As a second year teacher applying for the Kenan Fellowship, I was nervous and excited about the potential opportunity that was before me. I remember the application, the interviews, and receiving acceptance, sitting in the principal’s office beaming with my administrative team. I knew I was going to go into an internship experience and have professional development sessions that I would not get elsewhere in my district, but I had no idea what additional opportunities would come into my path as a result of this program.
My initial understanding of teacher leadership simply meant being a school committee chair. I thought that being a leader meant you were in charge of a group of other teachers and able to manage that commitment on top of the commitment of classroom teaching. The Kenan Fellowship showed me that leadership is not just about running committees, but rather has three components that encompass good pedagogy, content knowledge, and advocacy.
With the Kenan Fellowship’s guidance and their strong professional development offerings, I was able to deepen my pedagogical philosophies and practices. The professional institutes covered a multitude of topics, ranging from problem-based learning to flipping your classroom to gamification. Exposure to these topics sparked excitement in me as I yearned to exemplify best teaching practices with my students.
At the professional institutes, I was challenged by my peers in the program, as well as the speakers and panelists. I was able to learn from other teachers across the state and gain valuable insight on how to take risks in my classroom. Even after graduating from the program, I was able to keep a pulse on additional professional learning opportunities and given the chance to lead professional development sessions for the program.
In my time as a Kenan Fellow, I spent my summer working with the North Carolina Science Festival creating space flight curriculum for their library programs. I researched multiple outreach events and groups that specialized in space and flight programming, and met with librarians and library science professors at UNC to talk about the various texts that could be brought into a classroom and used as mentor texts with students ranging from third to sixth grades.
During that time, I simultaneously developed my library curriculum into a nine-week biliteracy science unit for my third graders. That unit of study was an exhilarating whirlwind that opened my mind to the possibilities of what young people can do in classrooms when given freedom paired with high expectations. It was through the Kenan Fellowship that I learned about the Texas Space Grant Consortium’s LiftOff summer program, to which I applied and was accepted. I had the opportunity to continue to build my knowledge of science content by spending a week at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, learning with educators from around the country.
After a professional institute session about education policy and advocacy, I reached out to my district representatives, inviting them to come to my classroom and to talk about school policy. Not long after that, I began attending the Academic Standards Review Commission meetings every month in Raleigh. Because of my interest in this piece of the teacher leadership puzzle, one of the Kenan Fellows directors advised that I look into the Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP). After having some positive representative visits to my classroom and spending some time at the North Carolina General Assembly, I decided to apply. The August after my Kenan Fellows graduation, I began my EPFP journey that would enlighten me on racial equity, school choice, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and more.
I can confidently say that I write this article from my apartment in Nashville, Tennessee because of the Kenan Fellows Program. This past August, I started the Education Policy graduate program at Vanderbilt University.
The Kenan Fellows Program redefined teacher leadership for me three years ago. I learned that teacher leadership is not defined by the number of committees that you run or the number of cute worksheets you can create.
Teacher leadership means that as an educator, you are committed to doing what is best for kids. You advocate for students and their families, seek out learning opportunities that will challenge you, and realize that your growth journey is never complete.