By Karen Vogelsang, the 2014-15 Tennessee Teacher of the Year. Karen currently teaches fourth grade at Riverwood Elementary in Shelby County.
What do you get when you bring together 100 amazing educators from across the state? A room that’s buzzing with conversations and filled with an energy you wouldn’t believe – and that’s what happened last month for the first convening of ECET2 in Tennessee.
ECET2 stands for Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching. Last year, several educators from Tennessee were privileged to attend the ECET2 convening in New Orleans. It was an amazing learning experience worthy of educational dignitaries, and by the end of our first day we were paraded down Canal Street to our dinner location – and it wasn’t even Mardi Gras! As the beat of the drums from the incredible high school marching band guided us, I could hear voices from the side of the street yelling, “Who are you? What parade are you with?” When we told them we were teachers, they kept cheering; they didn’t walk away! All I could think was that every teacher deserves to be celebrated like this. So with that focus in mind, several of us got together and agreed that we would bring ECET2 to Tennessee and celebrate as many teachers as we could.
Why does a convening like this make a difference for teachers? Too often teachers face challenges such as declining morale, feelings of isolation, and frustration about their next steps in the field. ECET2 addresses those challenges by bringing teacher leaders together to design ways to solve those problems. As a result, the convenings help teachers boost their leadership skills and learn about best practices, and most of all, teachers leave feeling re-energized to effect positive change when they return to their classrooms.
As Lisa Choate, a middle school math teacher, shared in her post-convening reflection,
“There is nothing better than being in a room filled with people who are passionate about the same things you are passionate about.”
We received a grant that allowed us to celebrate 100 rockstar teachers with all-expenses paid in Nashville. The theme of our convening was Grow, Connect, Lead. We wanted to give teachers choices about sessions that would help them grow. But more than that, we wanted the teachers to be able to make new connections with other like-minded teachers.
Today, more than ever, teachers want to know their voices matter. One of the unique sessions that ECET2TN offered was the legislative panel with Tennessee Representatives John DeBerry and Mark White. This was new, exciting experience for many of the teachers that attended. LaRita Mitchell said it best: “It’s nice to know that the concerns you are facing are the same concerns that other teachers are facing in other parts of the state.”
A host of partners supported our vision for celebrating Tennessee’s teachers, and none of this would have been possible without support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Arabella Advisors, NewVenture Fund, Hope Street Group, SCORE, Tennesseans for Student Success, Go Noodle and WatchKnowLearn! But most of all, the thanks goes to the rockstar team of teachers who worked with me to make this happen: Brian Moffitt, Mallory Hubbell, Luanne Pyron, and Lisa Choate.
As Brian said, “Teaching isn’t an ad in the paper that you answer – it’s a calling.” I think our team met the calling for the first ECET2TN convening. Teachers walked away feeling not only elevated and celebrated, but empowered too. We have new teams of teachers that want to bring ECET2TN to their regions, so we have passed the torch in hopes of keeping the flame of teacher celebration burning.