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Thank You Kentucky for the Advocacy

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The following post is from Kip Hottman, a 2013 - 2014 Hope Street Group Fellow and a Spanish teacher at Oldham County High School located north of Louisville, Kentucky.

As I sit back and reflect on the 2013-2014 school year, I realize that my understanding of a teacher's role has completely changed, and it will never be the same. If you would have asked me one year ago to describe the role of a teacher, my answer would have mirrored the classroom in which I sat in the 1990's. My philosophy has fundamentally shifted this year, as my eyes have been opened to a new and exciting world of teacher leadership within our state, one that I never knew existed.

I have a confession to make about the first ten years that I taught. I have always had an unconditional love and passion for the teaching profession but these emotions were only directed towards the students in my classroom. I stayed inside my own little bubble and remained completely unaware to education policy outside of my classroom walls. I considered myself an advocate for teachers and students without realizing that I only truly advocated for those with whom I spent time daily.

The path that I had embraced for so long shifted dramatically in June of 2013 when I received word that I had been chosen as a Kentucky Teacher Fellow for the Hope Street Group. I had a new role, a role that placed high value on networking with my colleagues and taking their collective voice to the state level to help shape the implementation policies behind Kentucky's new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System (PGES).

Along my journey I realized that there was no magical OZ behind the curtains in Frankfort controlling our destinies. I had been oblivious to the fact that our state has numerous organizations advocating for teachers and students, and many are teacher led. After collaborating with and learning about these groups, I decided that everyone, teacher, non-teacher, Kentuckian, non-Kentuckian, needs to know just how strong the backbone of education is within our state.

Let me introduce you to the world that I never knew existed...

The Prichard Committee is a grass-roots organization that truly changed education in Kentucky forever as it relentlessly advocated for educational reform in the 1980's. Kentucky sat in the bottom of almost all categories used to measure educational achievement for years until the Prichard Committee united the public, making them aware of the need for total reform. Kentucky recently cracked the Education Weekly Quality Counts Report Card's top ten and is now considered a national leader in education.

Education bills and subsequent policy written by Kentucky legislators tend to lack teacher collaboration in their design and teacher voice in their implementation. There is a gap in communication between these two stakeholders that has been present for many years. Fortunately for teachers, there is one organization that can always be found in attendance during every legislative session in Frankfort, who represents teacher voice and works to promote the profession: The Kentucky Education Association (KEA) spends countless hours learning about pending and proposed education legislation and educates teachers across the Commonwealth with respect to the most current and controversial educational bills.

The Center for Teaching Quality (CTQ) is another organization that transforms education by elevating teachers' bold ideas and expert practices. CTQ has trained me as a Virtual Community Organizer (VCO) to better facilitate collegial conversations in a virtual environment and also has guided me towards the world of blogging. Last year, collaborating with educators on-line would not have existed as part of my routine, but through CTQ, I now read about best practice and participate in asynchronous conversations weekly.

In December, I received an invitation to attend a convening in Lexington called Educators Celebrating Effective Teaching (ECET2). The invitation came from an organization called The Fund. The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky was created to support innovation in Commonwealth classrooms and encourage teacher leaders throughout our state. They help promote the profession through convenings like ECET2 where teachers have a safe place to collaborate and share ideas towards best practice.

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) took a major shift in policy creation when they decided to involve teachers in creating the Professional Growth and Effectiveness System. From the very beginning, KDE invited teacher leaders and valuable stakeholders to join a PGES Steering Committee. KDE also invited the Hope Street Group to come to Kentucky and collect data through teacher voice to help shape policy design and implementation of the PGES. Utilizing teacher voice to shape PGES was a KDE goal, and they made it clear when a high-level representative very plainly said, "I don't know what else to say. We are listening."

#Kyedchat is a twitter chat created by and led by teachers every Thursday at eight o'clock. Teacher leaders from all over the state, and now from all over the United States and Canada, convene virtually in order to discuss the most current educational issues and the best practice surrounding them. I have learned and received some of the best professional development of my career through this online collaboration.

The Hope Street Group (HSG) is a national non-partisan non-profit organization that has come to Kentucky to help build teacher capacity by utilizing teacher voice to help shape policy, specifically focusing on Kentucky's new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System for teachers. I have worked for the HSG this school year and through their guidance I have learned the true definition of a teacher leader. All of the organizations that I have met through the HSG now provide me with new and exciting educational opportunities and continually enhance my Professional Learning Network.

Last, but not least, I have had the pleasure of witnessing what Kentucky teachers are implementing in their classrooms. I am absolutely amazed at the passion and best practice that happens daily in classrooms all over our state, and I think that the students are blessed to be part of classroom environments in which they participate.

I love teaching and want to continue to advocate for my students, but I have learned that to be an educator I should advocate for all students, not just those that I see daily. My eyes are now open. My world has changed and I have to show some much needed respect to all of these organizations and to the wonderful educators in our state. So, I end this blog by addressing all those who advocate for our students by saying a simple, "Thank you Kentucky! Thank you for all that you do!"

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