I have often found the CTQ Collaboratory to be my place—whether at school, at home, or on an airplane—to reconnect with my calling, recharge my batteries, and refresh my perspective so that I can “deal” with the myriad challenges facing our profession.

Everyone needs a place to retreat, reflect, retool.

Teachers are no different.

Our busy, bustling classrooms resemble revolving doors with students and colleagues going in and out, in and out all day. Our homes are filled with unfinished projects, recurring chores, and the loving demands of family life, community, and friends.

Where then can teachers find a place to reflect—to think through how to move our students forward, improve our instructional and leadership skills, and make sense of all the policy shifts making headlines today?

I have often found the CTQ Collaboratory to be my place—whether at school, at home, or on an airplane—to reconnect with my calling, recharge my batteries, and refresh my perspective so that I can “deal” with these myriad challenges.

I find my way to the Collaboratory when:

  • Faced with gnarly policy issues that just won’t settle down, I read through blogs and discussion threads that offer hope, solutions, and invaluable resources;
  • A blog idea slaps me in the head, and I quickly post it in the Collaboratory for knowledgeable feedback and pushback from my peers; and
  • I feel a bit squirrely, stuck in a rut, and need fresh ideas. Connecting with other teachers via webinars and Twitter chats quickly gets this nut out of her rut!

However, the most rewarding time on the Collaboratory for me has been when I’ve had the chance to “pay it forward.”

Late last year, I created and facilitated a series of public speaking webinars for teachers—and it was one of the joys of my life! Researching and planning for each event felt like the days when I was a wedding planner.

In this case, I have been privileged to “host” magic moments when exceptional teachers connect just the right message to their chosen audience.

In some ways, I find these learning opportunities as rewarding as when my students master a challenging concept. In other ways, I leave a webinar or Collaboratory exchange knowing that I am better for it. One of those magic moments began back in November, when I “met” Shanna Peeples in the Collaboratory for the very first time.

Shanna signed up for my “Spear the Fear” public speaking webinar series, so I checked out her profile on the Collaboratory to get to know her better. Shanna wrote about herself: “The context of my practice is varied and diverse. I teach two sections of junior AP English, one section of remedial English for seniors who have only two more chances to pass the state test for graduation, and I am beginning baby steps of being an instructional coach in the afternoon. After school, I teach ELLs, students leaving jail, some adults, pregnant girls, and many other kinds of students who have difficulty attending day school. I teach 9-12th grade English to them for two hours each night.”

It just so happened that before I read this, I’d arrived home from school in a bit of a huff because of two back-to-back, called-at-the-last-minute meetings. You know the kind.

But Shanna’s matter-of-fact recounting of her practice put my puny whining to shame! It was all I could do to thank her for sharing.

As I got to know her via the webinars, as well as conversations over email, I learned that Shanna is a former disc jockey and reporter turned teacher leader from Amarillo, Texas. She’s also the 2015 Texas Teacher of the Year. Clearly Shanna didn’t seek out the public speaking webinars because she needed help writing or speaking.

What Shanna really wanted was a safe, credible, and teacher-friendly space with expert advice on how to craft a compelling message for policy makers in her state. And she found that in the Collaboratory.

Shanna first shared her speech via Zoom among a small gathering of teachers who served as critical friends, sharing both praise and constructive feedback.  She went on to give that speech on two different occasions. In January, Shanna spoke at the national conference of the Texas Association of School Administrators, sharing her ideas about embedding 21st-century skills in the high school curriculum. This past March, she shared the same ideas with the Texas state legislature’s education committee.

Now she is awaiting the National Teacher of the Year results from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), which are due any time this month. If she is chosen, Shanna’s voice will be amplified to engage in policy decisions few of us will ever experience firsthand.

Shanna’s story, while uniquely her own, is similar to hundreds of exceptional teachers who find their way to the Collaboratory:

  • They need resources and find them.
  • They crave reassurance that they are not the only maverick—only to discover a whole Collaboratory of divergent thinkers and leaders!
  • They seek thought partners to help untangle policy issues in their state and find teachers who are renown and revered in their state capitals.
  • They desire a sense of belonging and build connections broader than they ever imagined.
  • They hunger for value and purpose and discover their leadership.

And like me, they desperately want to make a difference—and pay it forward.

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