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Even in the Summer, Teachers' Passion Is on Display

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Recently, we were invited to address a group of educators in central New York. It was mid-summer. Eighteen school districts were represented.  About 200 teacher, school and district leaders were attending the Second Annual Collaborative Educators Summit hosted by the East Syracuse Minoa Central School District and their business and higher ed partners. These educators had come together to both learn and share how they are changing the way teaching and learning is taking place within their classrooms, schools, and districts. 

The participants were invited from area districts that have committed to make changes in the way their students experience learning.  In the 21st century spirit, they have begun their journeys into using project and problem based, inter- and trans-disciplinary learning and have begun to develop the essential business and higher education partners that will make all the difference in their capacities to deliver these shifts in their educational practices.            

Partners in Change are Essential
Partnerships are an essential component in the design of this century's schools. We must be careful however, that our understanding of partnerships has also shifted into the 21st century. It is no longer limited to financial support; we observed true partners in teaching and learning, resulting in opportunities for professional learning for the educators and authentic application of learning for the students.

The East Syracuse Minoa School District, along with partners, King+King Architects, Siemens, Clarkson University, and Ferrara & Fiorenza PC, sponsored the event. These partners are working with regional school districts to develop communities of learning, influencing the way students can be taught and learn. It is an opportunity for business and higher education to engage the K-12 system, understand the limits and boundaries schools face while offering invaluable thinking, opportunities, influence and perspectives that are not found within schools.

Frame of Mind is a Personal Choice
There were no "we can't" or "we won't be able to" or "they won't let us" conversations.  As a matter of fact, during the sponsored dinner event, one of the teacher participants shared that she knows full well, that "venting" is important, but that this summit was her chance to get away form that. One of the aspects of the gathering she appreciated was the positive frames of mind her fellow participants shared.

We experienced that also. Here we were in a gathering of almost 200 educators in central New York, a state known for outspokenness and loud objections to the manner in which standardized tests are used to measure teachers and their students; yet, it was not the topic of this summit. Teachers and leaders were meeting with excitement, listening to new ideas intently, sharing strengths, and revealing areas in which they needed to learn more.

Passionate Leadership Matters
Another particularly outstanding observation we made came from working with a group of about 60 of the leaders that afternoon. When discussing the leadership abilities necessary for leading a STEM shift, we asked the leaders to rate themselves in each of these four reservoirs.

Reservoirs of Leadership.jpg

STEM knowledge yielded hands raised from about about 30% of the room. Skills and capacity for coalition building yielded about 30% of the room with raised hands.  Skill to build non-mandated change yielded about about the same. ...but when we asked about passion...80% of the room raised their hands.

Passion fuels. Passion is the component that is not learned like the other reservoirs. It arises from within.  And here, in the middle of New York State, in the midst of changes in regulation and policy positions in the Department of Education and the Regents that oversee it, frustrations with standardized testing, Common Core Standards, and evaluation requirements, were a group of leaders impassioned about their work in changing their schools to be environments that ignite and engage students to be independent and dedicated learners. It doesn't get better than that in the summer.

In the midst of all the urgent and controversial, these educators have discovered that their states of mind are within their control. Passion for their work overcomes frustrations with things they cannot control.  They have discovered that there are, in fact, local decisions that can be made, choices that are in their control, an ability to make a positive impact on children, and that teaching and learning can be a community wide process. They are proof that passion can remain central to the work of educators, no matter the changes in regulation and policies. We were witnesses and we take our hats off to them.

Illustration: Copyright© 2015 by Corwin. All rights reserved. Reprinted from The STEM Shift: A Guide for School Leaders by A. Myers and J. Berkowicz

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