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I am honored to share this guest post by Precious Crabtree, teacher at Deer Park Elementary School and recipient of the Virginia Education Association Award for Teaching Excellence. 

 “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

~Martin Luther King Jr.

As I reflect on my 18 years of teaching, I realize I’ve never felt more restless than I do right now. I feel like I’m on the lower steps of a staircase that climbs toward greater opportunities to do what I’m most passionate about—advocating for change that helps teachers serve their students.  

I‘m anxious about climbing higher on that staircase, however, because the steps in front of me are barely visible and I can’t see the top. In order to reach the top, I must leave behind what feels comfortable and safe.

Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed to have amazing mentors who have encouraged me to learn about the challenges facing America’s teachers and cultivate my advocacy skills. My training and experiences have led me to a point where there are multiple leadership opportunities to consider. The question is: am I ready to keep climbing the staircase?

It’s time for me to take bold steps in leading my profession. After all, look at what I’m armed with:

  • 18 years of experience and stories from my classroom
  • the voices of my colleagues, who long to be treated with respect and given autonomy to use their talents and creativity to reach students
  • the voices of my students, who want to succeed but whose love of learning has been tarnished by over-testing
  • the support of my association, which is dedicated to educating policymakers and the public about the complexities of teaching
  • a fierce passion and an unwavering commitment to my profession and students

In the last several years, I’ve taken on a lot of work in the hopes of advocating for my students, colleagues, and profession. I’ve built relationships with state and local legislators, spoke at county hearings, represented my building before advisory councils and education associations, and mentored new and pre-service teachers. All of these opportunities have been amazing experiences to give back to my profession

But somehow it still feels like I’m not doing enough. Here are a few ways I want to exercise my leadership in the next few years:

  • help create legislation that establishes teacher autonomy that allows teachers to truly improve student achievement
  • lead an effort to redesign my school system’s teacher evaluation program by streamlining it and providing meaningful feedback to teachers
  • research Peer Assistance and Review models and help establish feedback and recognition systems that truly elevate teachers and celebrate their successes

Above all, I want to ensure that my colleagues’ voices are heard in my school, community, and at the state and national levels. While I make constant use of social media, I feel the need to address a larger audience and contribute to the national dialogue about education. Recently, my colleagues encouraged me to run for a position in my national association. In the past, I didn’t feel ready for this kind of opportunity. But now I see it as a step toward serving my students and colleagues fully.

I’ve come to realize that the staircase of leadership doesn’t go straight up—it’s a moving path that shifts. (Think Hogwarts stairways.) I don’t know what I’ll find with each step, but I can hear my inner voice whisper: “Have faith, trust in yourself, and your dedication and hard work will come to fruition.”  

So I take a deep breath and climb confidently upward, hoping that other leaders will join me in my journey. Are you ready to take the next steps to find the inner leader in you? 

Read more about Precious here. Or connect with her here in the Collaboratory.

19 Comments

Kate Peretz commented on April 28, 2014 at 7:08am:

Thank you for sharing!

A fantastic post! We are on the same path and it's so good to read about others who have the same goals/vision. We'll get there!

Precious Crabtree commented on April 28, 2014 at 6:45pm:

Yes, we will!

Thanks Kate!  Yes, we will get there!!  Can you share more about your personal journey to leadership?  I believe we should share our journeys with others so that we don't feel so alone.  Teaching can be so isolating, especially when leading from the classroom.  What steps have you taken outside of your comfort zone and do you have a vision where you would like the staircase to lead?

Deidra Gammill commented on April 28, 2014 at 9:46am:

Love the staircase analogy

What a great analogy for teacher leadership - staircases that are moving but aren't always going straight up! This type of lattice-work leadership (moving from group to group, sometimes the leader, sometimes the follower) is so perfect for teachers as opposed to the top-down leadership model that the administrative track has always offered. Perhaps that's one reason teacher leadership has been so long in coming - as a profession, we're not into top-down leadership. Teachers collaborate, share, learn from one another, and lead as part of a team, not as individuals who have the final say. It's an exciting time to be part of the teaching profession. Like you, I can't wait to see what's next and where it takes us. Thanks so much for sharing your vision.

Precious Crabtree commented on April 28, 2014 at 9:08pm:

Exciting time, indeed!

Deidra,  you are so right.  What an exciting time to be part of education!  I feel hopeful for the first time in many years as far as the direction our profession is heading.  Leadership should mirror much like what we expect our kids to do and the way we work... ~~~~Teachers collaborate, share, learn from one another, and lead as part of a team, not as individuals who have the final say.  What are your hopes and dreams for our profession and our role as leaders?

