Pam Reilly, IEA Member and 2013-14 Teacher of the Year
Pam Reilly, IEA Member and 2013-14 Teacher of the Year

Hello, I’m Pam Reilly, a teacher from Sandwich. I have spent the last year touring schools in Illinois, interviewing fellow educators and students about teacher leaders and strong schools that support them.

Now, I want to share those stories with you so that we all might have a chance to learn from each other.

This opportunity came to me after I was chosen to be Illinois’ teacher of the year for the 2013-14 school year. And, my interest in teacher leaders was born in an unlikely place – The U.S. Department of Education. It’s true.

I rolled up to the Department of Education in Washington D.C. in a tour bus with the other National State Teachers of the Year in March. We were all excited to finally be invited into the mystery building we have all heard about where U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan works.

We walked in the front door and we were directed to place our bags on the conveyor belt, our ID’s were checked twice, we were sniffed by a dog and they did a body wand on each of us. Let me tell you, our

Department of Education is secure — no information will be leaked. After all of this, we were in and we were pretty excited.

When we arrived in the library, we had our picture taken by the DoE emblem to prove that we indeed had made it in.

I am going to admit that I had misconceptions about this meeting. I had envisioned a stuffy meeting with people who hadn’t set foot in a classroom in years.
We were going to have to listen to them drone on about new policies.

Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. We were welcomed and applauded by “them” when we came in. “They” were real teachers who were the current teacher ambassadors working at the DoE on our behalf.

Since 2008, teacher ambassador fellows have been invited to help provide Secretary Duncan and his staff with invaluable feedback because they can contribute their classroom expertise to the national dialogue.

The ambassadors spend one year at the DoE and then they return to their classrooms and a new batch of ambassadors comes in. Any teacher can apply.

They wanted to get our feedback on a new initiative that Duncan was releasing at the end of the month to the nation.

The initiative was called “Teach to Lead.” I was thinking:

  • “How is this any different from what we are already doing in our schools?”
  • “They expect teachers to add something else onto their already busy schedules?”
  • “Pam, be open minded, they’ve invited you here so listen!”

They gave us documents related to the initiative to look over. Working in regional groups, we had 10 minutes to read them and then write on the document anything we were thinking or feeling as we were reading it, positive or negative.

After 10 minutes, we had 30 seconds to comment on our initial positive thoughts. Then, we were given 30

seconds to note what we felt needed improvement. During the final 30 seconds we were able to brainstorm solutions to problems we saw.

The meeting was run like a well-oiled machine — no time for idle chit chat – we got down to business and accomplished a lot!

teach to leadThe Teach to Lead Initiative was introduced to educators in March. Below is a basic overview:

  1. Teach to Lead is an initiative of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the U.S. Department of Education to advance student outcomes by expanding opportunities for teacher leadership, particularly those that allow teachers to stay in the classroom.
  2. The initiative seeks to highlight existing state and district systems that are working to support teacher leadership; share resources to create new opportunities for teacher leadership; and encourage people at all levels to commit to expanding teacher leadership. To create systemic and sustainable change, Teach to Lead involves stakeholders at every level of education and is informed and driven by teacher voice.

I was focused on the second step above; I wanted and needed to find out what this was. I wanted to seek and highlight existing state and district systems that were already in place in Illinois.

I have been visiting buildings that have made real changes in schools and districts through teacher leadership. It has been eye opening and I’ve never been more proud to be a teacher in Illinois.

I will be highlighting schools, programs and ideas in this monthly newsletter to help us learn from each other. When I am visiting schools, I interview the principals, teachers and students. These visits aren’t a drive through; I am there to learn about their challenges and successes so that we can learn from them.

I’m grateful that so many schools have opened their doors to share their initiatives. I hope that highlighting schools with teacher leadership models, initiatives and programs will inspire us to make changes in our own schools across Illinois to elevate our profession and improve student learning.

Yours for Better Schools,
Pam Reilly
teachersleadingillinois@gmail.com