Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hope for the Teachers

The annual MEA-MFT educators' conference is always an exciting, engaging couple of days where teachers from all over the state share their experiences and classroom ideas. I love presenting here, and I so enjoy being with my people.

This year was especially poignant because as the 2014 Montana Teacher of the Year I had the opportunity to speak about my year at the banquet honoring our 2015 Teacher of the Year. You can read those remarks here. While I was writing my speech, all the work I'd done during my year came flooding back to me in a wave. It was a huge wave. The wave, comprised of all those activities, was brightly colored in my mind, for hope: because I realized that everything I did centered on hope for improvement, hope that my efforts might change something in education, hope that I might reach a preservice teacher or two along the way.

2015 Montana Teacher of the Year Finalist Casey Olsen, English teacher from Columbus

I think hope is a defining characteristic of committed teachers. We hope to reach students in the deepest ways, to teach them our content but also something about life and humanity. We hope to improve our communities by creating relationships between our schools and surrounding people, businesses, and organizations. We hope to create a sense of family within our school buildings and districts, so that we can support each other as educators in the most profound ways.

The educators' conference itself is sign of hope. When thousands of teachers of all subject areas and grade levels come together to share ideas and demonstrate expertise, we cannot help but be filled with pride at the path we have chosen. View a local channel's news coverage of the event here.

During my two days, I spent one whole day in a symposium sponsored by the Montana Digital Academy, where MTDA teachers came together (face to face, for the first time ever!) to learn from each other and from the MTDA staff. I spoke during the symposium about the role of feedback in online courses. I also presented to my English teacher colleagues on audio visual student work in my classroom, and I participated on a panel called "Demystifying the Common Core." Attendees demonstrated concern about the Smarter Balanced tests and where they are going. At all of these experiences, I was surrounded by hope: hope and a commitment from every teacher to improve their teaching and reach their students in more profound ways.

Despite the local flavor of this event, I am always mindful of how local conversations play into larger discussions occurring in the regional or national arena. The Common Core/testing debate, for example, is national in scale, playing out from Florida to Colorado and New York. The search for meaningful multicultural education resources brought teachers from Minnesota to this conference, because reaching all our students is a national concern as well as one in Montana. The Montana Digital Academy, although smaller than some other virtual schools in the country, is certainly part of a growing shift in instruction from paper-and-pencil to online and blended learning: just note that October is Connected Educator Month.

At the banquet on Thursday night, I had the opportunity to introduce the 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year, Craig Beals. Craig is connected, active, and hopeful about teaching and about his students. You can follow him on twitter here. I look forward to watching his activities during this year, and hearing about his work during next year's banquet, where our cycle of hope will renew.

With Superintendent Denise Juneau and 2015 Montana Teacher of the Year Craig Beals

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