By Elizabeth Lovett
When I was a child, the cartoon “Underdog” was my favorite television show. It was about a regular dog, who, when something happened, was called upon to step up and save the day.
I think of Underdog’s transformation when I reflect on my own pathway into teacher leadership. So, how did this happen?
There is a saying that ignorance is bliss. When I began my public teaching career 26 years ago, I was ignorant of a number of things – mainly how politics and the legislature could impact my career, my salary, my pension and a multitude of other issues that impact the students I serve. Like Underdog’s alter ego – Shoeshine Boy – who goes about his daily work of shining shoes until he is called upon to champion what is right, my alter ego is a teacher who has dedicated her life to making sure that her students have opportunities and exposure to music that they might not have otherwise.
I was not looking to become a teacher leader. The wake-up call to fight for what is right came to me when I realized just how much politics plays a role in public education. Since 2008, SEEK funding – the state funding formula for education – has increased from $2.37 billion to $2.42 billion. However, there also has been an increasing reliance on local funding, but these slight increases in state funding have not been enough to keep up with the increasing costs of providing a high-quality education.
This affects all of our students, but especially our youngest, which is carried with them throughout their preK-12 years. Lack of basic necessities, opportunities and educational exposure puts these children at a disadvantage, not only academically, but socially as well.
After a disagreement with a legislator several years ago, I realized that it was time to stand up for these children and fight for what is right, to provide funding for a high-quality education. So the question is, how did I get involved?
I am blessed to work in a school district where all children matter. Hard-working educators and support staff sacrifice to make sure that all children’s needs – food, clothing and academics – are met. My district has given me the support to step up and step out to become a teacher leader.
Knox County is one of the smaller districts in the state, which has afforded me numerous opportunities to collaborate with other music teachers in the district. We vertically aligned our music curriculum long before other core subjects did. Seven years ago, the other arts teachers and I created a countywide arts festival to showcase student talent in the arts – music, visual, dance and theater – from all of the schools. Each year, all of our preK-12 students create, present and perform in the arts festival.
Knox County also has recognized the importance of music in students’ lives, and this enabled me to step up, work and collaborate as an itinerant music teacher for the elementary schools. I help provide music performance, as well as cultural enhancement opportunities such as schoolwide musicals and elementary choral festival participation, for our students. I create a music schedule with the principals and teachers that is equitable for all. With these early opportunities, my pathway into leadership was on its way.
As a proud member of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA), I am honored to have been a member since my pre-service days. On this quest toward teacher leadership, I discovered that KEA provides an unlimited array of free trainings, professional development opportunities, leadership experiences and conferences for members. I began attending the local meetings and started volunteering in the association to help empower and inform other teachers on issues impacting students and their careers. Today, I serve as the elected president of my local and district association, which has increased my leadership opportunities ten-fold.
One leadership opportunity I have had through KEA is being part of the core planning team and trainer for the Arts and Humanities Cadre, which provides a free training for the new Kentucky Academic Standards for the Arts and Humanities. From this state leadership opportunity, I have found leadership opportunities nationwide.
Currently, I am the professional practice community facilitator for the new music group on the National Education Association’s (NEA) edCommunities platform. This has given me the opportunity to create the group and connect with educators across the nation in regard to music in our schools.
My two years as a Kentucky state teacher fellow for Hope Street Group have given me confidence and amazing opportunities to connect with other teacher leaders in Kentucky and throughout the country. The experiences and opportunities I’ve had as a fellow have allowed me to expand my professional learning to a national level.
My most recent initiative as a fellow is to raise funds for my district’s preschool with a countywide student talent show, scheduled for April. With the decrease in funding for preschool, I was propelled to find a way to raise awareness and help to provide funds for this valuable program. As a small district with a high poverty rate, this funding cut is harmful to providing education for our pre-K students.
There are amazing leadership opportunities for you to explore. KEA/NEA and Hope Street Group all offer numerous leadership opportunities. Other opportunities can be found in Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers, where I presented a session on the teacher leadership framework. The Teach to Lead Summit gave me support in tweaking the mentoring program I created for new educators by pairing them up with retired educators for support outside of the classroom.
Your pathway into teacher leadership can be as big or small as you would like it to be. All teachers are leaders in their classroom. Just like Shoeshine Boy, you must decide if you will answer the call and become Underdog.
Each teacher’s leadership journey is unique. What will you do?
Beth Lovett is an itinerant music teacher in the Knox County school district. She was a semifinalist for the 2015 Kentucky Teacher of the Year and recipient of the Ashland Teacher Achievement Award. Lovett is president of Upper Cumberland Education Association and Knox County Education Association, a member of KEA’s Arts and Humanities Cadre/core planning team, a facilitator for the music group in NEA edCommunities, and is a 2017 Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow.