Monday, October 13, 2008

South Dakota's Governor's Teacher Leadership Conference

We in South Dakota have a great working relationship with our Department of Education. They are so much more than a regulatory board. They truly are about being support for the teachers in this state. They have a good understanding of teachers’ frustration with pay, but are limited to solutions, so they try to support us in every other way they think they can. The Governor’s Teacher Leadership Conference is a good example of that.

This year’s conference was a bit different that past conferences. This year we combined the veteran teacher (the teacher leaders) with the new teachers (the teachers within their first five years of teaching.)

Sunday Afternoon

The first day was Sunday, October 5th. First the planning team got to have brunch with our Day One Facilitators, Dr. David Henderson, Maggie Anderson, and Treopia Washington. David and Maggie were the first two Courage To Teach facilitators that came to our state and started the fabulous program. (I have written about this before as I got to be part of the second cohort.) Treopia is Vice President, Partnerships and Minority Affairs, The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Washington D.C. I have gotten to know her through the National Board process and the fact that she has organized a program in my school where 16 teachers and principals are taking the Take One! part of National Boards this year at no cost to them.

At one o’clock the Day One Facilitators met with the teacher leaders. We had the opportunity to do some reflection – as we do whenever we do Courage work and then come together and discuss those reflections in groups of three. We talked about the poem, The Woodcarver by Chuang Tzu. The poem is about how we are called to excellence as both a teacher and a person. It also made us think about how we help others reach their levels of excellence.

Here is the poem:

The Woodcarver

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
"What is your secret?"

Khing replied: "I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

"By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

"Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.
All I had to do was to put forth my hand
and begin.

"If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.

"What happened?
My own collected thought
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits."

- Chuang Tzu
from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton

The part of this poem that struck me most was how Khing prepared himself before he went into the forest and before looking at the trees. I rarely take time to prepare myself to be in the right frame of mind when coming to my students. I prepare my lessons and I know what I am going to assess, but I needed reminding to just clear away all the other junk that gets in the way before seeing my students. It is the only way I will be able to see their potential. It was a very powerful reminder for me!

Sunday Evening

That evening all the teachers came together for a celebration dinner. Secretary of Education for South Dakota, Dr. Rick Melmer and Governor Michael Rounds took the time to honor a number of teachers. We have three new Nationally Certified Teachers in our state, Nicole Keegan, Rapid City School District; Angie Hejl, Yankton School District; and Doreen Schultz, Edgemont School District. I was fortunate enough to work closely with Nicole Keegan during my first year through the process. All three of these ladies are hard-working, dedicated, fabulous teachers and are much deserving of the recognition.

I was also honored as this year’s Milken Award Recipient. It has been a truly amazing year and I think this is just the beginning. While the Milken Award is amazing, it truly inspires you to go out and do your best work in the coming years. I think that is coming for me.

We got to recognize the seven regional winners for Teacher of the Year and had an unusual experience. This is the evening they name the state Teacher of the Year and our winner could not be with us that evening. Paul Kuhlman was in Washington, D.C., at the time of the announcement. He is one of five finalists competing for the Discovery Education 3M Top Science Teacher. Gov. Mike Rounds and Dr. Melmer called Kuhlman from the awards banquet to let him know he was our winner. He is a math and science teacher in the Avon School District and a truly amazing and inspiring man. I wish him all the best in the coming year.

The other highlight of the evening was our speaker: Michael Geisen, the 2008 National Teacher of the Year. After only seven years in the profession, Michael won this prestigious award and is as energetic as he is inspirational. Since he talked a lot about 21st century tools for our 21st century students, he was talking my language and I enjoyed him very much.

Monday Morning

Monday was our long day of the conference and started off with a bang. The planning team had the privilege of sharing some classroom and/or personal stories that we wrapped in sections of Randy Pausch’s book, The Last Lecture. I have read the book and it made me cry more than once, but I also laughed. We picked sections of five chapters and our planning team of ten divided it so that one person read a passage and one person told a story that went with that theme. I braved telling a story, but in my usual lack of self-confidence, worried that it wasn’t the right story or I wouldn’t fit in with the other four stories told by teachers that I truly look up to and admire. In the end, I think it was a fabulous rainbow of stories and they all had their place. Somewhere during the worry about WHAT I was going to say, I forgot that I was speaking to 300+ teachers. That part never bothered me. I guess my fear of speaking in public has diminished a great deal! We ended on a story (or stories) told by Reva Potter that had us laughing so hard I had tears streaming down my face. What a marvelous way to send teachers off to their morning sessions.

