The Value of Facetime

What happens when you jam 16 teacher leaders from across the United States into a common space with endless supplies of coffee, crafting supplies, and entirely too much Cheerwine?

The answer: you do not end where you began.

I’ve attended a number of events with other teacher leaders. Each time I’ve left with a renewed spirit and at least one new pursuit that I had not considered when I arrived. That’s what happens when intellectual capital pools in one location for any length of time.

There is clear power and value in gathering like-minded, but geographically distant, practitioners in one specific location for a time–and then, after the all of the tops are spinning, send them home. Unleash that intellectual capacity onto the world–their buildings, neighborhoods, districts, and states.

I have blogged for CTQ.  I have been a Virtual Community Organizer for CTQ.  I collaborate with Teacher Leaders on staff at CTQ as often as possible.  I knew many of the Rising Leaders virtually.  Still, I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at the CTQ mothership in North Carolina. I knew I respected the CTQ faculty. I didn’t know every CTQ Collaboratory member attending the #RisingLeaders retreat, but I knew that they must be impressive, high-powered teacher leaders if they were invited to attend. I definitely knew I wanted to meet some of my virtual colleagues face to face; if nothing else happened, truly, that is why I went.

Before the retreat, 16 Teacher Leaders were asked to identify a challenge in their school, district or state, expecting three days at the mothership to collaboratively vet our challenges, expand our thinking and hone solutions that reflected the collective nature of the Teacher Leadership Movement.

I knew I wanted to engage in strategic planning on how to leverage Kentucky’s new professional learning regulations to generate more teacher-made macro- and micro-professional development.

I anticipated these events with excitement. This is what happens when you are truly active in the work of our nation’s Teacher Leadership Movement.

But do you know what I’ve also come to expect when I gather with my colleagues?  I know that I will always leave with more respect for the teaching profession. I will leave more interested in what others are doing than what I am doing.  I think that this collectivist notion is perhaps what is slowly creating a tipping point for the movement.  We have a mandate to change learning systems.  We have the capacity to do so; and we are interlinked in unprecedented ways: by interest, by geography, by practice, policy and a deep desire to professionalize our teaching profession.  Every time I hear the story of how a teacher becomes a Teacher Leader, I grow more confident that replication is possible…we are now looking at ways to scale #TeacherLeadership nation-wide.

EVERY TIME I read, see, or discuss the work being done to transform education, I am filled with hope–a confident expectation that student learning is improving.

After several days in Chapel Hill (and one night in the woods), I know that…

  1. Disco balls should never be in vans.

  2. Iowa policymakers and teacher leaders in that state are doing amazing work to reevaluate the roles, responsibilities, and compensation structures for teacher career pathways.

  3. When someone asks you to wear a unicorn mask, you should do so.

  4. All of CTQs tech issues are solved in a white vehicle or while perched in a window seat in a corner of the office…which shocked me actually.

  5. North Carolina teachers are advocating for the Common Core in their state because they know the deep impact it is having on the thinking of their students–even if the achievement scores at the state level have yet to demonstrate that growth.

  6. I couldn’t be prouder to be from the state of Kentucky, because my colleagues in attendance were more impressive than any 800 word count will allow.

  7. I am not quite as rugged of a camper as I used to be.

  8. There is meaningful work being done in the Los Angeles United School system to increase the rigor of instruction so that all students benefit from richer learning experiences as teachers refine their practice.

  9. The family Brown are A FORCE to be reckoned with in Central Florida.

  10. I am now convinced that Brown, Brown & Pierce need to go ahead and start that ed policy firm. (My wife will soon be angry when she realizes that our vacations to Florida have now become opportunities to hang with my teacher leadership peeps and talk shop.)

  11. Always trust a man with the last name Crunkleton. He knows things about things, especially whiskey.

  12. Circle time at the end of an activity is always the best time.

  13. Collaboration is an intentional, mindful thing. It requires more listening than I know how to do. That is my growth area. I love collaboration, and I need it. But I do not pretend to know how to maximize and prolong the experience. I get too excited. I think I have some sort of intellectual Tourette’s actually.

