Teach to Lead: Denver

In early January 2015, Kalpana Kumar-Sharma of Brightwood Education Campus in Washington, DC represented Leading Educators at the second Teach to Lead Summit of the season in Denver, CO. Through her project, Kalpana is creating a team of ‘Health Ambassadors’ that will work to deploy quick health strategies for everyday use across the school.

Kalpana is an early childhood teacher focused on holistic health in her own school and across the nation. As a participant in both the DC Leading Educators Fellowship and the District of Columbia Public Schools Teacher Leadership Innovation (TLI) pilot, Kalpana is well-versed in the power of teacher leadership to affect school-wide change. She is currently training 12 school-based staff (ranging from classroom teachers to social workers and school counselors to physical education teachers) in stress management, deep breathing, and meditative exercises that can be quickly deployed for greater community health. Kalpana has gotten the staff to sign on to dedicating the first 5 minutes of all school meetings to these well-being strategies.

Kalpana says, “Health often gets forgotten in the pursuit of greater student achievement gains. Holistic health – social, emotional, and physical – however, is an integral component of promoting long-term success inside and outside the classroom.” After submitting her idea for the Summit through the Commit to Lead platform, Kalpana and her colleagues, Assistant Principal Justin Ralston and 2nd grade teacher Rachel Rosenberg, attended the Summit in Denver to present and workshop their idea.

While the attitude is often “I don’t have time”, the Health Ambassador Project works to implement small, mindful exercises that promote “a healthier, happier, and more productive school culture”, says Kalpana. At the Teach to Lead Summit, she was able to share her unique idea with other teachers from around the nation. She said creating a 7 minute pitch as well as 30, 60, and 90 day plans was hugely beneficial to selling and implementing her project back in DC. “It was an amazing experience. While I already had some strategies, thanks to Leading Educators, I got tons of helpful feedback from other participants that will strengthen my project. I recognize that I now have a platform [Teach to Lead] to raise my voice and spread awareness.” When describing the experience, Kalpana reminisces about, “getting lost for hours in planning and research with crucial friends who really believe in and support the work.”

Kalpana (left) photographed with her colleagues Rachel and Justin at the Teach to Lead summit in Denver in early January 2015.

Now that she has returned from the Summit, Kalpana is excited to roll up her sleeves and begin large-scale implementation. While her health ambassador team is entirely composed of Brightwood staff at this time, the vision is to eventually engage parents and students as well. And while Kalpana would like to see the program succeed at her own school first, she is starting to devise plans to expand the sphere of influence across the district. She noted that after conducting a yoga session at Seaton Elementary School last semester, she already has their leadership signed on as a potential expansion school. Her whole team is very excited about spreading this work and has begun to identify grant opportunities and secure speakers to expand the scope and level of prestige surrounding the project. We look forward to seeing the results.