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What professional peaks do you hope to summit this year?

In the cold, short days of winter, it is hard to think about the sweet freedom of summer and all that those sunny, warm days have to offer. However, it is the season for application deadlines, which means that those of us who want to participate in specific academic programs or experiences are looking past remaining units of study, testing schedules, and the daily grind of second semester to the many opportunities available for learning and growth during our precious time off.

This year, I decided to apply for two programs at Oxford University, the pinnacle of academic challenge for a student of literature and a life long dream for this high school English teacher. For each application, I was asked to craft a statement of purpose. Below are my thoughts on why it is essential to challenge ourselves to climb metaphoric peaks as learners and teachers. Crossing the threshold of submitting the applications was the first step in my climb. What peaks do you hope to summit this summer?

I’ve found that the best times in my life are the moments where I’ve challenged myself to do something I never thought I could do. These moments are not meant to competitively promote myself to some false sense of accomplishment, but are experiences that help me to realize or refine particular aspects of my character as I work towards accomplishing a difficult task or becoming a better person.

For example, living in Denver, Colorado, mere hours away from the Rocky Mountains, provides all kinds of opportunities to challenge myself physically. This summer, I accomplished an incredible feat when I successfully hiked my first 14,000-foot peak. This experience required that I prepare my body through training, move past anxieties to achieve my goal and rely on others encouragement and support to reach the summit.

As an educator, I want my students to approach their learning with the same kind of focus, determination and support. While not everything that we do in my class equates scaling a peak, each of my students has a specific set of challenges that I am helping them train for with daily reading, writing, speaking and listening tasks. I work hard to promote a growth mindset in my students and know that being able to model my own growth process for them is essential to establishing my ethos as their support along the way.

In an effort to model this for them in a professional setting, the educational peak I’ve set out to scale is to become a teacher leader within a variety of contexts.

I started this process five years ago through my work with the Center for Teaching Quality, where I was able to spend a year working as a Teacherpreneur. In this unique hybrid position, I spent my mornings in a traditional classroom setting and spent my afternoons participating in a variety of advocacy efforts at the local, state and national levels. I worked with legislators to refine teacher and student assessment measures, wrote curriculum aligned to the new English Language Arts Standards and supported local teachers with the implementation of these policies.

Though I’ve returned full time to the classroom, I continue to be invited to speak and write for educational stakeholders about policies and issues facing states across the U.S. Finding success in each new experience is like climbing another mountain. I train my brain to review all sides of an issue to ensure that I am providing a fair and balanced perspective of the topics I address. I learn to overcome anxiety when speaking in front of large and sometimes discordant audiences and I find groups of peers to support me emotionally and academically in my efforts.

While I am very proud of the many opportunities and successes I’ve had as a teacher leader, I am also very aware of my need to find balance in my efforts. No amount of professional success outside of the classroom can have as much impact as the day-to-day work I do with the 100-150 teenagers I’m assigned each year.

I can think of no better way to strike this balance than to become a student again myself. I admit that I often forget how difficult it is to be the learner in an academic environment. Pushing myself to be challenged in the same ways I strive to challenge my students will allow me to be authentically empathetic to their process and have a better sense of what will work best pedagogically. Pushing myself to do this as a student at Oxford University ensures that I am not just going for a small day hike, but am challenging myself to climb the 14,000-foot peak of academic experiences.

This summer, I am eager to engage in a plethora of academic activities that will push me to be a better teacher, learner and human. I’m eager to engage with a community of learners who are seeking the same level of challenge and growth and am excited to see the views that reaching this pinnacle of growth and success will allow.

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  • LaurenStephenson

    Keep climbing!


    Loved this inspiring post. I love the line: “I can think of no better way to strike this balance than to become a student again myself.” We could all take on that mentality in order to grow personally and professionally.

    Keep on climbin’!