Disclaimer: This is my path. As I talk about old dreams and how they no longer matter to me, I am not critiquing the people who choose these paths, but rather hoping people see less glamorous roles as important too.
I had an interesting conversation this week on Twitter with Josh Stumpenhorst, Michael Doyle, and some others on the topic of whether or not you need to leave the classroom to have a great amount of influence. It brought to mind my focus in my teaching career right now.
I used to be a middle school technology teacher and all I wanted was to get out of the classroom and become an ed tech coach. I really wanted to teach teachers how to integrate technology in their classrooms. Instead I ended up at my current, amazing PBL school teaching social studies and math. I also get the opportunity to lead workshops on PBL. What I know now is that I want to stay in the classroom.
There are many types of influence for educators from social media to presenting at conferences around the country and world. I used to think that I wanted to be the one traveling around giving keynotes. I used to think that bigger was better and I wanted to be a leader in changing education in this country from a stage.
Now I see influence differently. I see it as concentric circles. For me it all starts at the center where my heart and soul is: in my classroom. My number one priority is to create great learning opportunities for my students in my class. They are the ones that I have the greatest influence on. I especially want them to learn to think critically from multiple viewpoints, dissect bias in sources, and have a sense of empathy. I make this happen through PBL that is student-centered with tons of student voice.
From projects that my students do in my class, influence ripples out to the rest of the circles. I have a strong voice in my school to encourage other teachers to use PBL effectively. Our projects lead to community connections that influence both parents and partners by showing them that school can be done in a better way. I share my projects with the local media helping shape a positive story of education locally. I have had student teachers to influence the next generation of teachers in student centered, inquiry learning.
The next circle is social media. I blog and tweet to share what my students are doing. I participate in amazing communities such as #miched and #sschat. This leads to sharing my students’ work at conferences. I have never been a keynote but I have had many, many amazing conversations with educators over the years where we have learned together. The collective power of a group such as #miched is leading to other opportunities. Many #miched participants including some of my colleagues from school are currently meeting regularly with the Michigan Department of Education. Influence is moving to the political level and I don’t have to be in the room to be a part of it. I am part of the community.
My next circle is PBL workshops. I lead three day workshops on how to transform your teaching to student-centered PBL. This is my favorite PD ever because rather than leaving inspired by a passionate keynote and some fun new web tools, I am able to shift teachers’ pedagogy. That is what really matters to me. I know that every time I lead a workshop that I can permanently shift teacher practice. It also means that I stay in the classroom so that my workshops are based on proven concepts that I am doing. It again goes back to the center circle as I inspire teachers with the great things my students are doing.
My final circle is national. I do care about the federal education policy in this country. I am not connected in any way to political leaders, but I am in a school that is part of the New Tech Network. Through the size of this group of PBL schools, their leadership is able to act as a publicist for my students’ work and a lobbyist for student centered education. They have the connections that I will never have. My students give them the stories to tell about how education could be better.
In summary, I influence my kids, first and foremost. By allowing them freedom to do meaningful work in PBL, my students give me stories to tell to broader audiences: parents, colleagues, community, media, and politicians. First I influence locally, but then it spreads way beyond our schools’ walls.
If I am advocating for anything, it is for more teachers to stay in the classroom. We need good administrators, ed tech leaders, and conference presenters, but sometimes I feel like position becomes more important than real influence. I believe that teachers can be powerful influencers because they should have the best stories because they work with kids everyday.
That being said my challenge for you is how are you an influence? My circles are very intentional, not accidents. I can not pursue every opportunity that comes along. I choose the paths that are meaningful to me. I think everyone should have their own, unique set of circles and like ripples in a pond we will all collide.