Thursday was my 42nd birthday. I’m not ashamed to admit my age. In the immortal words of New Kids on the Block, “Age is just a number, don’t you stop having fun.” Over the course of that day, hundreds of people sent tweets, wall posts, texts, Voxes, direct messages, called or gave in person well wishes for my big day, which happened to fall on Thanksgiving. You’re probably thinking that’s a big number, but to my credit, I’ve come in contact with too many people to count between my hometown and current city, college experience, professional contacts and school community.
As I drove home yesterday (a 3+ hour drive), I began to think about the myriad of people that took the time to send me a ‘birthday shoutout’ and was struck by one subset – former students. One of the pillars of my teaching has been forming lasting bonds with students. As a related arts teacher, I have the privilege of having students for multiple years, watching them mature and become more independent. I’ve stayed in contact with many as they graduate high school and go on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, tradesmen and tradeswomen, cosmetologists and too many other vocations to listen. I’ve also shed tears when they end up incarcerated, pass away or battle personal demons.
Each year at graduation, I’ve always told my graduating 5th graders that my gym will always be theirs and they are always welcome to come back and visit. Many students take me up on that offer. True, many are those that graduated within the past few months, but many are now in high school, college and now working themselves as well. Too many to count have asked advice or come to let me know they were engaged, starting a family or had chosen a profession. Seven of my former students and interns have gone on to choose physical and health education as a career, which is humbling.
There have been times when I’ve questioned if my body can continue to function at a level required to be effective as a physical educator. There have been surgeries, injections, days on crutches and too many nights on the couch with ice packs to count. Pain is temporary. As I age, the pain becomes more frequent and intense, but it does somewhat subside. The joy I feel knowing that I’ve made an impact on a student’s life is wonderful medicine. It gives me motivation and healing that medicines and ice packs cannot and it makes me more certain that age IS just a number. I may be 42, but my students, current and former, make me feel 24.
It’s easy to be content where we are professionally. We become comfortable in our surroundings; we find a pattern that suits us and we stay in a holding pattern. Sure, educators love their jobs and they give time beyond what’s expected and what they are compensated. That story is as old as time. When students do well, educators are lauded; when there are problems, they are castigated.
ECET2 is a movement. Maybe the word movement doesn’t do it justice. Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers was created in 2012 by the Gates Foundation for Education. The New Orleans convening was the fourth national one, and state and regional convenings have popped up across the nation. In our Bluegrass state, there have been 5 convenings to date with the second state convening to be held in January. Unlike many negative connotations the state of Kentucky may have, with the Gates Foundation and ECET2, we are one of the states who lead the way and set the bar high for others to emulate. I’m so proud to be a part of ECET2KY, and can’t fathom that it’s been less than a year since my journey began.
300 of the best and brightest teachers from across the country were treated like rock stars at ECET2NOLA. Most had no idea of what to expect. There were a select group of teachers from previous convenings and from the Gates Teacher Advisory Council that were involved in the planning; it made the event more relevant to be planned for teachers by teachers. From the opening remarks by Irvin Scott (@iscott4) of Gates Ed, all in attendance were mesmerized. Over the course of the weekend, breakout sessions that both challenged and inspired, keynotes that brought both tears and laughter, and food and drink worthy of true rock stars or professional athletes were enjoyed. Colleague circles promoted candor and critical discussions of problems of practice. Innovative new ideas were shared, networks grew and above all, educators were inspired by just being in each other’s presence. Oh yes, there was also parade down Bourbon Street – a local band leading the convening from the hotel to the site of the welcome reception, where beads were showered on friends and strangers alike, waiting below with arms outstretched. #ibeadedthat
Of special meaning to me were the remarks by Vicky Phillips (@drvickip), director of Education, College and Career Ready Program of the Gates Foundation, a proud Kentuckian. She spoke of the important role education has played in her life and of the impressive gains our home state has made since the adoption of Common Core. We are a state on the rise, and she is proud of us. Vicky is proud of us. As I grow in my connection to the Gates Foundation, the fact that Vicky is proud of us means more and more to me. At the concluding state luncheon, we sat at the same table and discussed the next steps for ECET2 in our state. By the end of the lunch, she had spoken with each of the 27 Kentucky delegates.
In an era where teachers are undervalued, with ECET2, they are anything but. As I mentored to the ‘newbies’ throughout the weekend and reconnected with old friends, one recurring theme was evident. There is a passion, a fire, inside all teachers that sometimes needs to be stoked. Once the flame gains momentum, the educator truly becomes an ‘impatient optimist’ that doesn’t merely believe they can make a difference. They have accepted they do make a difference and they strive to make an even bigger impact, not just on their students, but on all those around them.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhqRLMZcBlc is the link to the video that gives a glimpse into the passion and celebration of this past weekend. To those of you that were there and have been involved with the ECET2 movement, I send a hardy SHOUTOUT! To those of you who aren’t familiar with the movement that is ECET2, please read Vicki Phillip’s blog on the Impatient Optimist site http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2014/10/The-Power-of-Teacher-Collaboration-ECET2 to get a better idea of just how powerful the weekend was.