#PracticeMakesPossible: What I Learned at the Leading Educators Institute

Raye Wood is a teacher leader at Burton Elementary School in Greater Grand Rapids.  She is entering her thirteenth year in the classroom, and she completed her Doctorate of Education last spring.  She is a huge advocate for amplifying teacher voice and often blogs about her experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Wow.  Where do I begin?  How can I share with you—through mere words—the energy, the passion and the thirst for change that was the Leading Educators Institute?

I am changed in a way that I did not realize I could still be changed, and I expect that I will be forever grateful.  I’ve been in the classroom for twelve years, and I am hardly new to professional learning. But in just a few short days, I experienced a new kind of learning  that challenged my perspective, changed my expectations, and validated what I know our students need. How amazing is that?

My school was part of the first Leading Educators cohort from greater Grand Rapids.  Having finished my first year at our school as well as the intense process of writing a doctoral dissertation, I joined our school team this spring and attended LEI with the new cohort.  So, there I was with a group of people, many of whom I had never met, walking into four absolutely life-changing days. This group of new friends validated the beliefs I hold and walk with daily, they challenged some of those beliefs with great care, and they helped me stretch my perspective and ways of thinking. Because of them, I am more reflective, more passionate, and even more dedicated to the work I do every day.  Every teacher deserves that gift.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Because my colleagues began leading Leading Educators’ model of content learning and practice at our school last year, I came into the week with the experience of a teacher who has seen the end result of LEI first-hand.  Though, I had already experienced Content Cycle protocols and workshops last year, I gained a deep appreciation for the work having experienced the planning process at LEI.  Everything I was unclear about before burst forth in one large A-HA moment. That in and of itself is powerful. Now, as a “Lead Learner”, I can’t wait to use my content knowledge and passion alongside my colleagues to make our school more equitable for every single child who enters our doors.

  • We had some absolutely amazing guest speakers.  At times, I was moved to tears (in my eyes as well as on my cheeks if we are being totally honest) because I see the mistakes so many of us have made with the best of intentions. I often say, “You don't know what you don't know.”  And LEI showcased some of that. Our keynote speakers admitted to having made mistakes because we all do. Imagine standing before an entire room of educators and admitting that you helped perpetuate false narratives around students of color. That takes serious heart and vulnerability, and it pushed all of us to own our impact.  Dr. GT Reyes noted that you don't have to be the teacher of the year to make a difference, and it made my heart sing.

  • On Thursday, we heard from Lacey Robinson from UnboundEd.  To hear her speak in person was amazing. Again, she boldly shared that she know she has messed up.  To admit that in front of a community of teachers who she didn't know was powerful and brave. One quote really stuck with me: “We have to get past what makes us feel good and do what is right by our students.”  

I look back at my first few years of teaching from my current vantage point and I can see the mistakes I was making. At that time, I used the knowledge that I had and did what I thought was right (Leveled library, anyone?). Once you know you are making the wrong moves and you work toward changing them, you are growing. It is when you know you are making wrong moves but you keep doing what you've always done that we have a problem. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to push through that discomfort because it is what will fuel the most important shifts in our practice.

Truly, it's hard for me to fully express how much I appreciate the opportunity to experience LEI in this way. And now when I go back to my school in August as a “Lead Learner”, I'm going to work hard to remember that many of my colleagues don't have the benefit of having the "back story" of the work we are trying to do. I'm going to push for our team to really take a step back for a moment and re-invest ourselves in the bigger picture. To  do our best by students, I fully believe that we have to work together in a way that pushes our thinking, challenges our biases and the false narratives we have inadvertently carried with us, and strive to make education truly equitable for every child regardless of their status, ethnicity, gender, race, welfare, or zip code.

Together, I am certain that we can improve education for all kids.