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Leading Through Outreach and Relationships

Cheryl Suliteanu

Teacher leadership is a mind-set rather than a title; a perception of endless possibilities with every new experience; the belief that within myself I have the ability to bring new ideas to life; the knowledge that relationships are everything.

I chose to earn my National Board certification in English as a New Language because I was drawn to the community aspect of the standards, as I am drawn to Domain 6 of the Teacher Leader Model Standards, "Improving Outreach and Collaboration with Families and Community." A teacher leader recognizes the impact that families, cultures, and communities have on student learning, and promotes partnerships among our school community toward the common goal of excellent education.

In my first year of teaching, I discovered the potency of meaningful, consistent contact with families. The most challenging student I had has remained a constant part of my life over the last 15 years due to the frequency and depth of the conversations she, her family, and I had throughout her year in my class.

However, it wasn't until this last school year that I had an epiphany on the strengths of what families can contribute to classroom academic learning experiences. I asked a family who I knew had a garden (they'd brought me flowers on several occasions) to bring in a flower for a lesson on plants. The family didn't just bring one flower, they brought in a range of different flowers, including one in a clear vase for students to see the roots, and roses with the thorns cleared off so the children could handle them. I was awestruck at the depth this one family was able to contribute to my lesson on plants.

This experience ignited a spark within me to discover innovative ways to cultivate deeper relationships with families. But how? With what resources? With what extra time? Rather than get mired in the mud, I analyzed my desire to improve from a solutions-focused perspective: What could I do to overcome the challenges so that I will be successful?

Realizing that I needed to seek systemic support, I carefully crafted a proposal that represented my passion and understanding of the issue. I then share this proposal with a district leader whose position can "get things done,' and he in turn decided the superintendent himself should hear my proposal.

I would never have thought I'd be sitting down with my superintendent, presenting him with ideas for a district initiative. But the meeting went well. He responded with enthusiasm for not just the ideas I shared but for the creativity and passion with which I approached the issue.

Reflection, analysis, solutions-based thinking, and knowing the value of collaboration can be powerful tools for all teacher leaders. The possibilities are endless!

Cheryl Suliteanu has taught elementary school students in Oceanside, Calif., for 15 years.

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