One of the great benefits of working at ESE in Massachusetts has been that we have a couple of Education Pioneers alumni in the office who can make meetings and connections happen. In combination with the fact that I have a mini-cohort of three other fellows at the department, it’s been a great way to feel connected to both my work and the fellowship experience. Recently, the benefits of this “network within the network” came back to me in the form of having a few hours blocked out with Karla Baehr, Deputy Commissioner. While she retired in August, she has chosen to remain on board in a part-time capacity in order to roll out the new educator evaluation system across the state – something she spent quite a bit of time working on.
Through the fellowship, I’ve had the opportunity to meet numerous leaders and high ranking individuals but none quite like Karla. From the moment she came into the room I was struck by how approachable she was and how interested she was in hearing the story of how we found ourselves at ESE and what we were working on. Since this had become somewhat of an exclusive round table for Ed Pioneers and it was small, she asked each of us what we wanted to hear about in the next few hours. She covered her background, the potential issues that Massachusetts will face in the future of education, social, emotional, and behavior health issues for students and college and career readiness. As she started, she paused and encouraged us to stop her at any time and ask questions. After hearing her describe personal experiences with busing issues, budget concerns, and new evaluation systems and I had to ask – How did you build community around some of the most controversial issues in education?
She answered me and said something to the effect of, “I had to put myself out there in terms of what I valued. I had to model the idea that I hadn’t given up [on education].” Simple enough, right? But that comment really resonated with me. I spent three years as a teacher developing how to explicitly model something for students and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as you’d think. Practice what you preach, lead by example, model the idea – this doesn’t sound like anything new. Still, I kept thinking about the feedback I’d gotten in the classroom that always pushed me to think about how to go beyond the baseline and reach every single kid in the room. That notion of reaching the entire audience has become the foundation for how I think about working in the education space outside of the classroom. You can’t teach or lead by suggestion alone. You have to model it yourself and modeling is more than the “what”, it’s the “how.”
As I listened to her, I thought about my experience as a teacher, the staff and administration in my former school, the leaders I’ve met in government agencies or non-profits, and the fellows in my cohort. It’s both exciting and encouraging to be around people like this on a regular basis. Whether it’s policy, curriculum, student support, or educator effectiveness the challenge remains in how we choose to model the idea that we also haven’t given up.