It was about six or seven years ago. I recently completed my master's thesis, and I was tasked with the role of IB PYP Coordinator (International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme). One of my primary responsibilities was to lead the school through the authorization process in addition to coaching teachers, modeling lessons, and myriad other initiatives that were going on at any given time. It was challenging work, but it was rewarding.
I also worked with a principal, Mrs. Rafalski, who valued collaborative and distributed leadership throughout the school, empowering everyone who worked there to make decisions that always put the students first even if it meant going against a particular district mandate. And in that leadership structure, she also brought a level of professionalism that I hadn't experienced prior. She placed articles in our mailboxes and planted seeds for each of us to kick up our practice a notch or two. Staff meetings were never "sit and get" but opportunities to model best practices and encourage teachers to take the lead. And when a couple of us asked for more specific feedback, she answered by collaborating on the design of a rubric with us.
In addition to the professionalism on campus, she also encouraged connections beyond including school visits and conference attendance. The moment that had the most significant impact on me, however, was an Invitation to present with her at the Magnet Schools of America Conference. I felt special and important; that I had something worth saying that people could learn from. This experience spurred me on to submit my thesis to present at a conference in Bulgaria for the following summer and attend other conferences like ASCD. I soon realized that there was a wealth of information and opportunity available to teachers if they take a moment to be open to it.
I never thought I would take on any leadership role, and I didn't think I would be someone who could drive change, but that one invitation opened up a world of possibilities for me that I am sure I would not have come to on my own. Since working with Mrs. Rafalski, I have attended many conferences (presented at a couple) and taken on many leadership roles. But it all came full circle for me last weekend at the ASCD Empower Conference in Boston as I presented a session (to an almost full room) and was recognized as an Emerging Leader for the organization. It was that one invitation many years ago that made all the difference and started me on a new path toward growth and leadership.
Dr. Shana Rafalski makes it her professional mission to grow leaders, and I know I am one of many who accepted her challenge and continues to rise with each new opportunity.
By: Erin Dowd
I am proud to be a member of the following organizations, and I encourage all educators to get involved in some way that incites growth through networking, learning, and ultimately knowing that you aren't alone in the mission to provide all children with a quality education.
- ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
- ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education)
- NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children)