This post is the first of Coffee and Conversation, a new monthly interview series that highlights impactful, interesting work affecting Tennessee education. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How would you define teacher leadership?
Keilani Goggins: I think a teacher leader is someone who contributes to the success of students and the culture of success at their school.
Peter Tang: It’s about teachers expanding their influence. That influence can be in a school building or school district, in state efforts to improve student outcomes, and sometimes even nationally.
Geoff Millener: I think it starts with people who do a job having a voice in how the job is done.
Geoff, the PEF Fellows are very locally focused. What’s the benefit of having that tailored focus with teachers from the same region?
GM: Working at a local level – you see immediately the influence that you can have. You know, Chattanooga has been changing a lot for about three decades and that’s a place where we have to have education voice. Policymakers and influencers are hungry to hear from our teachers.
So, Hope Street is a national organization. Do Hope Street Fellows work with fellows in other states that Hope Street has a presence in?
KG: Yeah, so we have the national fellowship and we have them in four different states – North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Hawaii. It is very state-specific, but they do have the opportunities to work across the state lines, which I think is a selling point for our fellowship. It lets you see, I’m here in Sumner County – but there’s a teacher over in Charlotte, Mecklenburg County dealing with the same things.
When teacher return to their schools or districts do they help foster of a culture of teacher leadership?
PT: One cool thing Keilani does initially with the Hope Street Fellows is talking to their district so the district can understand the value proposition in investing the time to send a teacher to a convening.
GM: Our elementary teachers, our counselors, have been able to build a critical mass around what they are specifically working on that makes translating it back to the school a bit easier.
KG: And the type of work you’re doing is so deep – you’re going to communities – don’t you go to a prison and jail?
GM: Yeah, that’s on the docket. You know we know teachers are asked to do a lot more than teach every day. So getting our fellows involved in housing, in criminal justice, just creating some more conversations between these organizations and groups in the community.
When you’re recruiting from classroom teachers how do you strike that balance of making sure they can excel in the classroom and having a sustainable lifestyle?
PT: Geoff, and Keilani and I are in some ways coaches for the teachers we work with and it’s having those honest conversations – what are you involved in, is this the right time for it, when do you say yes and no?
What’re the most innovative or impactful projects that have been done as part of the fellowship?
KG: One of the things our Shelby County fellows did is they talked to Superintendent Hopson. And he charged them with creating a teacher advisory council for him and his cabinet. They had a half day retreat with the Superintendent and team to talk about compensation models, teacher leader pathways and that work.
PT: In our case, a local community partnership to bring together business people, policymakers, and teachers to say “Let’s have a better conversation. How do we support each other?”
GM: [Fellows] come up with a public-facing, student-centered advocacy project. They are looking at things like more and better early childhood education, teacher preparation and retention, school start times, more racial and socio-economic diversity in our schools. We just didn’t anticipate how this would look along the way, but we are excited to see how it unfolds.
What is your go-to morning pick up beverage? Coffee or Tea?
KG: Mine is coffee. I grind my beans right then, I use a French press. It’s serious business.
PT: Coffee gets me too hyped up. I’m a Trekkie. Captain Picard loves a cup of Earl Grey, and I do the same.
GM: Similar to Peter, caffeine and I don’t agree with each other. It’s a bad mix for anyone involved.
Geoff Millener leads PEF Chattanooga’s Policy Fellows Program, a 16-month fellowship infusing teacher voice into public policy. Follow Geoff on Twitter at @gmillener
Peter Tang leads SCORE’s Tennessee Educator Fellowship, a yearlong program that helps teachers learn about and advocate for student achievement and educator effectiveness. Applications for this program open February 1. Follow Peter on Twitter at @petertangck.
Keilani Goggins leads Hope Street Group’s Tennessee State Teacher Program, collaborating with 26 teachers to engage their peers and gather input on education topics. Applications for this program are now open. Follow Keilani on Twitter at @HSG_TN.