided me with an example of a teacher that never stopped learning, one that pursued excellence in the classroom. Here was a room filled with teachers that demonstrated those values. It was refreshing not having to explain my passion for my students or why I wanted to lead AND stay in the classroom.
My connections with Hope Street led me to ECET2 — Elevating and Celebrating Teachers and Teaching. ECET2 is an unique take on professional development. It is lead by teachers, for teachers. I was part of the planning committee that brought ECET2 to the Boyd County area. About 60 teachers from four local school districts joined us for a day full of teacher-led breakout sessions and activities designed to elevate and celebrate our profession. I was excited to be on a team of passionate educators that brought genuine teacher-led professional learning to my region.
Teaching can be such an isolating profession. When teachers finally do get a chance to get together, it often turns into a horrible gripe fest exploring every barrier that public schools face. However, this is not always the case. I have found that as teachers start leading and sharing their voice, the narrative changes. The culture that forms at an ECET2 and many other teacher-led organizations acknowledges that there are issues and creates an environment where teachers can gather, unpack the barriers and share and create solutions.
I have found that when teachers start networking, amazing things happen. As a connected educator, I am more energized to try new things in my classroom. I’m experimenting with strategies like problem-based learning, Literacy Design Collaborative modules and gamification, trying to give my students more control of their learning. These new tools would not be in my toolbox without other teacher leaders throughout the state.
I’m finding that when teachers are able to learn from other teachers, professional learning becomes less threatening or less like another hoop we have to jump through. I see teachers being more open to experimentation, trying risky, nontraditional teaching methods and, as a result, our students are thriving. That shift in practice is what happens when teachers learn from and implement the strategies of other classroom practitioners.
I used to think that Student Voice surveys were something “Kentucky” made me do, until I heard from a fellow teacher how he used student feedback and how it changed how he handled formative assessment. My approach to my profession has changed too. My students from last year drop by my room and ask why they didn’t get to collaborate in learning guilds or conquer quests, which is part of restructuring my class more like a role playing game. I shrug and say, “I’m always learning new things.”
When talking to my mom about my teacher leadership opportunities, I can see the littlest bit of jealousy on her face. She also felt isolated in her classroom, wanting to network with other like-minded teachers. She is so excited for me that there is are events like ECET2 and organizations like Hope Street Group and Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions, which are dedicated to helping teachers grow into better teachers and leaders from within the classroom.
I am excited for what I can do in the next year with the help of my expanding professional learning network. I am excited about helping my peers grow and about taking risks in my own classroom. I am excited about my administrators catching the vision of teacher leadership and how to personalize support for my colleagues. But I am most excited about what all these changes have the potential to do for students in my school, my district and my region.
This is what education reform feels like.
Carly Baldwin, who is National Board certified, teaches at Boyd County High School and has taught for seven years. She is a Future Problem Solvers and Science Olympiad coach. Baldwin is highly involved in developing teacher leadership, as demonstrated by her involvement in Hope Street Group, ECET2 and Classroom Teachers Enacting Positive Solutions (CTEPS). She earned a bachelor’s in biology from Murray State University and a master’s in education from the University of Tennessee at Martin.