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What I learned: Using teacher leadership experiences to empower others

The Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership is a program to develop high-quality teacher leaders focused on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Members of the program share their reflections this week in the "What I Learned" series.

My Kenan Fellowship has allowed me to grow as a leader in several different facets, but if I had to narrow it down to two areas, they would be grant writing and providing professional development.

One requirement of the Kenan Fellowship Program for Teacher Leadership is that fellows are expected to share about their experience/externship at a STEM-related conference such as the NC Council of Teachers of Mathematics or NC Science Teachers Association. Prior to my Kenan Fellowship, I only presented on the district-level; it was something that I found nerve-wracking and luckily, it was grade-specific with a small group of teachers.  

During my Kenan Fellowship, they provided fellows with professional development (PD) on the ins and outs of conducting PD, from how to create a speaking proposal to ways to conduct engaging PD that would capture our audience’s attention. If it was not for the expectation to present about our Kenan experience, I might not have had the confidence to present at state-level and national-level conferences. Since my Kenan Fellowship in 2012, I have presented at the NC Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NC Science Teachers Association, NC Central University, NC Association of Educators, NC Association of Elementary Educators, SAS Elementary Math Summit, and National Science Teacher Association Conferences.

During my Kenan Fellowship, we also learned how to write a successful grant proposal. Just like providing professional development, writing grants is something I had dabbled in but did not truly embody until my Kenan Fellowship. With the exception of submitting DonorsChoose proposals, I did not have any grant writing experience.

We were provided with tips and strategies on how to write a successful grant proposal. I used this knowledge and started small by submitting additional DonorsChoose Proposals.  To date I have had more than 50 projects funded. After feeling successful with DonorsChoose, I branched out and started writing mini-grants that ranged from $700 – $3,500 and have received quite a few grants from the NC Council of Teachers of Mathematics, NC Science Teachers Association, Toshiba America Foundation, NC Farm Bureau, Dollar General, Target, Education Blueprint, Raytheon Engineering is Elementary, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund PRISM Grant.

I have also received three prestigious grants: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Emerging Teacher-Leaders in Elementary School Mathematics Grant for $6,000, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Future Leader Initial Annual Meeting Attendance Award, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Science and Mathematics Teachers for a $175,000 grant.  Not only have these grants benefited my classroom and myself, they have made a significant contribution to my school as well.

I have been able to use my experiences with grant writing and conducting professional development to encourage teachers to seek out opportunities for themselves. Such support includes encouraging teachers to apply for a Kenan Fellowship, using grant funds so that teachers can attend and possibly conduct PD, and sharing materials with them. For teachers who are reluctant to conduct professional development, I encourage them to think about ways to share their expertise in other areas such as online forums or during educational Twitter chats.  To this day, I am very thankful for all of the opportunities the Kenan Fellowship provided which is why I help read applications for future cohorts and serve on the Editorial Board of the journal.

Teacher leadership can be found in many forms, and I use mine to encourage and empower others. My Kenan Fellowship helped me grow as a teacher leader because it has provided me with the wherewithal to not only seek out professional development, but also provide professional development and create successful grant proposals.  

The Kenan Fellows Program has a saying, “Once a Kenan Fellow, always a Kenan Fellow,” and they are constantly providing support and opportunities for present and alumni members.

Tomika Altman-Lewis

Tomika Altman-Lewis is an educator with 14 years of experience ranging from Kindergarten to Twelfth grade and teaching a variety of subjects from gifted education to Family and Consumer Sciences.  She recently matriculated to Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools where she teaches ELA and Science in the 5th Grade LEAP Program for Highly Gifted Students. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships such as Kenan Fellow, NC Science Leadership Association Fellow, NGSS/NSTA K-2 Engineering Curator, and Burroughs Wellcome Fund Career Award for Mathematics and Science Teachers.