Work Ethic and Audacity: The Heart of Teacher Leadership
This is the last of a six-part conversation on how teachers can grow in their leadership capacities.
"Work hard. Be audacious. No excuses."
True teacher leadership is found at the intersection of work ethic and audacity.
No matter what job you do for a living, your credibility is determined by your work ethic. A strong work ethic enables others to give their trust and respect, believe in your vision, and accept your judgment as sound. Perhaps most importantly for teachers, our individual work ethic buys us the freedom to deviate from traditional pedagogical paths and try something new. To that end, teachers must intentionally exercise professional audacity. We must dare to recognize ideas that may benefit our classrooms then have enough intrepid boldness to try them out.
One of my greatest professional fears is inertia. So, eight years ago, I began to explore digital storytelling in the classroom. I saw the value of student filmmaking when my sixth graders first opened iMovie on their Macbooks and asked to play.
It turns out, "yes" is a powerful word.
My students had a desire to create. I decided to let them, despite the fact that my district was firmly entrenched in fidelity to direct instruction at the time. During our first movie project, filming in the classroom was so cramped, I opened the door and we took our learning outside. In no time at all, I forgot to be nervous that students were away from their desks. They rigged camera dollies out of old AV carts and props were scattered everywhere. Actors spouted lines, performed erosion demonstrations, and modeled how to solve equations. They adored every minute and demonstrated their learning so thoroughly it astounded me.
Our experience strengthened my commitment to digital storytelling in core content areas and I began to generate a vision to give all students on campus the opportunity to create. The vehicle for this became an after school audio-visual club.
In the beginning, I had more students than resources, but the kids were so driven, it almost didn't matter. We first began with two iMacs shared between fifteen kids and a couple of video cameras. The kids and I quickly adopted a "beg, borrow, and steal" philosophy. We set up a Donor's Choose account, gathered donations for our first prop closet, and stole some ideas from our favorite movies. We tried everything once and spent most of that first year learning editing techniques and strategies for capturing better sound.
Over time, we focused more on writing quality scripts as the technical learning curve lessened. That is when I realized that middle school students have distinct stories to tell that are often poignant and surprising.
Now, seven years later, my students are consistently honored for their filmmaking, earning honors at local and state media festivals, including two California State Student Media Festival awards. Last year, they produced a film called "Lost Ships" that premiered at the 2014 Palm Springs International Short Fest as part of a student showcase. As a result, the club received several sizable grants and garnered enough financial support to help us shoot on location for the next several years. Even better, our club has become a model program for Palm Springs Unified and has been replicated at all of the middle schools in our district.
Celebrating the achievements of my students has been incredible. It is sobering to think that my students and I might have missed out on this journey if I hadn't been audacious enough to say "yes" all those years ago. Today, there is a large banner on the front wall of my classroom that reads, "Work hard. No Excuses." It is posted there as a reminder for both my students and myself.
Jessica Pack (@Packwoman208) teaches 6th grade language arts and social studies in Cathedral City, Calif. She is a 2014 California Teacher of the Year and 2015 CUE Outstanding Teacher. Jessica blogs at www.packwomantech.com.