The Responsibility to “Celebrate”

June 7, 2016


For students and teachers everywhere, the end of the school year is either a recent memory or a rapidly approaching hope.  For us at the New Tech Network, the close of another school year signals the beginning of awards season.  Each year at the New Tech Annual Conference (NTAC) we give three network-wide awards.  While our awards season does not typically include red carpets, gold statues, and tuxedos or evening gowns it is important nonetheless.  That said, I am not sure we at the New Tech Network have consistently done a good job of articulating why those awards are so important to us.

Generally speaking, educators and schools tend to be a diffident collection of people and organizations.  We often doubt the value of our own voices and work.  We often assume that our work could not be of value to anyone beyond our own classrooms or schools.  In addition to the demure collective character of educators there is the reality of constant busyness that is life in a school.  In schools the day starts early and often persists well beyond the conclusion of the last class with meetings, school activities, planning, grading, and so on.

The net effect of these two realities living together is that we struggle to share our work with one another.  By that I mean we question the importance of prioritizing in our work the need to articulate why we did something, how we did something, whether that something was effective, and sharing that something with a broader audience.  Simply put, when something goes well in our work educators tend to assume that it would not be important to anyone else, that it would be boastful to trumpet our own small victory, and then we convince ourselves that there are so many other important things that need to get done.  This creates a hugely problematic reality at the heart of our work.  Namely, that each of us is on our own to navigate the profoundly difficult challenges of serving our students and creating great schools.

In schools, we tend to approach that act of celebration as a cultural nicety rather than a professional responsibility.  My argument to you is that the practice of celebration – articulating and capturing the why, how, and what of our successful efforts for our own benefit and the benefit of others – is one of our most important professional responsibilities.  If we fail to celebrate in this way it creates a reality where every one of us, acting in isolation, approaches every problem as if we were the first to encounter that challenge.  Yes, to celebrate in the way I suggest will require some time.  But not as much time as struggling in isolation, divorced from the past efforts and accumulated wisdom or our peers.

With the frame of celebration and professional responsibility in mind, below is a quick summary of the awards that we honor at NTAC each year.

  • Best in Network – Great project-based learning sits at the heart of great teaching and learning in the New Tech Network.  TheBest in Network award honors the outstanding project designed and executed across the entire New Tech Network each year.  The award focuses on authentic, rigorous projects that engage students in meaningful work while simultaneously building critical knowledge and skills.
  • The Susan Schilling Award – Great school leadership is a critical element of great schools.  The Schilling award honors an outstanding school leader who embodies a deep commitment to the principles of the New Tech Network, a relentless and innovative drive for improvement, and a dedication to participating in and serving the network as a whole.
  • The Chad Wick Award – Equity and social justice sit at the center of virtually every conversation about education reform and improvement.  The Chad Wick Award honors a network school whose efforts reflect exceptional intentionality and success in creating equitable education opportunities for all students in their community.

Bestowing these awards to deserving teachers, school leaders, and schools each year is an act of celebration for us as a network.  As such, we want the awardees to inspire you AND we want you to learn from their efforts in really concrete ways.  To this end, the winners will each be participating in featured NTAC sessions.  I encourage you to seek out their sessions and make them a priority in your NTAC agenda.

As we give out these three awards we also recognize that there are many more efforts happening in classrooms and schools across the network that are worthy of celebration.  I hope that one of the ways that our award winners inspire you is that they challenge you to make the act of celebration –  articulating and capturing the why, how, and what of our successful efforts for our own benefit and the benefit of others – a priority in your work.

The awards I described above are fundamentally about delivering on the potential and promise of a network, our network.  Our aspiration has always been, and continues to be, that being part of the New Tech Network enables and accelerates our improvement in a way that is not possible when we choose to go the work alone.  With that in mind, we hope you plan to join us at NTAC in Orlando next month for our own version of awards season and the ensuing celebration.  We look forward to learning with and from you, even if you aren’t wearing a tuxedo.

Jim May
Chief Schools Officer
New Tech Network