By Erica Avent

In August of 2014, I received an email from Ron Thorpe at the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards about the Teacher Leadership Institute (TLI), an institute created through a partnership between NBPTS, the National Education Association, and the Center for Teaching Quality.

The email said the institute was looking for teachers in Mississippi who were willing to work with teachers across the state and country in order to become better teacher leaders. At first, I deleted the email without looking at it carefully. I had recently obtained my National Board certification, and I wanted to take a break from all the reading and writing.

But something about the email made me recover it from my Trash folder a week later. One particular statement had intrigued me: a line about “activating my leadership.” Deep down, this statement called to a question that I had been pondering within myself: Could I be a good teacher leader?

So I decided to sign up for TLI to see if I could find an answer for that question—and I’m so glad I did! The TLI experience has allowed me to connect with educators across the country to investigate problems at the local and national level, pursue association, instruction, and policy-based competencies, and generate a solution for a challenge in my local context. TLI made me face the fact that if I am frustrated with what is going on in education, I can’t escape the problems; I must advocate for changes myself.

In my TLI work, I often found myself looking forward to the webinars, articles, work sessions, and thought-provoking questions that we were challenged with. The coaches and facilitators were dedicated teachers who always made time for the simplest questions or the most in-depth answers. It was inspiring to take part in a group of educators who were just as driven, determined, and motivated as me to change the direction of public education.

The culminating piece of TLI was the capstone. The process was a reflective one that made me examine how I wanted to leave my mark on education. Before TLI, I had observed that the behavior of some of my male students had gotten out of hand. I knew these kids outside of school. They weren’t bad kids, but they were making some bad choices. So my capstone project centered on bringing in African-American male role models to help these young men examine their choices and how those choices impacted them as the men they wanted to become. The role models came to school and shared their life stories, finding a common ground with these young men that they hadn’t been able to find with their teachers.

As I reflect on my decision to apply for TLI, I’m glad that I did. TLI made me step out to become a better educator. Before the institute, I was a good teacher—but I believe that I am now uncovering more of my leadership potential. I am learning to look for solutions to the problems and peer issues that my students may be facing.

Participating in TLI has reignited my passion for my career. It has made me think about what comes next. Multiple learning strands including social justice, effective instruction, and teacher evaluation enriched my TLI experience and made me examine how I want to drive change within our schools.

I began this process looking for a leadership opportunity, but I have received so much more than that. I am renewed and know that I am so much more than the scores and testing data that are assigned to my name. I am thankful for this opportunity and the layers it has peeled back within me so that my true leadership self is able to shine through.

About the Author

Erica Avent is a sixth-grade science teacher at Oxford Intermediate School in Oxford, MS and was a Year 2 participant in TLI. She is also a member of the CTQ Collaboratory.