During our summer board retreat in July of 2014, many of our discussions drifted towards what we can do to develop our leadership within our site and how we can continue to engage our veteran Teacher Consultants who have completed all of the institutes we offer and who are seeking no more graduate credit. Drawing on one of our beliefs on the value of social justice practices, our idea was to create a three-day professional development opportunity for teachers to come and work on a project that would create departmental, building, or district-level change. We ended up calling this a Leadership Institute.
Included in our schedule for the three day institute were group discussions on leadership and issues surrounding it along with large chunks of work time for teachers to collaborate. Our schedule also included guest speakers from the Nebraska Department of Education, a curriculum director from a Nebraska school district, an instructional coach from a local district, a representative from the Nebraska Humanities Council, and teachers from area school districts. Some of these guest speakers served on a panel discussion about how to initiate and sustain change while others gave presentations on grant writing. Our three facilitators checked in with teachers along the way to engage them in discussion about their project to help further their thinking. We had teachers submit a piece of writing that articulated their goals in the form of a letter to a relevant audience (parents, teachers, administrators, etc) along with a reflection letter that required them to articulate their work for the Institute and a timeline of their next steps.
Nineteen teachers were nominated and participated in the Institute representing eleven school districts (including three teams of teachers). These teachers left with viable project ideas (tackling the creativity crisis in the writing classroom, revamping AP curriculum, aligning department curriculum to include more critical thinking, seeking out grants for student laptops, etc.) that would enact sustainable change in their school communities. We received loads of positive feedback from teachers very similar to the comments below:
“I enjoy being a teacher leader, and this institute continued to stretch my thinking on what that role looks like, and frankly, how much work it is. It has also reminded me of the importance of taking on that role to benefit students, staff, and the overall good work of schools.” -Colleen McBride, Pius X Catholic High School
“72 hours ago, my peers and I had a list of concerns about the way writing and creativity are practiced and taught (or not) in our school district . . . and that was all we had. We had problems but no solutions, questions but no answers. I am thrilled beyond comprehension to report that not only have we found solutions, we have been able to develop a real‐life, accessible format for implementing a hybrid Writer’s Workshop into our district over the next three years. This evolution was born entirely of the power of collaboration, and your gift of offering us the time and space to have the necessary conversations to instigate change. Thank you!” -Jennifer Long, Gretna High School