Andrea Lemon is a middle school English language arts teacher from Belmont, West Virginia, and member of the 2013 LearnZillion Dream Team. This article was first posted May 21, 2013.
In January, I received an email from my state’s department of education listserv with the subject line: Summer Job Opportunity. Like many teachers, especially those of us raising families, I opened the email with an interest in earning a little extra money this summer. Little did I know that what I would receive from LearnZillion would be worth more money than any job I’d ever had. What I received was a personal and professional journey:
From the moment I clicked “apply here,” my professional understanding of how to teach literacy skills began to grow. I’m over half-way through a doctoral program in reading and literacy, so my mind is already pretty full of theories and best practices, but the application process to become a LearnZillion Dream Team member gave me the opportunity and the guidance to turn all that research into a product students and teachers could use to enhance their learning. It was a process that forced me to dig deep into the Common Core and into my own literacy practices. The emphasis on metacognition in the application process alone made me a better teacher for my students. I created, revised, sought feedback from colleagues, revised again, and finally, in late February, submitted three lesson plans and one PowerPoint lesson – grateful simply for the growth I had already attained – not really imagining that in a nationwide competition my application would be worthy of selection.
In late March, I got another email. I made it! I’d been selected – one of 200 out of 3,000+ applicants! My heart soared. My pulse raced! I was ecstatic to say the least. I clicked the link to accept the invitation and in doing so, saw something that I’d overlooked in my initial haste to earn a little cash this summer. Being a member of the Dream Team meant attending a conference called TeachFest – in San Francisco. My heart sank to the pit of my stomach. I felt ill. I almost backed out. I’d never flown. I’d never even been in an airport, and this trip would mean a transcontinental flight. I’d also never been to a big city by myself. I didn’t know anyone else who was going. I was paralyzed by self-doubt. I didn’t think I could overcome so many firsts and fears.
My husband, always my biggest supporter, looked at me that evening and said, “If you don’t go, you’ll regret it for the rest of your career.” It sounds dramatic, like a line from a movie, but he was right. I clicked “accept” and a couple of days later, I got a call from Posie Wilkinson at LearnZillion. She called just to welcome me to the team, and the warmth and enthusiasm in her voice made me feel so accepted that I knew I’d made the right decision. A month later, after receiving endless amounts of encouragement from my fellow Dream team members on Facebook, I found my COURAGE and stepped on that first, very tiny plane, navigated a second airport alone, and then stepped on a much larger plane to California. I learned that it’s okay to be afraid as long as you keep moving forward. At the SFO airport shuttle dock, I saw a woman wearing a LearnZillion t-shirt, jumped on the shuttle right behind her, and instantly struck up a conversation with five perfect strangers also headed to TeachFest and my Dream Team experience began.
Once at TeachFest, I looked around at the other Dream Team members, listened to their stories, and thought to myself, “Maybe my application was chosen by mistake. Maybe I’m not good enough for this.” I was filled with self-doubt until LearnZillion co-founder, Eric Westendorf, stepped on the stage beaming with energy and shared that the Dream Team only had a 6% acceptance rate. I realized that I had been selected to an elite task force and my CONFIDENCE began to bud. Next, entered Liz Striebel coaching me through my Lesson Set Outline with praise followed by a little push to go farther, do more, be more. My confidence exploded.
Most important though, in that four day crash course known as TeachFest, I learned the value of COLLABORATION. Digging into the Common Core Standards and uncovering how to teach with text-dependent questions and close reading is no easy feat. Without the professional development provided by the LearnZillion staff, and the encouragement and feedback of all of the other Dream Team members, I couldn’t have come this far so fast.
Now, back in my small school in West Virginia, I have the right tools to make a big difference. As I work with my school’s Literacy Leadership Team, I have the Courage and Confidence to provide support for my colleagues as they learn and grow in the Common Core and to push our school forward toward a brighter future for our students, our community, and, should the road get bumpy along the way, I know that I have amazing educators all across the country that I can reach out to for a little Collaboration. TeachFest 2013 gave me the tools to find solutions, make a difference, SCALE MY IMPACT! I never would have dreamt that something so simple as the click of a mouse would open so many doors, or lead me on such an incredible journey. Thank you LearnZillion for having faith in me and helping me find faith in myself.