I am a popcorn kernel. No really, I am. If you are reading this, so were you once. When a bag of popcorn is put into the microwave, most of the kernels pop. Some do not. With heat, pressure, the right environment, and innumerable additives and chemicals, one kernel feels the impulse to explode. Then, suddenly, more follow in its wake. In a matter of moments, the bag is full of flavorful amazingness. And yet, there are always a few of those kernels that don’t pop. Had they had more time, more pressure, more heat, more anything, they could have popped. Opportunity lost. For a long time, I felt I was one of the unpopped kernels. That was, until I received an email asking me to join an up-to-this-point-unknown-to-me entity for a retreat about storytelling.

When I went to Carrboro, NC, for a Storytelling Retreat hosted by CTQ, I was unsure of what to expect. What story did I have to tell? Moments after arriving, my sense of being an unpopped kernel was deepened. I was surrounded by amazing people. The intimidation factor was off the chart. I was “just a teacher.” A small fish in a vast ocean. Then a colleague said his experience was like iron sharpening iron. Was I iron? Clearly he saw me as such. Through my time there, I gained friendships, I gained insight, and most importantly, I gained leadership capacity.

The important part to note is how all of this happened. I recognize now, in retrospect, that all the methods and activities that were used are applicable to my practice in the classroom. We were given tools to help us recognize our own greatness. What a unique take on an old idea! Instead of being told I am great, they made me figure it out using tools and metacognitive processes. I was given the gift of time. In the current educational culture of “get it done,” being told to take my time was liberating. It also made for a better product. Take time to make time. This allowed me to pop. I can bring this to my students, enabling them to pop. Most importantly, I was given the permission to not know the answer, to grow over multiple attempts, and to ask those around me. I learned more from conversations with my colleagues than anywhere else. The facilitators pressured me and put heat on me to succeed, and guess what? I popped. I can bring this to my students, enabling them to pop.

Before CTQ, I believed that teacher leaders were teachers with a title. In contrast, Nancy Gardner told me that all teachers are leaders because they lead students. CTQ’s staff, through careful planning and genuine interest in us, allowed me to see this. The degree, expertise, and methodologies of teacher leadership may be different, but leadership is possessed by all. Most importantly, teacher leaders possess sharable, important stories that celebrate students’ successes through our leadership. Teacher leaders are value creators, men and women who grow themselves; they are also leaders who inspire other leaders who in turn inspire more. My singular voice can, and should, have exponential effects. I was, for the first time, seeing that while I had always been writing my story, I had never taken the time to edit and reflect upon it. It was written in the moment without any self-awareness.

Stepping back from my experience, I see that I do have an important story to tell, one that is tied to my failures, successes, strengths, and shortcomings. It wasn’t until I began to see my identity as a professional that I realized that I had to bring all of me to the table.  My time with crazy-brilliant people, innovators and inventors, entrepreneurs and experimenters, showed me that I need to become all of them and none of them. They, as well as CTQ staff, applied the right heat and pressure, and I finally popped. And, if I am lucky, others will pop around me.

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