Marcia Powell commented on April 28, 2014 at 11:47am:

JungleGym

I love this analogy.  It fits into my own vision of a group that can learn by taking turns, climbing up, climbing down, waiting for another, and helping someone.  That's cooperation and teamwork.

 

'jungle gym"

Precious Crabtree commented on April 28, 2014 at 9:50pm:

Great Visual!

Marcia,  I love your analogy with the jungle gym!  Do you teach elementary?  This will work great for my kiddos... I am totally stealing it. :) I connect to your jungle gym in a different way.  I have been known to referring to teaching as a jungle because it is a wild ride but a wonderful experience. Our profession is the most exhausting and exciting thing one can do!  I agree that we do lift one another up and take turns leading our profession as needed. But how do you see getting legislators on the same jungle gym where we together lift one another up in order to meet our students' needs?  Can we exist on the same jungle gym?

I also wonder, have you ever seen MC Escher's Relativity? http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a3/Escher%27s_Relativity.jpg Do you ever feel like you are on this staircase that is never ending?  Could one say that the direction we move is irrelevant as long as we continue to move? 

kbspecialevents@gmail.com commented on April 29, 2014 at 9:30pm:

Step by Step

thanks so much. It must have been in the air. I just had this conversation today with someone and these thoughts. Step by Step!

Precious Crabtree commented on April 30, 2014 at 6:54am:

Keep climbing...

If you are feeling like I am, you know the only choice is to keep climbing even if you are unsure where that staircase will lead!  Good luck to you!!

Jessica Cuthbertson commented on April 29, 2014 at 10:52pm:

Onward & Upward...

Thank you for sharing your journey and your goals so openly with us. The great thing about the Collaboratory is that you have many virtual friends and colleagues who will cheer you on and lead alongside ya! :)

I hope you'll keep us updated regarding your leadership journey. I know you're going to discover new steps, meander onto ornate, winding staircases, and be right where you need to be for maximum impact. 

Precious Crabtree commented on April 30, 2014 at 7:02am:

Some steps are becoming clearer...

Thanks Jessica!  It is so wonderful to have so many options with some of the steps finally becoming a little clearer so that I can make some important decisions and explore open doors that have appeared. I definitely feel the staircase I am climbing now is ornate and winding which is taking my breath away.  However, I am feeling confident this set of stairs are leading me to exciting, challenging new things. 

The best part... I do have virtual friends and colleagues that are cheering me on and even walking beside me during some of journey.  For that, I am grateful!!  We are stronger together as leaders than we are alone.

Angela Riggs commented on April 30, 2014 at 9:36am:

Thanks for sharing your

Thanks for sharing your thoughts! As a new teacher, it feels daunting sometimes to see all of the options before me that fall under the title of "Teacher". I sometimes have to remind myself that I can't just skip over the bottom steps (to use your wonderful stair analogy!) - I need to start with the foundation of building my good teaching habits :) When I see the wonderful advocacy and teamwork happening with educators, I want to take those steps two at a time and get up there!

How did you find your teacher-leader voice? What are some ways you found to become more involved in teacher advocacy?

Thanks! :)

Precious Crabtree commented on May 1, 2014 at 10:25pm:

It's okay to skip...

~~Hello Angela,
I am curious as to how many years or months you have under your belt. It really isn’t until the third year of teaching that one feels as though they at least have a handle on the beast that is teaching. Depending on what research you look at, teachers are considered “new” for 5-7 years into the profession. It is wonderful that you are ready and eager to advocate for your profession!  I don’t believe that there are a certain number of years or time frame you must follow.  And sometimes, you will be energized to skip multiple steps!   That’s a good thing.  

Yet, don’t feel pressured to do it all at once.  When I started teaching, I was handed a bunch of paperwork, shown my room, and told good luck essentially. I was eager to please and didn’t really care that I knew nothing about insurance and retirement or how to handle an abusive principal who was a true bully.  I had a job! 

Almost two decades and two school systems later, I can say that looking back there was no way that I could have led beyond my school in my first five years even if I had tried because I was too busy trying to figure out how to do my job, balance other responsibilities (like second and third jobs), and keep my nose above water. Yet, the passion was always there! 

In my 7th year, I met my mentor who to this day, I still look to for advice and admire even though he retired many years ago. He was the past president of our local association and had just been elected as again in the following year.   While he waited to serve his second term, he was a reading teacher at my school.  He saw something in me that I didn’t realize about myself… I had a strong voice and was very passionate about education.  He immediately exposed me to many opportunities such as representative assemblies, leadership conferences, and lobby day. Lobby day was when I truly realized that I was not only fired up about education, but I was ready to lead my profession.  After that cold winter day, I was hooked and I jumped in with both feet all at once and never looked back. 

