Category Archives: Travel

Professional Learning Interloper

One of the greatest myths about public school teachers is that we have the summer off. Certainly, it’s nice to have a few days where the alarm doesn’t ring at 5am or to forget what day of the week it is, but most teachers, in fact, spend the summer finding themselves again as adults by connecting with family (and working out or going to the dentist), by working a second job to help pay for expenses, and by stretching themselves as learners–which means, finding relevant professional learning opportunities.

These professional learning opportunities create a space in which teacher can deeply reflect on what did/didn’t work last year and make the creative changes needed. Although exhausted by the last day of school, I anticipate attending workshops such as building retreat days, AP institute, GLAD training, or tech conferences that push my thinking. While research shows that the best professional learning is job-embedded and on-going, one-time conferences have a place–they’re a little surge of energy that’s just enough to wake you up. They give us a drone’s-eye view by showing us that we are connected to teachers across this state and around the nation.

However, this summer calendar was oddly clear. So, I decided to interlope. I tagged along with my husband, the WA STOY (see Lessons from the Road) to DC, Colorado, and Illinois. I eavesdropped at the Education Commission of the States during Happy Hour debriefing sessions. At the Aspen Institute Program on Education & Society (special invite only event!), I secretly read articles from the syllabus and chitchatted over dinner about policy with incredible leaders in equity work from across the country. The final conference of the summer was the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) where Nate gave a lunch time keynote speech. To my delight, the NNSTOY conference was open to “any teacher”. Alas, once I arrived, I learned that it really wasn’t any teacher (only a few of us were without titles like STOY or finalist of ___), but I was already there, my registration paid, and Katherine Bassett, the conference organizer, far too gracious to kick me out.

I was eager to release my inner nerd, especially because this year’s theme was “Bridging Theory and Practice.” If you’ve ever hung out with me, you know I’m obsessed with merging these two elements in my life. This theme was further developed by a focus on four strands keynoted by outstanding leaders in our field and facilitated by excellent teachers from across the country.

  1. Constructing Student Centered Classrooms
  2. Leadership Spanning
  3. Building Professional Networks
  4. Expanding on Teacher Leadership
  5. This conference delivered.

I walked out with a better sense of how to engage my students through technology. I was inspired by creative models for teacher leadership such as what Denver Public Schools is doing with their Teacher Leadership & Collaboration model. I heard exactly what Charlotte Danielson intended for the Danielson evaluation (omg! Geeked out that I heard the real Danielson!). I felt empowered to build my teacher leadership through blogging. I was challenged to keep equity at the center of everything I do. Finally, I was reminded by Maddie Fennell, an NBCT from Nebraska who works for the Department of Education, to get involved in policy work because “if you aren’t at the table, you’ll be on the menu.”

Most importantly, I met, networked, and collaborated with absolutely fantastic educators from Washington (shout out to the WA Teacher Advisory Council!) to Jersey.

This last takeaway is why I want to encourage all of you to interlope at an upcoming conference or training that you think will make you a better teacher or give you an opportunity to network with agents of change.

Although, the conference is over, I highly recommend you read the writing of James Ford “What School Segregation Looks Like” or watch Nate Bowling’s invitation to join “The Family Business” Also, go to Twitter and do some post-conference lurking…I mean learning… by using the hashtags #teachersleading and #NNSTOY16

Lessons from the Road

Growing up my sisters and I would play “imagination”, pretending we were orphans lost at sea (this meant swinging from our hammock in the yard), fighting dragons across dangerous moats (jumping from rock to rock) or even playing market (hey, I blame my imagination on my voracious reading habits!). What I could never have imagined was growing up to marry an amazing man who’d later be recognized for his achievements in the classroom, specifically being named the 2016 Washington State Teacher of the Year (WA STOY for short) and one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year.

Many people are confused about these titles or what they entail, but I’ll tell you this much–the selection process is rigorous and the responsibilities overwhelming. You must represent your students, your school, your state, AND your profession, while staying true to your values. You must figure out how to say “no”. You must say “yes” more than you really want to. You must write sub plans at 4:30 in the morning before you catch a flight across the country to speak truth to power.

As both a teaching colleague and wife, I have a unique view of the madness. It’s like watching your favorite indie musician finally get recognized and then accidentally volunteering to be half-time roadie/half-time backup singer for a year–or however long the tour lasts. Although we are seven months into the tour, there is still a long, unknown road ahead. I’ve been to DC three times, Aspen, and am now headed to Chicago (no, my trips aren’t paid for but I intentionally drive a KIA and have no children or pets).

I decided I should share a few of the lessons I’ve learned from this vantage point.

1. Don’t be afraid to speak truth.

  • My STOY doesn’t say what he doesn’t mean–it’s annoying at times, however, it’s one of the qualities I admire most. This has led to both adoration and criticism by those around him, but he continues to hold firm to the values ingrained in him by his faith, family, and community.
  • When I met the STOYs from other states, I was struck by the honesty and passion each person spoke with. They openly acknowledged the issues and challenges in their communities. They proudly shared the successes of their schools or state leaders. They spoke truth.

