Hearing the Song of Teacher Leadership

Daryl Cullipher felt lost in the noise of lesson planning, new standards, and dreaded to-do lists–until one student helped her hear and reconnect to the song of her own teacher leadership.

For most teachers, it’s easy to get snared in the scores of school chaos. From the moment I pull into the school parking lot, coffee in hand, my mind wanders to the agenda for the first 45 minutes for my day: an IEP meeting to attend, copies to pick up, learning goals to post, lesson materials to organize, a few iPads to set up, two students to quiz, several emails to return, a deliberate practice to write, grades to verify.

This isn’t just my morning rhythm on one occasion—this is the beat for MOST teachers EVERY morning. There are times when we get lost in the clamor of the dreaded to-do lists. But as educators, it’s important that we find time to sharpen our focus so we can hear the melodies of our students with clarity and remember our why—the reasons we love teaching and keep coming back each morning.

In the daily grind of school, it’s easy for teachers to blur the sounds of their own impact and overlook the reasons behind their original purpose. Sitting at my desk last May, spilling over emails, test reviews, and lesson plans, a longtime student of mine approached and asked if I would attend his senior athletic signing ceremony for basketball. I was feeling swamped by several deadlines, so I accepted his invitation without thinking much of it.

A few days later at the ceremony, my student sat at the table on the stage accepting his scholarship and signing his contract. The coach passed the microphone to him for his thank-you speech. My student thanked his parents and his basketball coach, but I’ll never forget it when he paused and looked my way:

“But most importantly, I want to thank Mrs. Cullipher. Without her, I wouldn’t be here on this stage accepting any award. She kept me straight, and I’ll never forget her.” As I sat here looking at my student on stage—a young man who was also planning to become a teacher—the tuneless drumming of deadlines, deliberate practice reflections, and new testing requirements faded to soft noise. For the first time in a while, I heard the melody loud and clear.

The chimes of our why come to us in little moments. It’s the symphony of student hugs at graduation and the tune of their voices thanking us for helping them through a tough time. These songs strike deep emotional chords and push us on. For me, these moments have shown me that every aspect of teaching affects students directly, and it has strengthened my drive to lead not only within the classroom but beyond it. And by sharing ideas with other teachers, I have realized that I impact more than my colleagues—I influence their students too, helping those teachers hear the songs of their students through my leadership.

Teachers, never lose your purpose. The students in your classroom are not keeping tabs on the tempo of your mounting to-do lists. They don’t feel the crescendo of new state requirements and testing mandates. All they hear is you.

The kindness, dedication, and love you give every day is one beautiful song that transforms the children who it hear it, and once it’s sung, its effects radiate forever. Take a moment to unplug from the new technology, disconnect from the morphing standards, and unwind from the shifting tests and school chaos. Remember your song—your why.

Daryl Cullipher (@DarylCullipher) teaches English 2 Honors, English Composition, and Teaching Assistant 4 at her Alma Mater, St. Augustine High School. She is the co-founder and lead teacher of the St. Johns Academy of Future Teachers, an advisor for her school’s Florida Future Educators of America chapter, her county ECET2 coordinator, and a new teacher mentor. Last year, she was named Teacher of the Year for St. Johns County and was a 2015 finalist for Florida Department of Education 2015 Teacher of the Year. 

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