Capacity Building: My ECET2 Experience
I want them to know how remarkable they are. I have always been very clear about my main goal as an educator, and I take achieving it seriously. I strive to instill a confidence in my students that they might not have had when they first entered my classroom: a confidence that allows them to achieve their goals, take on whatever the world throws at them with tenacity and grace, and inspire others to do the same.
Similar to my students’ experience on the first day of 6th grade, I was walking in to a situation that was simultaneously exhilarating and petrifying. A year and a half ago I found myself face-to-face with 300 of the brightest and most effective teachers from around the country. Palms sweaty, proverbial butterflies in my stomach, I was riddled with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. I was an imposter, and my only hope was that the sham look of confidence on my face was enough to get me by. Being invited to attend the national ECET2 convening (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) in Snowbird, Utah was the opportunity of a lifetime. I entered the room with the mindset that I had nothing to share, but absolutely everything to gain; that in itself was enough to silence the inner-voice that whispered sentiments of insecurity. I had to use this opportunity to become better.
My students crave the opportunity to be helpful. They thrive on feeling respected for both their thoughts and their unique strengths. When they experience this, it is then that they truly lend themselves to the often frightening process of identifying weaknesses and begin, with my help, the work to fill the gaps. As an adult, my approach was quite the opposite. I’m a reflective person, perhaps with a pessimistic flair, and I have no trouble identifying the areas in which I need to improve as an educator. Armed with this knowledge, I was prepared to step into the role of student, and learn from the experts around me at ECET2. I took pages upon pages of notes on using social media to engage students and amp up learning the in classroom. I learned about ways to seamlessly integrate literacy skills into history, math, and science. I tweeted as fast as my little thumbs could — dozens of inspiring sound-bites spoken by the teachers leading each breakout session. Tears streamed down my face listening to keynote speakers tell heart wrenching stories of just how much of an impact each and every one of their students has on their lives. “Me too,” I mouthed as one speaker described how each year he tells his elementary students that if they invite him, he’ll be there cheering them on when they walk across the stage years later to collect their high school diplomas. In that moment I realized that I did belong in that space and that space, in fact, was exactly where I needed to be. Yes, I had fewer years of experience than many teachers there, but honestly that mattered very little. The feeling was palpable; at ECET2 we were all connected by our passion to do what’s best for kids. Everyone in that room was committed to both building relationships with the students we see every day and providing them with the best instruction possible.
Over the next few days my outlook changed. I felt comfortable and even more self-assured knowing I was among peers. The sham look of confidence I had worn the previous day slowly turned into something more genuine. I starting taking fewer notes and instead began to focus on engaging in conversations with those around me. It’s those conversations, and the relationships that were built, many of which I still rely on today, that helped me grow. The bottom line is this: when educators experience authentic teacher-to-teacher collaboration and teacher-led professional learning, more kids succeed.
They are probably some of my favorite moments of being a teacher. Those moments when I see my students transition from learner to leader. Where skill proficiency leads to confidence, and my students are ready to share their knowledge and understanding with anyone who’ll listen. On the last day of ECET2 Snowbird I was a new and better me. My head was spinning with ideas and resources; I couldn’t wait to get back in the classroom. On top of that, I felt honored and respected as a professional, thoughts and opinions heard. I felt helpful. In that moment I came to a conclusion that would never have crossed my mind three days prior, had I not been empowered by the unforgettable teachers at the convening and inspired by the core principles and values of the ECET2 movement.
I was ready to share with anyone who would listen. The Seattle area is not lacking in amazing educators who are passionate about what they do. I learn from and am inspired by these educators on a day to day basis; in my building, in my district, in the greater Puget Sound region. With the determination to spread the ECET2 experience to teachers in my home network, along with the time and effort of amazing teacher leaders who hopped on this journey with me throughout the planning process, ECET2 Puget Sound was born. Last November, over 100 local teachers were elevated and celebrated at the first regional convening with over 100 new teachers doing so again this August.
Although the setting and attendees differ each time, some things will always stay the same: teachers are dedicated to making a difference in kids’ lives. Through ECET2, thousands of teachers across the country are given the opportunity to collaborate with each other through meaningful teacher-to-teacher professional learning. The relationships built are collaborative and long lasting. After an ECET2 event, teachers walk away with much more than the acquisition of new teaching strategies and a handful of useful resources. I walked away with a network of educators who have helped me develop a capacity for leadership within myself that I never knew I was capable of. I walked away a more confident person.
I have remarkable students. I know this even before they step foot in my room. Through authentic learning experiences, meaningful collaboration, and the utmost emphasis on the relationships I build with them, by the time they leave my room on that last day in June, they know it too.