Several ELA-2 teachers and Director of Fine Arts Kim Tunnell were able to attend the Growing Leaders National Conference this summer in Atlanta. We were honored to have been awarded one of Darlington's Thatcher Master Teacher Fund grants to be able to learn and grow in many ways.
First-grade teacher Caitlin Alexander, kindergarten teacher Jody Deaton, second-grade teacher Melja Watkins, Kim Tunnell and myself learned so many wonderful things from Tim Elmore and his great staff and speakers.
Tim Elmore came to Darlington in the spring of 2014 to speak to ELA-8 teachers as a part of Teacher Appreciation Week. He was inspiring and uplifting as he talked about our profession and the students we serve each day. It was after that experience that I fell in love with Growing Leaders.
I subscribed to Tim's weekly blog and began looking into ways that we might get an opportunity to learn from him further. We were so excited to be given the chance to learn more and soak up his wealth of knowledge this summer.
The two-day conference was full of great speakers, influential leaders and lots of love and admiration for youth. We were filled up with many great images and ideas of how to reach the youth of today. We were challenged to teach our children/students the "game of life" and that there is great preparation in it. Sue Enquist, UCLA's women's softball coach, was one of the speakers that we heard. She was an amazing motivator and teacher in every sense of the word.
Melja Watkins recalled some of the things that spoke to her about Sue:
"[She] provided opportunities to discuss the importance of teaching our children to experience and accept failure. She stated that we need to teach children to take responsibility for failures, be accepting, and learn. I really like the concept of teaching the student to say 'my bad' and try to figure out how he/she can get better from the situation."
Sue's team did not become the "winningest" program by chance—it was hard work, teamwork, and work on the fundamentals of the game that had long-lasting effects. Stories from her players all credited Sue with helping them with much more than softball—with pursuing the game of life with zeal and fervor.
Brad Cohen was another amazing speaker at the conference. His presentation was the story of perseverance. Brad has Tourette syndrome and faced a very difficult childhood. His teachers did not know what to do with him, his college professors did not know what to do with him, and when he said he wanted to be a teacher, his future employers did not know what to do with him. He was turned down countless times for interviews and teaching positions. One teacher gave him a chance and that's all it took for him to prove he was worth "going out on a limb for." He has been a teacher and assistant principal in the Atlanta area for many years.
Brad's story was one that resonated with Jody Deaton:
"I was so inspired by [him] and his story of perseverance. All students come in with baggage, learning differences, vices, hurts. I want to be the teacher who sees past all of that and into their heart. Giving them acceptance and love is the beginning of teaching them to learn, take risks and grow."
While all of the speakers hit the nail on the head with regards to how we want to teach and love on our children and students, I enjoyed learning from Tim Elmore, Growing Leaders founding partner.
He has such a pulse for the generation that we are raising now, how they will enter the workforce, how they will be able to manage adulthood, etc. It is hard for me to fathom young adults entering the workforce with jobs that did not even exist when I thought about a career. There are more pressures on them, more competition for their time (social media, iPhones, everything digital!)—and with these things comes more stress. Tim said that our youth are more stressed out than ever before. I want to understand this so I can help be a catalyst for those kids. I want to help them navigate the world of college and adulthood with success, so they will thrive!
Caitlin Alexander shared her thoughts as well:
"I found the conference incredibly informative and useful in mapping out communication with a generation of children who are growing up with apps and social media. While some facets of teaching remain evergreen, like meeting the children where they are, the conference provided a guide to pulling on the strengths of this upcoming generation—like their maverick ingenuity and curiosity and their ability to create and design their own curriculum. I love child-led learning, so I am excited about the future of education."
Those of us who attended the Growing Leaders National Conference hope to be able to funnel information gleaned, share blogs and stories, and work together with our great team of educators at Darlington to help prepare students for the future, to help parents understand where their children find themselves, and to equip us all to be a little better each and every day in whatever we do.
We don't have the option of giving up on this generation. We want them to not only survive but to thrive so that they may lead us one day soon. We have a great responsibility—but with this responsibility comes great reward. And I think we all love it when we see children and adults alike win in this complicated game of life!
Thanks again to the Thatcher Master Teacher Fund for the opportunity to go to such a great conference! It really made an impact on all of us who were able to attend.