Summer of Growth

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Arkansas Teacher Corps staff and PLC leaders, fall 2014

On Saturday, we wrapped up the Arkansas Teacher Corps 2018 Summer Institute and honored the 23 Fellows who successfully completed the “teacher bootcamp”. This was an amazing time of community, celebration, and reflection that has left me feeling both nostalgic and excited. For me, institutes have marked periods of change and growth within my life over the last several years, and this one (my sixth!) has been no different.

Six years ago, I graduated from WashU and moved back to Arkansas to teach high school biology in Helena-West Helena through Teach For America. During Institute in Cleveland, MS I befriended Sana Saiyed through our collective misery of 6am bus rides, shared enthusiasm for teaching summer school science, and mutual obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sana would not only accompany me to HWH and teach in the classroom right next door, she would become one of my closest friends and future “groom’s crew” member.

Four years ago, knowing that I would be moving into a leadership position at my school as the 7-12 science instructional coach, I decided to apply for a position with the Arkansas Teacher Corps as a summer mentor. Luckily for me (and probably unsurprising to all), the detail, organization, and most-likely color-coding of my unit plans impressed Caroline Lampinen (then the director of teacher development) enough to hire me! That summer involved a lot of late night staff meetings, last-minute workshop planning, and some extremely personally beneficial conversations about the balance between warmth and competence. Caroline was not only someone who intrinsically understood me (a rarity in my experiences) but also someone who cared for me deeply enough to say the difficult things I always needed to hear. After that summer, I would stay on with ATC, first as a science PLC leader (see pic above), then as a part-time PD planner/facilitator/jack-of-all-trades.

Two years ago, I graduated from Arkansas Tech University with a M.Ed. in Educational Leadership after successful completion of the LEAD21 program. Having gone back to the classroom for a year and picked up an additional certification in secondary math, I had come to realize that, although I loved and thrived in the classroom, my true passion and conviction lie with the larger educational systems that shaped and controlled classroom teachers’ (and thereby students’) experiences…and thanks to the mentorship by Dr. Christopher Trombly in the realms of instructional leadership and organizational change, I finally had the skills to do so.

I joined ATC as a full-time staff member to continue the work as Director of Teacher Development in coordinating the learning experiences of ATC Fellows from Institute throughout their three years. Part of that transition meant co-directing the 2016 Summer Institute with Sarah Baver, someone who came to fundamentally shape my understanding of empathy, justice, and community. Through her whole-hearted dedication to transformational coaching, Sarah continually inspired me to cultivate my own vulnerability and to embrace others exactly as they are — two “skills” that have helped make me the leader I am today.

This year, Institute 2018 has been a moment for me of empowering others, of cultivating collaboration and resiliency, of intentionally challenging myself to share leadership, and of learning to accept the beauty of imperfection. This Institute was a huge success due to the amazing leadership of logistics director Sarah McNeal Sutton; mentors Brittney Garcia, Kayla Ashlee Bryant, Kanesha Barnes-Adams, Kendra Ide; intern Darrah Maxfield; facilitators Rachel Cole, Nyia Dykes, Marcus Luther, Amber Nelson, Jessica Enderlin, Matt Caston. I am beyond grateful to have had these people on my team, and I am forever humbled by the commitment, tenacity, and perseverance you all demonstrated this summer.

This summer has also been a time of transition and uncertainty with the departure of two staff members and the hiring of three more…but as always uncertainty gives way to possibility, and possibility grows into opportunity. Not only have we hired two new teacher coaches for the largest full-time coaching staff to date, but our new coaches come to us with a wealth of knowledge and experience — two people we are so fortunate to have join our team!

I am also excited to say that I have accepted the position of Executive Director of the Arkansas Teacher Corps beginning July 23, and I’m so thrilled to be continuing this work with such an amazing program! We stand on the shoulders of those who come before us, and I’m honored to carry the legacy started by Dr. Gary Ritter, Benton Brown, and Shelley Aschliman. I look forward to maintaining the momentum of our small organization and working diligently to cultivate new partnerships, strengthen staffing pipelines, and empower Fellows and staff alike as excellent, equitable educators for Arkansas students who need them the most.

Here’s to the next phase of our ATC Family!