When I signed up, I didn't know I was lucking out by having educators from the NC Museum of History & NC Museum of Natural Science serve as our leaders. So much of what we did was outside, exploratory, and hands-on. The weather didn't totally want to cooperate, with temps in the 40's, wind blowing steady at 25+, and off-and-on showers. Still, we hiked Springer's Point and learned both science and social impacts that effect the island. We spent several hours on the beach in teams seeking signs of "life" and identifying what we had found with resources (I found a piece of coal that had washed up from the ocean! Such a cool artifact, considering we don't know how long it was out there tumbling on the ocean floor). We took a boat ride to Portsmouth Island and learned about the village that once thrived there during the times when Ocracoke Inlet was a busy shipping port between the ocean and the NC mainland. Thought much of our time was outside, we did have some learning experiences inside, such as engaging in strategies we could take back and do in our classrooms. 2 activities I loved & will implement in the library (and encourage teachers to do in their lessons) were black-out poetry and 'found' poetry. In the former, students would get an article or excerpt and after reading it for content, they must black out all the words except a set amount, and still communicate the mood/message/etc of the larger text. I'd love to see a class set off in teams to have various missions: one group focuses on mood, one on the adjectives, another on verbs, etc. See if the teams stay true to the overall message. The latter, "found poetry" involves a similar method, where students would start with the same text (though not necessary), and re-arrange them into a poem using word ands terms directly from the original sources; they can be rearranged, but all have to be from the source. This is a great critical thinking challenge, allows for opinion to be shared (trust me, I heard many variations on the same article about the Bonner Bridge & you could tell who was for/against building), and though the words aren't the students', it does involve writing skills. For both these projects, even if 25 students have the same text, they'll all be different at the end. Another strategy we used that I'll do with my students is giving them quotes from primary sources, and allowing them to guess the context, who would write it, why it was written, etc. We read excerpts from someone stationed at the weather bureau, another seeking to defeat Blackbeard, and a travel journalist - all their descriptions of Ocracoke were wildly varied. The journal we made (yes, with the amazing instructions from the NC History Museum educators) is the best thing I brought home. I slowed down at NCCAT and really took the time to reflect on what I was learning and how it would impact what I do with my students. The reflection piece is a valuable part of the NCCAT experience and I encourage any who go to bring a notebook that they will refer back to; and though it's tempting to spend any downtime exploring the island or calling home, you must carve out time to sit in the chairs that overlook the sound or Silver Lake, or stand in the observation tower... and write. Here are a few of my "So What's" that are at the end of my journaling:
- Don't take the journey for granted: sometimes where we come from as educators, and where our students come from to the classroom, is an important factor in how to be our best selves
- Use your surroundings to learn: as Alton said, "kids have nature deficiency disorders"; we need them to be in the field (outside, or in a profession-lens), to give them opportunities to experience, make connections, and have stimulated learning
- Imagine the stories, not just the facts: Stories connect us and make the history (or science, or math) real, personal, relevant
- Rethink informational text: articles, essays, quotes, primary sources can inspire creative writing, poetic reflection, and cross-curricular experiences
- The process is more important than the answer: make questions something that students could actually encounter so learning isn't hypothetical, thus making the solutions meaningful
- Being passionate about the topic is imperative to being effective: attitude and approach impacts how receptive students are to learning; we listen closely, care deeply, and respond authentically when our leaders set the example
At the leadership seminar I was introduced to 19 other educators from across the state, that teach all different ages and subjects, but all are deeply passionate about this profession. By the end of our week together, we had bonded for life. It sounds cheesy, but it's true! Like I mentioned before, our motto became "ASK BIGGER" - so we're already working on a #Reunion2017 so we can reassemble, strengthen our network, and continue sharing ideas and strategies that worked for us in the 2016-2017 school year. But I'm getting ahead of myself... haven't even cracked what we DID that week which inspired such a connection and growth. And honestly, I don't think I can do it justice!