Advocating can be done in so many ways… get involved with your local association, meet your local or state legislators, write a letter to the editor, or  speak at school board hearings and other community forums, such as a PTA or city council meetings.  Finding your voice and feeling empowered comes with time and exposure…. Believe me, it is there!  It is just waiting for you to unleash it! 

Leadership evolves and even morphs as time passes… don’t be afraid or worry that you might be missing a step or two. You clearly have the fire in your belly so share it with others! We need young and new teachers to be involved in advocating for our profession. The alternative is that you begin to feel a sense of isolation and disillusionment, which leads to amazing teachers leaving the profession. 

So go ahead and continue to climb the staircase… you never know who might be waiting on the landing to guide and support you on your journey.

Angela Riggs commented on May 5, 2014 at 4:51pm:

I'm actually a first-year

I'm actually a first-year teacher! I graduated last May, and got my first job as a pre-kindergarten teacher in August.

I'm working on separating goals from pressure - setting small goals to start developing my advocacy skills within my own classroom and school, rather than pressuring myself to "do more, already!" in the wider world of education. Luckily, I've got a wonderful PLN within CTQ and Twitter for advice and examples :)

Thanks for your advice and encouragement!!! So happy to be a part of the fantastic educator system here at CTQ :)

Precious Crabtree commented on May 16, 2014 at 7:48am:

Wise move...

HI Angela,

It is wise to not pressure yourself!  We (educators) often pressure ourselves too much and take on too much responsibility!  I have worked with preK students before... what wonderful, cute, fun students you work with!  I hope you have a great ending to your first year! We are in the home stretch now.,.. :)

Tricia Ebner commented on April 30, 2014 at 5:12pm:

Thank you!

This is a wonderful post that echoes some of my own thoughts as I reflect on the year coming to a close and try envisioning what the next year will bring, and more importantly, what I will bring to it. This staircase can be a bit frightening, I agree! There is so much security in the known, comfortable, familiar. Sometimes when I'm sharing my closing Tweet at 10:00 PM on a Monday night, I think, "Gosh, if I had just stayed in my comfortable classroom and never ventured into some of these other challenges, I'd be snug in bed now . . ."  But I also wouldn't have the sense of contribution and the excitement of the challenges ahead, either. And the mentor part--ABSOLUTELY! I am so encouraged by the mentors I've gained throughout my career, and especially in the past two years. The support of my PLN--here and through other online and "real-life" venues, has been amazing and incredible. One of my goals in the next year--and beyond--is to hopefully be a mentor and a cheerleader to my colleagues who want to take steps into these kinds of leadership roles, too.

Great thoughts! Thank you for voicing what's been on my mind lately!

 

Precious Crabtree commented on May 16, 2014 at 8:13am:

:)

Tricia, you are welcome! It is a great feeling to know that we are not alone on this journey!  Yesterday at my yoga class, the instructor read a passage from a Buddhist practicioner, Bodhipaksa, that really resonated with me. A quote that Bodhipaksa included was from a woman named Anais Nin.  I hope you will connect with it as I did.

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom."~ Anais Nin

Do you have a song or quote that sums up where you are right now in your career?

Sandy Merz commented on May 1, 2014 at 12:31pm:

Staircase or Rope Bridge?

You made me laugh in this post. I was pondering the metaphor of the leadership ladder and thought to myself - it's more like trying to cross a  gorge on swaying rope bridge. The at the end you called it a moving path that shifts! 

I don't know any teacher leader, including myself, who doesn't agree that the first obstacle to get past is yourself.

In this book Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn titles a chapter - You Can't Stop The Waves, But You Can Learn To Surf. That seems about right for teacher leaders.

Sandy Merz commented on May 2, 2014 at 4:54pm:

Staircase or Rope Bridge?

You made me laugh in this post. I was pondering the metaphor of the leadership ladder and thought to myself - it's more like trying to cross a  gorge on swaying rope bridge. The at the end you called it a moving path that shifts! 

I don't know any teacher leader, including myself, who doesn't agree that the first obstacle to get past is yourself.

In this book Wherever You Go There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn titles a chapter - You Can't Stop The Waves, But You Can Learn To Surf. That seems about right for teacher leaders.

Precious Crabtree commented on May 16, 2014 at 8:47am:

Love it!

I love the swaying rope bridge over the gorge visual!  It does feel that way at times too! You can be surrounded by beauty, but you still feel scared and stressed as you try to make your way to the other side. Our colleagues and mentors are often on the other side cheering for us ... but you can't possibly move across the bridge unless you believe in yourself and are willing to take the risk.

I have never heard of the book you mentioned, but I will be sure to put it on my list of books to check out this summer!  Thanks for sharing!!

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