  14. Teachers need to spend more time building informal relationships one with another. Retreats are fabulous vehicles to create deep relationships to both one another and the work of transforming our profession. The culture surrounding such gatherings can and should be recreated during our very frequent Professional Learning Community meetings. There is a transfer of concept here that we need to explore.

  15. Making connecting flights can cause one to work up a rich lather (horse reference from the Kentucky boy is shocking, I know)…airlines need a mulligan, a do-over of sorts. Flying is jacked in so many ways.

  16. Paul Barnwell waits for no one.

  17. Thunder retires early.

  18. Professional learning in Kentucky, and I would assume nationally, deserves a vision statement and a mission statement.

  19. Thunder needs a funder…for his Teacherpreneur position in the largest urban school district in Kentucky.

  20. Professional learning as a whole, across the nation, deserves a Mulligan.

  21. Captain Planet is the closest analogy to Teacher Leadership that I can muster.

  22. I am convinced that there are communities throughout the United States that will be completely different for years to come because of the individuals at #RisingLeaders who are working to reshape education in those areas.

  23. More teachers need to be engaged in the Teacher Leadership Movement. We cannot simply be a small community of practitioners, isolated by geography. We must keep a watchful eye on future Teacher Leaders and be diligent in seeking out opportunities to build the capacity of our fellow teacher.

There is a long list of realizations.  I can go on, but word count matters in a blog post; and more importantly, I am curious about how my fellow Rising Leaders are reflecting on our time together.  If our retreat was simply a one time professional development event without any continuation of the collegial conversations we have had, then it was a waste of time for all involved.

So all you mighty-magnets-of-like-minds, what is left unsaid? Undone? How do we proceed on this journey together?

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  • ReginaMcCurdy

    We Are Teaching Pros

    Brad, first off thanks for this post. I really appreciate what your insight into why we teachers need to “meet and greet” face to face. 

    The main part that struck me is how we need to regain and revive respect for our teaching profession. It has become all too easy to focus on negative information, inaccuracies and untruths littering the media airways about teachers and schools. We may even find ourselves concentrating too much on what we think we don’t have, like enough time, enough resources, enough political or state support, etc. The list seems endless, but you’ve reminded us of so much that we DO have:  “a mandate to change learning systems…the capacity to do so…and a deep desire to professionalize our teaching profession”. What we do have far outweighs what we think we are lacking. 

    I was so rejuvenated, energized and inspired meeting fellow colleagues from Kentucky, North Carolina, and other parts of my home state Florida. during the Equip conference in North Carolina last month. While I’ve taken pride in being a teacher, my teacher- pride barometer topped the charts as I got to know what “we” are doing in other states, counties and districts. Like you said, it gives confidence that replication is possible. Aside from this, hanging out together, eating, talking, laughing, getting to know each other informally is priceless. It’s a “brain break” time for teachers. 🙂 

    And thanks for letting us take a peek at list of what you now know. Though now I’m really curious about the unicorn mask… 

  • bradclark

    Iterating point

    You raise a very interesting point: we have been so very deficit based in our learning systems and it is easy to get trapped in, or perhaps default to, that traditional mindset. What happens when we start seeing the strengths of the system and capitalizing on them?  

    I wonder…what happens if we do a needs assessment of our local context, highlight the strengths we have already in place (that we have probably yet to fully capitalize/use to fullest potential impact) and address gaps in our strengths from this vantage point. I fear we miss possible solutions because we are wearing lenses from a decade ago. 

    teachers innovate and problem solve daily with their students.  What will it take for teachers to transfer these skills to our own profession?  

  • CherylSuliteanu

    24. and 25.

    24. New words will be created that live forever #hopetimism #solutionitize #storify

    25.  New nonsense becomes legend #unicornmask #discoball #vanwars

    Brad… I absolutely love your writing style and your ability to articulate your feelings, thoughts, and actions in vivid detail.

    Although I could go on for days about the impact the Rising Leaders retreat I attended in 2012 has had on me, suffice it to say that I am still working on the leadership challenge I prepared back then, with the support of all my CTQ friends and colleagues.  And, the friendships that developed in those few days are still going strong – which is worth its weight in gold.