During the morning sessions, run in five rooms by the planning team, we had the opportunity to discuss and reflect on perseverance, high productivity and effective communication, commitment to students and their learning, and being members of a learning community. In our usual fashion, we had planned less for us to talk to them about and more for the teachers to group and discuss among themselves. One of the things I always enjoy is to have them think about the phases of their teaching year and at which parts of the year they felt most and least effective. Then we show them a chart of the national averages and they are always relieved to find that even the most experienced teachers hit those low points. Our final activity was to send them on a “Walk and Talk”. They paired themselves with a teacher they didn’t know and talked about some of the challenges of their year and ways they were going to get around those.

Monday Afternoon

The afternoon session provided the Department of Education to highlight some of the groups around the state that are in place to help teachers. These groups moved around to each of the five rooms to give presentations. They were (taken directly from our agenda):

Better Than a Byte of Google: Online resources for you and your students

Never enough time or money to find all of the good “stuff” on the Internet? We have it for you! Explore the reliable online resources available to all schools from the South Dakota State Library to meet your K-12 curriculum needs.

High School 2025

Back in “the day,” schools focused on reading, writing, and arithmetic. A high school of the 21st century focuses on three new Rs: relationships, rigor, and relevance. Without these, schools won’t ever get to the 4th R: results. This session outlines key practies to prepare students for success in the 21st century world.

Healthy Students, Healthy Schools

We’ve all seen the headlines about youth obesity rates, teen drinking, suicide, sexual activity, drug use and physical inactivity. Do you eve wonder how bad the problems really are? Do these issues affect school performance? This session covers South Dakota data regarding youth risk behaviors and how they relate to academic achievement. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey, School Height Weight Report, and School Health Profiles will be highlighted.

Teacher 411

From e-mentoring to differential pay, this session covers big-picture initiatives designed to enhance teaching in South Dakota. Learn what some districts are doing to recruit and retain good teachers. You’ll also get a refresher on renewing your teaching certificate via the state’s online system.

Native American Education: Success Begins with Understanding

This session will look at the many ways poverty impacts the educational process. We’ll review socio-economic status indicators, achievement data, and talk about issues and possible solutions to helping all students in poverty, particularly our Native American students, reach their highest potential.

There was a lot of information packed into the afternoon. Every bit of it was wonderful information, but I think for many it got to be a bit too much sitting in their seats and just listening. I saw a number of people doing other things. We may have to rethink how we do this next year!

Monday Evening

Both before and after dinner we were entertained by Sheltered Reality Drum Group. These are some very talented young people that choose to spend their time doing something wonderful to impact the environment around them instead of making some bad choices.

We also had another amazing speaker, Shannon Pickard. He is a comedian with a message. He often speaks at schools and universities and has written, “The Choice is Yours: A Formula for Success.” He was entertaining and engaging and we picked up a brochure to see if we can bring him to our school to talk to our middle school students. I think he could have more impact than many of us teachers! I hope it works out!

Tuesday Morning

We started our morning with one of my favorite speakers, Dr. Julie Mathiesen. She is the director at TIE (Technology & Innovation in Education) and spoke to us about 21st century learners. I was very pleased that I was “in the know” about much of what she talked about and that my thoughts parallel hers. I think it is so important that we keep talking about how we should be doing a better job integrating technology into the curriculum at every teacher gather we are at! Now I need to spend some time in Second Life so I quit flying into walls and dressing like a newbie!

Our last sessions were by grade level and again facilitated largely by the planning team. We discussed a lot of technology, as that was our theme for the day and showed them Karl Fisch’s video “Did You Know.” We also had them group up and talk about how 21st century skills look in the classroom today, what we think will happen, and what we would really like to see happen. Nothing is ever going to change unless we start really discussing the changes and why they need to happen!

Tuesday Lunch

We had one final lunch and were delighted to have Treopia Washington speak. Her brother, Ernest Green was one of the Little Rock Nine and was the first to graduate from Little Rock Central High School. She is an amazing speaker and history really comes alive from one who knows. She has promised that the next time she is in Rapid City during the school year, she will plan of coming in and talking to my 8th graders. What a great opportunity this will be for them! I will make certain they see The Ernest Green Story before she comes.

All in all, I think the conference was a huge success. I saw new teachers feeling a little less alone and teacher leaders really stepping up to help them. I got to visit with a lot of teachers about a variety of topics and I got to hang out with some of the best of the best in the state! It is my very hope that I will be on the planning committee again for next year. I would love to be able to be there as the newest Nationally Board Certified Teacher in the state as well. (Although I am prepared for it to take me another year.