The Path to SchoolHive Pt. 2

Reclaiming My Professional Identity

(if you missed Pt. 1, you can find it here)

In early fall 2018, distraught at the loss of my professional identity, I had a coffee meeting with a marketing expert. His empathic nature led me to turn our meeting into a therapy session, pouring out the aggrieved sense that whatever professional accomplishments I had achieved, I had simply given away. His advice to me: “Reclaim your brand.”

It got me thinking.

I spent the first 16 years of my professional life as a teacher and school leader working in progressive schools, mostly inspired by some of my educational heroes — the progressive Founding Mothers like Lucy Sprague Mitchell, Caroline Pratt, and Elisabeth Irwin — whose goal was to educate students to use the privilege of citizenship to disrupt the status quo. By the time I reached mid-career, I was already a long-time public school parent, and I decided that it was time to put my energy and experience, and my beliefs about equity and access, into the public school system.

Building a professional community for teachers

I landed at Math for America, an education nonprofit that grants fellowships to mathematics and science teachers in the New York City public school system. The organization was handing large checks to teachers, but not giving them anything to do. “Make a program,” I was told.

As a Klingenstein Fellow at Teachers College in the 90s, I had experienced the power of the cohort. I realized how it felt to learn from a talented group of peers, and saw how we evolved as educators and leaders, under the mentorship of a leader who trusted, respected and pushed us. I took those experiences, along with my beliefs about community norms and rituals, and translated them into a large-scale professional community of teachers. Multiple cohorts working together to share best practices and to challenge themselves and each other, on everything from equity initiatives to problem-based learning to calculus.

What could I contribute now?

With the phrase, “reclaim your brand” stuck in my head, I started to think about what I had accomplished in my career as an educator that truly mattered to me. The first and most important thing was the knowledge that I had made a true difference in the lives of some of my former students. The second was that I had created a community, and a professional learning structure, that felt life-changing to a large number of teachers.

“What if…” I thought, “What if I could bring the vision of the professional learning community that I created at MfA to any teacher, anywhere? And what if it was in the context of my beliefs as a progressive educator?” Namely, that “any words or actions of progressive educators must deal first with issues of diversity, access, and equity and with those who have traditionally been denied, or short-changed, on all three” (Engel, 27).

So I arrived at the idea for SchoolHive. I’m nervous about it and excited. The other day, I saw a clip of 45’s son referring to teachers as “losers.” Uh, no. Teachers are essential to a healthy democracy and a compassionate citizenry. Here I am, eager to do my part to uplift all of you out there in classrooms doing the hard work of making sure that every child gets a thoughtful, caring, and equitable education.

p.s. Shout out to marketing guru Michael Boezi, for helping me to move beyond self-pity into a productive headspace!