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A teacher’s summer: The power of empowered educators

My third and final educational escapade has come to an end. I ventured on a cross-country trip to Seattle to collaborate with approximately 400 other educators from across the nation.

Here is my first article about leading professional development.

Here is my second article about space camp.

ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers) is a conference run by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that is a convening for teachers, by teachers. All the keynotes and all the sessions were run to benefit teachers, and they were organized and led by teachers. This grassroots organization is a movement that is sweeping the nation, with regional ECET2 experiences in places like Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Walking into the huge Sheraton ballroom was intimidating — hundreds of powerhouse teachers, many of whom I followed on Twitter, just intermingling before my eyes like they had all grown up together in the same neighborhood. I desperately searched for familiar faces in between deep sips of my free-event-provided coffee.

Each night we had a keynote speaker. This keynote speaker was a teacher. Let me tell you, these teachers who gave keynote addresses were better than other keynotes I’ve heard at professional development conferences. I was blown away by their eloquence, their stories, their charge to every other educator in the room to be the best and to push students to excellence. It’s so inspiring to hear other educators define their teaching philosophies and provide real life examples of what happens in their day-to-day classroom lives.

Between keynotes and sessions and delicious food at every turn, we were put into table groups called colleague circles. These circles included people from all over the country, teaching various grade levels, and what we did in those circles was problem-solve. We all discussed problems we’ve seen in our schools and we searched for solutions, asking questions of one another and listening closely. Doing this was so powerful and inspiring and is something I hope to take back to my school and district.

Along with colleague circles, there were moments of down time that we could spend however we desired. This time was incredibly valuable to me as I was able to get to know other educators better and bounce ideas off of those folks in an informal yet solution-focused setting. My colleague circle member Jamie and I ended up being pretty inseparable most of the weekend, as we both shared a love for color coding notes with felt tip pens and a love for working with ESL students.



I’ve just finished my sixth week of school and my principal asked us a few weeks ago at our early release day meeting why professional development is important to us.

Professional development is important because as a teacher, I need to constantly learn; if I’m not learning, then I’m not growing, and I want to grow so I can be the best teacher for each of those kids who walk through my door. Every year I get a different group of kids, and every year those kids are different than the ones I had the year before. Our world is changing, and so are our kids — professional development needs to recognize that and adapt accordingly.

Last summer, I published an article on my blog detailing why I hate professional development.

I suppose this probably sounds strange coming from an educator who basically lived professional development for her entire summer, but my summer PD experiences greatly exceeded the standard PD that is given and received at many local levels. I learned about these opportunities through others I’ve had, and as my network has grown, so has my knowledge of solid professional development opportunities. The Kenan Fellows Program opened many doors for me professionally, and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching offers great professional learning workshops in both the mountains and the coast. Educational Twitter chats are also good places to learn about new learning opportunities across the state and nation.

Professional development should be tiered and tailored to a staff; it should be rooted in research-based practices. Professional development should offer choice and empower educators to share what they know with their peers. This is the kind of professional development that is important to me, not the “sit-and-get-let’s-go-over-this-PowerPoint” type of professional development — that isn’t professional development. When I feel as though my choices are thwarted, then I need to do what is best for me as a teacher and move.

Professional development is important because it ultimately affects our students. Growing as a teaching professional is important, but what you take away from PD will directly impact the kids sitting at desks or on the carpets of your classrooms. It is imperative that we take back what we learn from our PD sessions so that we can see not just our own growth, but also the growth of our students.

Professional development should be important to you as an educator because your students depend on you being your best so they can give you their best.

Allison Redden

Allison Redden (formerly Stewart) works as an education research analyst with RTI International’s Center for Education Services (CES). A former public school educator in the Triangle, Allison participated in several teacher leadership programs in North Carolina, including the Kenan Fellowship and the Education Policy Fellowship Program. She was the Public School Forum’s Beginning Teacher Leadership Network Coordinator for Wake County before moving to Tennessee to pursue her Master of Public Policy at Vanderbilt, specializing in K-12 Education Policy. She is interested in engaging in conversations and actions to advance equity, while navigating the intersections of education, economics, and policy. Redden is a proud product of North Carolina public schools, from Cabarrus County Schools to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.