In the media — 16 December 2015

Originally appeared on kentuckyteacher.org

Not long ago, I hiked an inspiring trail in one of Kentucky’s beautiful state parks. The trail was steep, lush and green with scenic views of untouched forests, ancient hemlocks and jutting sandstone formations.

But since I don’t exercise regularly, it did not take long for me to get a little winded. As the trail became steeper and the mossy areas more slippery, my enthusiasm waned. Head tilted down, my focus turned to the path before me. There were rocks and uneven ground that demanded my eyes stay on the trail so I wouldn’t fall.

I had to keep telling myself, “You can do this! Keep going, just a little more.” Before long. I found myself asking, “What was I thinking? Why am I doing this?”

But then I spotted it — a wildflower I had never seen in real life. I recognized it immediately from the wildflower books I like to flip through. It was a pink lady slipper and it stood brightly above the soft mossy ground. This orchid of the forest looked like a wonder of the world to me. As I studied it, I forgot about my tired legs and my sweaty back. The jagged rocks vanished. I knew why I was doing this hard work.

This mountain hike is kind of like teaching. Our work is hard. It seems we are always going uphill. We take several steps forward just to slip back down. We started our careers thinking it was going to be a beautiful journey, but too soon we find ourselves so focused on the path that we lose sight of the view. We get a little winded and find ourselves wondering why we are teaching in the first place and consider quitting.

But then we see the wild flower. A child understands what you taught them. You watch a child make a discovery and you know she owns that knowledge. You see a connection made, an interest kindled and you remember why you do this hard work.

A few years ago, teachers began a journey of improvement focused on preparing students for college and careers. We bundled, unpacked and deconstructed new standards and spent days creating units and learning targets. We became so focused on the trail, some of us lost sight of the view. We needed to remember that high standards ensure every child might realize whatever their dream is in life.

As I was getting tired and frustrated with all of the change that comes with new learning, I met a teacher that that did not like the new standards at all. She wanted to go back to the old ones. When I asked her why, she said the students she works with can’t do the work. They do not have the same advantages as other students. Many of them live in poverty and lack support. They are not good readers and the work is too hard. She said they will never be able to meet the expectations of Kentucky’s Academic Standards.

This teacher had lost sight of the view. Our conversation solidified my support for those standards and inspired me to keep pushing myself. Every child deserves a teacher that has high expectations for their success. They deserve a teacher that will keep going — even uphill and through difficult patches — until everyone makes it to the trail’s end.

Our journey toward improvement continues through teacher leadership. Teachers should have a voice in deciding where our profession should go and how to get there. We have been hiking these trails a long time and know a great deal about the terrain. It is time that we take greater ownership in setting the course. Leadership opportunities help teachers see their profession from a broader view. It gives us the chance to appreciate the grandeur of the mountain, not just the tribulations of the trail.

Kentucky’s Teacher Leadership Framework describes some of the facets of this leadership work. The framework’s mission is to elevate teachers as experts and leaders in and beyond the classroom. It captures various dimensions of the work and includes descriptions of core beliefs, dispositions, knowledge and skills. It is a useful tool for teachers, administrators and other stakeholders as they forge innovative career pathways and work to achieve equity and excellence for all students.

As a teacher leader on special assignment for the Kentucky Department of Education, I am highlighting the leadership work that is happening across our state through a series of teacher leader profiles to be shared widely across the state. These personal stories will map some of the many trails of teacher leadership and record lessons learned along the way. These lessons will help others find their way, broaden our collective understanding of how teacher leadership can lead to greater student achievement and help envision changes to the traditional teacher career pathway to include a variety of leadership opportunities.

If you have a teacher leadership story you would like to share or you would like to nominate a teacher leader to be highlighted, please click here and fill out a quick nomination form. If you have questions, please contact Holly Bloodworth at holly.bloodworth@education.ky.gov.

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Allie Douglass

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