2. Learn to vet all opportunities against your values.

  • How you spend your time and what you spend your time talking about communicates your values.
  • Since the STOYs are now recognized voices in the profession, it’s easy for education groups to try to solicit them for speaking opportunities. My STOY carefully reads up on each organization or person that sends him an invite, and evaluates whether or not this will move the needle forward for our profession and  our students.
  • Some opportunities are just straight up AH-MAZING. Kick it at VP Biden’s house? Take a photo with Barack? Every STOY I talked to used their thirty seconds of one-on-one time with the President to bring up their students. Values.

3. Find your tribe.

  • Teaching can sometimes feel like an isolating profession. You work hard in your classroom and in your school but it’s easy to put your head down and just grind. But isolation leads to burn out and we must find our tribes–it could be colleagues you are close to, like-minded people in an adjacent school district, or a Twitter friendship.
  • If you have the opportunity to network, do it. Your tribe is bigger than you think–connect with the number of outstanding teachers across this country and you’ll feel rejuvenated.
    Not only have the STOYs been incredibly inspiring but many of their partners are teachers or work in education as well. They carry with them a fire, the spirit of determination and a special love for their communities. I was delighted to swap stories about our communities over dinner. I think about the new “friends” I’ve made as the WA STOY backup singer (it’s even Facebook official!) and I feel lucky to share these experiences and be a part of the work that is happening across this country.

4. Remember why you are doing what you’re doing.

  • It’s not all filet mignon and open-bars. There are hours and hours of emails, speech writing, phone calls, interviews, layovers, and plane rides. As I watch my own STOY and read through Facebook feeds, I will testify that these teacher-leaders are working their butts off. Somehow, despite the chaotic whirlwind of fame, they maintain their focus on their true love–students and teaching.

As my plane gets ready to descend into O’Hare airport, I’ll wrap up by saying I am proud of my WA State Teacher and the other STOYs across this country who are doing the work. And a special SHOUT-OUT to all the backup singers and roadies offering their support!

Translation from Finnish

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The following is a guest-post from Sarah Applegate, an NBCT teacher librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey Washington. She is passionate about quality information literacy instruction, working with teachers to provide a wide range of resources for students, and dark, bitter Finnish licorice.

I have a confession. 
I am a “Finnophile” (“one who
loves all things from Finland”) and a “ChauvaFinn”
(“one who displays excessive pride in Finland”) yet I hold an American passport.
 My friends and colleagues will
tell you that since I returned from a Fulbright study in Finland in 2011, I
have sought out every opportunity to reflect upon and share what I learned and
observed during my research on the Finnish education and library system.  Some might say I sought out TOO many
opportunities- during casual dinners, on long runs, and while watching our kids
at the park,  to share memories,
insights and observations from my time in Finland. While embracing my Finnish obsession,
I have continued to reflect on what I observed while in Finnish schools and
libraries. I have constantly considered how schools in Washington could learn
from Finnish education practice and translate them into Washington state
settings.

On September 21, I was finally able to make connections
between what I had learned and observed in Finland through a Finnish Education
Conference, funded by the US Department of State with support from CSTP and
WEA. We gathered 50 teachers from Washington to hear and think about what makes
Finland’s education system work and how their approaches could be used in
Washington state schools. I brought together four US Finland Fulbright
teachers, as well as two Finnish teachers, to speak on how Finland organizes
their education system, designs and delivers instruction and trains their teachers.
During the morning, participants were able to learn about Finnish education practices
and in the afternoon, teachers a chance to “translate” what they had learned to
their own teaching context and plan for potential implementation of Finnish
practices in their Washington state setting. What we translated has some promising implications for us in our schools – read on to see what we cooked up.

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What’s that standard? Excellence in Washington State and Finland

by Maren Johnson

Pasi Sahlberg 1I attended an amazing conference in Seattle this week, Excellence in Education: Washington State and Finland. We learned about some great things going on in Finland, we learned about some great things going on in Washington, and I experienced some culture shock.  Was it the differences between Finland and the United States that struck me?  Well yes, there was that, and that is what got me started thinking about culture.  However, instead of international differences, I was thinking about some of the cultural as well as philosophical differences between education groups in our own Washington state: differences between people who are in the classroom and those making policy decisions guiding classroom work; differences between policy makers and those doing education research. How to overcome those differences and build on them?  Keynote speaker Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of Finland’s Education Ministry, said, “So much of what we do in Finland, we have learned from American researchers and educators.”  He then very provocatively said the difference is that in Finland, they actually implement that research!  Here in Washington, we need to get those research<—>policy<—> implementation links tightened up, and yes, those are double-headed arrows: information needs to flow each way!

There are some vast historical and social differences between Finland and Washington—an education system cannot just be transplanted.  However, Finland has not always been an education high performer—it languished in the mid twentieth century—but over the past several decades, as Pasi Sahlberg said, “Finland has improved a lot, while the rest of the world has improved a little bit.”  This improvement can be traced to policy decisions.  What are a few of the Finnish Lessons we might learn?

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Teacher Talk

By Maren Johnson

Growing up, I never wanted to be a teacher.  My parents were both teachers, my aunt and uncle were teachers, my grandma was a teacher, my great aunt was a teacher.  Not me, I wanted none of it.

After graduating from college, I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life.  I joined the Peace Corps.   I applied to be an agricultural volunteer to help small farmers, but instead, I was assigned to be a math teacher for two years in Guinea, West Africa.  I taught in a small town in the rain forest on the border with Liberia.  Before the Peace Corps, there was no math teacher at my school.

Under tree

Teachers under the tree at my school in Guinea, West Africa

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