The year was 2015. I was teaching English to high school juniors in Albuquerque, the largest district in New Mexico. I loved my job and I
loved my students. But I had a lot of concerns about education reforms taking place in our state—in fact, I was angry. I wasn’t getting clear communication from the state or district explaining what was happening or why. In that vacuum, misinformation from naysayers took hold and helped to shape me and my colleagues’ negative perceptions. Never one to sit on the sidelines, I took action and reached out to get an audience with our secretary of education, Hanna Skandera. I began to understand much better where she and her team were coming from and had the opportunity to give feedback about how it felt to teachers on the ground, too. I had found an opportunity to influence education policy from a teacher’s perspective and also to share the information I was learning with my colleagues. I started playing a more active role in my own school. My principal was wonderful, giving me a platform to share information with my colleagues. I also joined 16 other teachers on the secretary’s new teacher advisory. I took a temporary leave of absence from teaching to work with Secretary Skandera and her team full-time as a teacher liaison.
A Real Hunger Amongst Teachers for Opportunities
A year earlier, I never would have imagined I’d be having meaningful conversations with our state education leaders, people whose actions and motivations I’d always questioned. It’s incredible the difference communication can make! Coming into this new role directly from the classroom, I knew one thing to be certain: Teachers like me must feel valued as professionals and have access to the information we need to best serve our students. This was and continues to be my charge. There are so many teachers with abilities that go beyond their success with students, even beyond mentoring colleagues in their own school. They know they have something more to give, but don’t have an outlet to do more or even know what that could look like. I know from first-hand experience that when a district or state makes it a priority to empower teacher leaders, they tap into a wealth of talent that’s right under their nose. Last summer, I had the great fortune of attending
Louisiana’s annual Teacher Leader Summit. There, I saw what was possible when you bring together and empower your very best teachers. We went home to New Mexico and turned around our own summit in just five weeks. I, along with the teachers who make up the secretary’s teacher advisory and the Public Education Department, hosted the
inaugural New Mexico Teacher Summit. This two-day event equipped, empowered and championed over 300 teachers from around the state. The summit left teachers feeling like their voices were heard, afforded them access to meaningful professional development and elevated their spirits by being celebrated as professionals. Later this month, we’ll host our
second teacher summit with 1,000 teachers. When we opened registration for the summit, it filled to capacity in 72 hours. There is a real hunger amongst teachers for opportunities such as these.
Harnessing the Power of Teacher Leaders
Our secretary’s teacher advisory and teacher leader network advocate for the policies and practices we know work for students. When we testified before the state legislature this year, I think we piqued the interest of lawmakers who heard constructive and positive feedback from educators in the statehouse. And we piqued the interest of other teachers, who contacted me saying they didn’t know teacher leadership opportunities were available and wanted to know more. I’ve even had the chance to share our work in New Mexico nationally with the
Chiefs for Change network through their teacher leadership working group. It’s been an honor to make this work come to life for other state education chiefs, and I’m thrilled more and more states and districts are harnessing the power of teacher leaders. Going forward, I want to constantly remind teachers of how valued and important they are. I want to continue to improve the communication between the state and teachers. This opportunity to serve as teacher liaison has given me amazing perspective. In my classroom, I was a master of my material. I saw success daily with my students. (I miss them so much!) By stepping out of the classroom, which had become my comfort zone, I’ve faced new challenges and learned so much. Now that I’ve had this experience, I see that I have even more to give.
For more details on New Mexico’s teacher leadership work, as well as work in Louisiana and Tennessee, see Chiefs for Change’s policy brief “The Case for Teacher Leadership.”