Being the Change, thanks to Center for Inspired Teaching

 May 18, 2016

(Photo credit: Center for Inspired Teaching)

This piece was written by Jennifer Brown, an 11th/12th grade social studies teacher at Roosevelt STAY High School (DCPS) and a 2014 Teacher Leader in Inspired Teaching’s BLISS: Building Literacy in the Social Studies program. Jennifer is finishing her third year at Roosevelt STAY High School, one of the District’s alternative public high schools for adult students. She is the 2016 recipient of the Senior Division Patricia Behring Teacher for the District of Columbia. Jennifer’s biggest passion, aside from working with her students, is educating others about Fair Trade products and advocating for the end of slave and child labor.

“If you are not invited to the table, then make your own table” These remarkable words, spoken by Arne Duncan, have stuck with me ever since hearing them at the Teaching and Learning Conference in the spring of 2015. At that point, I was a BLISS Teacher Leader and had completed nearly a year of professional development and coaching, thanks to Center for Inspired Teaching. Had I encountered the former Secretary of Education’s speech just a year prior, before joining BLISS, I would have snorted at the seeming absurdity that I could make any impact in my school, let alone my school district.

The 2013-14 school year was rough for me, to say the least. It was my first year teaching full-time in the US. I was teaching six different preps that year and was assigned to chair my school’s Student Activities Committee. It was a year of no sleep, multiple breakdowns, and feelings of failure, and I was almost ready to give up by the end of that year. As a last-ditch attempt to revitalize my enthusiasm for teaching, I signed up to be a BLISS Teacher Leader that summer. I thought I was signing up for curriculum development, but what I got was so much more.

Through a series of thought-provoking discussions and exercises that challenged my thinking, BLISS revolutionized my classroom pedagogy. It wasn’t only my teaching that changed; it was also my learned ability to speak up for teachers at my school and to get more involved in my school district. Center for Inspired Teaching taught me that we can all be “changemakers,” and that being a changemaker can be as simple as taking your ideas and doing something with them instead of only complaining about problems in the teachers’ lounge.

At last month’s Chocolate Inspiration gala, which celebrated Inspired Teaching’s 20th Anniversary, I had the opportunity to share with some attendees how my life has become so much more exciting since becoming a changemaker. I told them, as one example, about the informal mentorship program for new social studies teachers in the District that I started after realizing that many new teachers were leaving due to lack of support from their colleagues. Without Center for Inspired Teaching, I would still be pondering the what if’s instead of focusing on how can I change it.

Next year, as I begin my new position as a Teacher Leader at my school, I will try to spread the positive and action-taking mentality that Center for Inspired Teaching instilled in me. It is time for teachers to start being the change they want to see.

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