Getting my Master’s degree has always been a “bucket list” item for me. I had pursued other programs before and life would through a curve, like a new baby, to change my path. Finally, two years ago I made the decision that this was the time to complete the work I had begun. As life usually has it, the focus I had first started my degree in was not where I saw my career going now. I am fortunate to have been a teacher leader in my building for several years and seeing the Teacher Leadership Master in Education degree offered I knew was exactly what I wanted to do. I knew that pursuing leadership in education was my goal and that eventually I could see that taking me to be a principal. However, when I embarked on this journey it was to move on to being an instructional coach or other teacher leadership position at the district level. Little did I know how much things would change and progress in two years as a result of this program.
The Teacher Leadership degree is based on the twelve Teacher Leadership standards. In order to meet these standards I, along with my cohort of ten other Lake Washington School District teachers, took courses broken down into a few key categories: Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment; Teacher/Educational Leadership; and Research. Imbedded throughout the program is an emphasis on reflective practice and collaboration with peers.
In our Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment courses I learned the backwards design model of planning instructional units. Beginning with the CCSS and moving from there to learning targets, aligned assessments, and then to planning lessons has transformed the way I go about my daily lesson planning. I also learned new technology resources which enhance and expand both my teaching and my students’ engagement and learning. Perhaps the most applicable learning occurred in our instructional strategies class. That learning has changed me as a teacher and made my classroom a much more vibrant and active place. I also was able to take that learning to my staff by collaborating with a cohort member who is also in my building. We designed and presented a professional development on instructional strategies which the staff could immediately take back to their classrooms and implement. In order to make that professional development tailored to them, we conducted a survey and did some action research to ascertain their needs. These were skills we learned in our research courses.
The research portion of our program was difficult, but extremely rewarding. Through a series of courses we learned to analyze research and determine validity of sources. We recognized primary, secondary, and peer reviewed work. We then had the opportunity to apply that knowledge to action research projects in our own classrooms and schools. My action research project in my classroom centered on student engagement, specifically during classroom and peer discussion time. As a result of my work I saw an increase from 70% actively engaged to 97% actively engaged during the given time period. This type of learning and application is not a one-time event. These are key areas of professional growth that will forever change how I teach and will continue to benefit my students for years to come.
The final category of classes, Teacher/Educational Leadership, were the ones which have transformed me and my future in education. Learning my personality and leadership styles taught me that I have a very high leadership disposition. Attending seminars with educational leaders from around the Puget Sound and hearing the work that is happening in districts as a result of teacher and educational leaders applying theory into practice was inspiring. Analyzing and writing about my school programs, demographics, continuous improvement plan, discipline policies, students, and their families made me realize that my heart and passion extend beyond the classroom and really encompass the entire school community. It was through these courses that I decided my pursuit of education would not end with the completion of my Master’s degree, but would continue to complete my principal certificate as well.
Throughout this program there has been an underlying theme of reflective practice and collaboration with peers. Our cohort has been one of the best parts of this program. This diverse group of amazing teachers has both challenged and inspired me. Presenting my work to them is always an honor and one that is met with honest and respectful feedback. Through our Capstone course I have continued to be inspired at the depth of knowledge and reflection that they have put into their work. I am incredibly lucky to have learned and grown alongside them. My own reflective practice has also grown during this process. Through writing, blogging, tweeting, journaling, and other means we have tracked our learning and progress. Capstone has given me the opportunity to go back and read and reflect on this amazing journey. I have cringed at my initial writings, feeling like they were juvenile and unpolished. However, they were real and honest. Through the process my writing improved as my depth and breadth of knowledge deepened. I am especially proud of the APA style paper I wrote for Dr. Alsbury in Leadership in Education and of my CIP submitted to Dr. Bond in Engaging Communities which was chosen as an exemplar for future classes.
So, I have checked off a “bucket list” item. I have completed something that no one else in my family has. Yet, more than that I have set an example for my own children and my students that there is no age to learning. The goal really is life-long learning and I am very proud that I have been able to model that for them. While this is an end to my Master’s program, I am not done learning. I am continuing on to finish my principal certificate and will be completing my administrative internship in the 2015-16 school year. Hopefully, the start of the 2016-17 will find me as the principal of a school, ready to begin the next chapter and adventure in my career in education.