Before arriving, we had 2 articles & I video to get our end-of-the-school-year brains re-focused on teacher leadership. Chapter 1 of Awakening The Sleeping Giant: Helping teachers develop at leaders by Katzenmeyer & Moller had me scribbling many notes and it's a book I plan to buy for our professional section of the library, even if I'm the only one who reads it!
Teachers collaborating with colleagues are just as effective in influencing as are individuals with formal titles who carry the power of a position (10)
The following morning, Bill Harrison, the current Superintendent of Alamance-Burlington Schools and former Chairman of the State Board of Ed, asked us a wonderful reflective question:
- What type of environment must exist for students to choose to come to school?
Leaders make others feel important. I never interacted with him where I didn't leave wanting to tackle the world
- "We bring the right people, equipment, skills, and partnerships to respond to needs"
- "Leaders are dealers in HOPE"
- "Leadership isn't about what happens when you're there, but when you're not"
- "Leaders are ordinary people, with extraordinary determination"
- What if... teachers were given differentiated PD on various platforms?
- What if... teachers were offered speed-dating PD on tech tools? Strategies? Projects?
- What if... we invited local community experts to inspire students, assist teachers, and build relationships?
- What if... staff meetings were rotated through PLCs?
Leaders wear many hats, are empowered by experience, and build other leaders as they are being built into better leaders themselves. Are we doing that for our students? Do we see them as leaders, or just receivers?
On Thursday morning, I presented! It was a thrill to have the opportunity to share with these brilliant peers how I struggle to see myself as a traditional leader, but I do embrace the role of a digital learning coach. It was nerve-wracking to stand in front of a group of distinguished educators - all district or regional TOY's, including NC TOY Bobbie Cavnar - and share my four years of experience as a school librarian. Each of the 19 other educators had shared the impressive things they do, and it was hard to feel like I matched up, but if I've learned anything about leadership over the last year (and during this week), your age, title, or years of experience aren't what makes you a leader. Principal of the Year Melody Chalmers presented after me about not having to be an administrator to be a leader. She shared some valuable insight on ways that teachers in her building demonstrate leadership, including inviting other educators into their classrooms on a "learning walk."
All these sessions and experiences certainly taught me about teacher leadership and have improved my outlook as an effective educator, but the bonding with these 19 other teachers is what I ultimately carry away. There were few times over our 5 days together that we weren't together as a group of 20, or at least in small groups. We grew even closer on our 3rd night, sitting in a giant circle on the NCCAT deck until late at night, coming up with nicknames, inside jokes, and our now infamous "Do Not Ferry" list (pic below). Every hour with these people made me feel more passionate about what we do for our profession, more confident that the good that goes unreported will make a longer lasting impact than the negative that evades our culture at this time. Even now, more than 2 months removed from the experience, I'm connected with teachers about projects, resources, and, most importantly, supporting one another. I have no doubt that this year will be the best yet for many of us thanks to the connections, experiences, and reflection gained at NCCAT - and that we will do everything in our power to get back together for #NCCATreunion17 to continue to grow together!
I returned in July for another presentation, this time on using extreme weather events across the curriculum. Because of my time as a digital learning coach w/ NCDLCN, I've become focused on integrating tools like virtual field trips to enhance the curriculum students are learning in their classrooms. For the past several years, I've brought my 2nd graders on a virtual field trip to the weather channel during that science unit, but we also integrating writing, communication skills, and other elements into the experience. I was able to share how this collaborative lesson happens with another great group of NC educators, as well as learn from some amazing presenters, such as Stan Riggs (Coastal Ecologist), Brian Bettis (Assistant Principal), and Karen Amspacher (Museum Director & all-around coastal historian). I'm drawn to this place because I'm truly a learner at heart, and each of these experiences are molded by the people that are there, making it different each and every week.
North Carolina is beyond fortunate to have this program for our teachers. There's nothing like it in other states, and we need to make sure NC teachers know it's available to all. Support it by going, by inviting other educators to attend and grow, by writing to our policymakers (who have threatened in the past to stop funding it), or by donating. I'll long be an advocate for NCCAT because teachers can't possibly be leaders in their classrooms, schools, or districts until they're willing to learn and grow, and NCCAT provides the learning educators need.