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Meet Ben Owens, blogging lead for the teacher-powered schools roundtable discussion

CTQ's 2017 blogging roundtable is already off to a promising start, inspiring a community discussion about the Teacher-Powered Schools (TPS) model and its ability to catalyze teacher collaboration in service of deeper student learning. Visit the roundtable blogs to learn more about TPS in action and add your voice to the conversation: "Beyond compliance: Creating the schools our children need," "The spark of collaboration," and "Empowering students, empowering change in school."

As our first roundtable discussion reaches its halfway point, I wanted to take an opportunity to introduce the blogging lead, Ben Owens. Ben is an expert physics and math teacher who engages his students in project-based learning at a rural, STEM-focused school. Outside of the classroom, Ben advances the teaching policy reforms that students deserve by engaging with CTQ, as well as Learning Forward, ASCD, Hope Street Group, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Take a look at what Ben and his colleagues had to say about the future of teacher leadership and compensation in North Carolina in this CTQ TeacherSolutions report.

Ben's students apply their studies in a mock trial at the local courthouse.

Ben came to his role as a teacher at Tri-County Early College High School (Murphy, NC) in 2007, after working for twenty years as an engineer for a multinational science company. In his corporate position, Ben found that tapping into a global network of colleagues was necessary to successfully meet market demands, and he has blogged extensively for CTQ about his efforts to apply that same spirit of collaboration to his work as a classroom teacher.

When he first entered the teaching profession, Ben was frustrated to discover a culture where teachers generally closed their classroom doors, whereas he craved networks (local and virtual) for teachers to share their observations and expertise. He felt compelled to change this dynamic, not just for his own benefit but for the good of his students:

“This simply cannot remain the status quo if we are to say to our primary customers—our students—that we are indeed doing everything we can to prepare them for life and work in the 21st Century.”

To satisfy his desire for a community of teachers dedicated to improving student learning, Ben reached out to other teachers in his school, district, and region to ask if they were willing to share ideas about how they could better serve their students, and he facilitated reflective, solutions-focused discussions across these professional learning networks. At conferences, he took advantage of opportunities to interact with educators from all over the state of North Carolina and the country, expanding his network.

Ben was blown away by how community building impacted his teaching practice, which led him to this conclusion: 

“I’ve come to believe that you can be a good teacher in isolation, but you can never be a great teacher until you are willing to reach out to ask for help, to share ideas, and to open yourself to constructive criticism from peers. That is when you truly grow as a professional.”

Bringing the real world into the classroom is one of Ben’s priorities, as he believes students benefit most from project-based learning that encourages problem solving, collaboration, and innovative thinking—the skills students will need after graduation in order to successfully compete for jobs. Similarly, he knows that teachers need to engage in problem-solving with their colleagues and to lead their own learning if they are going to create the conditions for their students to do the same. That is what teacher-powered schools are all about. 

Please join Ben—and the rest of the CTQ community—as we share stories of current teacher-powered schools in action and strategies for applying the model in support of deeper learning for all students.


Ben Owens commented on February 4, 2017 at 9:20am:

Thank you so much!

Thank you, Barnett, for your kind words. While making this career move from industry to education was probably not a wise financial investment, my “job satisfaction” account could not be higher. I became a teacher for two primary reasons: to change the opportunity vector for students here in this part of rural Appalachia and to try to change the status quo in our education ecosystem so that it’s more relevant and connected to the needs of our local and global communities. I am extremely lucky and grateful to have had the chance to work with amazing colleagues in my school, my district, and elsewhere that all share this passion and are willing to work every day to rethink what excellence in education really means. That’s what makes this work so rewarding.

Of course, there is still much more to do. But I look forward to continued engagement with fine organizations such as CTQ as we bring more awareness to best practices such as teacher-powered schools to educators across this country. Thank you for helping enable that opportunity!

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on February 9, 2017 at 1:26pm:

On Collaboration & Career Changers

Really enjoyed learning more about Ben's teacher leadership journey and beliefs in this post. I think career changers like Ben are a HUGE asset to the teaching profession -- they are well positioned to share their experience in other industries AND a passion for real world learning and relevant pedagogy with their students. 

I wonder how we might go about recruiting passionate educators from other fields to make a switch? Ben, what drove your own decision making process? What attributes, support or training would your industry colleagues need to follow this path? 

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