Early on in my teaching career I was content to close my door and do my best to create amazing experiences for my students. I did not pay much attention to what happened in Columbia. I didn't really know what advocacy was or how I could make a difference outside of my school. In 2005, I was fortunate to be selected as Carolina Forest High School's first Teacher Cadet instructor. The following year I was elected to The Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention, and Advancement's (CERRA's) Advisory Board. This provided me with opportunities to learn about teacher advocacy and leadership. In 2011, I went to work full-time at CERRA and began learning just how important it was for all of us to find our voices and use them. Finding your voice can be intimidating. For some, it may feel easier to let others stand up for the profession. That was my attitude early on in my career, but as I gained more confidence and discovered areas of expertise and passion, I was able to begin advocating for change. At first, it was simply a willingness to lead professional learning and discuss issues with my administrative team. It then became writing letters to legislators and OP/ED pieces for the local paper. My voice didn't always have the impact I wanted, but sometimes it did, and those victories meant better working conditions for my colleagues and me. For example, our school used to have time-consuming end-of-year procedures that were unnecessarily cumbersome. As a member of the Principal's Cabinet, I recommended changes that vastly cut down on the amount of time and effort this process took. At the state level, I began familiarizing myself with legislation, reaching out to legislators, and connecting with educators who were fighting for the same things. Advocacy work CAN be done alone. You don't need to wait on anyone's permission, but our voices are stronger when we speak collectively. That is why The SCEA wants YOU to work with us to not only find your voice, but use it together with thousands of other South Carolina educators so we can build the power needed to facilitate true change. There are myriad ways for you to lead. You don't have to take on everything by yourself. Download The NEA's Teacher Leadership Competencies below and look for areas where you can grow as a leader. Equip yourself with knowledge, resources, and allies. Then go LEAD! Start a blog, podcast, or website. Build a transformational professional learning session. Create a Facebook Group around your area or find one and join it. Get outside of the four walls of your classroom. Start thinking about how you can create systemic change.
During my time at CERRA, I met Teachers of the Year from all across South Carolina. Many of them found their voices during that process. I was fortunate to meet Pete Stone a couple of years ago, and he is a shining example of a teacher who has truly found his voice and uses it to improve his profession. Check out his video below. When you're done, consider how your voice can contribute to creating the kind of schools our students deserve.