By New York Fellow Robert Messia
It’s inevitable: you return from a professional development meeting with loads of energy, great ideas, PowerPoints - and a pile of work that needs to be done. Before long the energy slags, the ideas fade, the PowerPoints become coffee-stained, and there’s always more work - ever more work - to attend to. And solutions that might have seemed so easy to implement in an institute setting you find don’t translate to application in the real world.
What if what used to be inevitable could become the exception?
If you can imagine instead being inspired by the energy of colleagues, collaborating with some of the best educators on ideas that are relevant to you, and finding yourself using the knowledge you gained in nearly all the work that you do on a daily basis, you just might have a sense of my experience at the New York Educator Voice Fellowship Institute held in Albany, NY this summer.
This immersive professional development experience embodied, in my estimation, the work of America Achieves through four key characteristics: engagement, democracy, practicality, and inspiration. It furthermore modeled immediate application of the work each fellow has committed to fulfill.
Fellows heard from some of the most influential policymakers and thought leaders in the area of education, all with the goal of becoming more informed on the most critical issues of our field: improving equity and access, advancing the teaching profession, accountability and academic standards. Then each presenter heard from the fellows by asking questions, seeking to understand our perspectives, connect their work to ours and identify new ways to connect more broadly with the field of practicing educators.
Through the intimacy of small group interactions, fellows find themselves in a trusting, civil, and supportive environment. Every voice in the room was heard, every opinion valued, every counterpoint weighed. But even more revealing was that rarely was there a quiet break. Rather, fellows would continue conversations about the topics being presented and brainstorming ways they could connect this information to their classrooms and schools or better communicate important research to the right stakeholders or constituents.
If my copies of slides have stains on them, it’s because I’ve shared them with anyone who’d listen. Notes, video clips, ideas, and quotes have all found their way into my plans for sharing resources with colleagues and with the entire school community. This information will make my school a better place for students and will make me a better principal to support their learning. However, just sharing the information itself isn’t enough; I will be putting into action professional development activities with teachers in my school to help us engage more voices in our school and in community leadership.
One can’t help but feel inspired having been surrounded by educators who model the best of what the profession of teaching should be all about. I am as excited for the work ahead, to elevate conversations about empowering educators to support student learning, and to share this good work with those who make education policy for our state as I was on the first day of the institute.
I am humbled to be a member of the fellowship, to benefit from the expertise of the presenters at the institute and to engage more broadly with policymakers around what can make all of our schools and classrooms even more powerful agents of change for the benefit of all students.
Robert Messia is principal of Algonquin Middle School in Averill Park, NY, a role he has served in since 2011. He is a former social studies teacher, curriculum leader and staff developer. Robert is a New York Educator Voice Fellow with America Achieves.