Voice, Recognition, Leadership... A Reflection on My Year-in-Residence
By: Jonathan Juravich
One year ago, a proposal was on the table to transform the Ohio Teacher of the Year program from a one-year experience to a two-year commitment. The first year would be one of recognition and learning, followed by a year of service to the state as the Ohio teacher-in-residence. I was hesitant. What would life outside of my classroom look like? Would I be bored, spinning around in a chair all day? Was I even capable of living up to everyone’s expectations? Twelve months later, I am wrapping up my time piloting this program and dizzied from a year of growth and inspiration.
I was having lunch with a group of teachers this spring, and one of them asked me what I actually do in this role. I answered saying, “I focus on teacher voice, teacher leadership and teacher recognition.” She then said that this was all well and good but wanted to know more details. What was it that I was actually doing?
During this past year, I have toured the state, meeting with teachers, administrators and students while learning about their schools, aspirations and communities. Sometimes I offered professional development for teachers, spoke at conferences, led whole-school student assemblies or provided hot chocolate to teachers at staff meetings. Then, I brought all of these experiences and the information I learned from my visits back to the Department to help provide Department staff with insight from the field and context for decision-making.
In April, I testified to the Primary and Secondary Education Committee of the Ohio House of Representatives. One of the members of this committee asked me to reflect on what it is that I heard from teachers when I visited schools. I noted how inspired I was by Ohio’s educators, their professionalism and their heart. These teachers spoke of their admiration for their students and the strength of their colleagues down the hall that, in their words, I “just had to stop in and see before leaving.”
This year, I was motivated by great teachers like the enthusiastic Chris Basich in Riverside Local Schools; by the heart of third grade teacher Devery Scott from Whitehall City Schools; Chris Williams and the remarkable staff at Colerain Elementary School in Columbus; the thought-provoking conversations with Cheshire Elementary’s Mikela Thomas; and the creativity of Terry Stewart at the Ohio School for the Deaf. Meeting these teachers and countless more, hearing their stories, their hopes for their students and the triumphs they had just recently witnessed have changed who I am as an educator.
In one of my first meetings at the Department, I was told there was interest in an additional teacher recognition program. Through hard work and lots of collaboration, the TORCH (Teachers of Ohio Representing Character and Heart) recognition was rolled out this winter. In its inaugural year, TORCH recognizes teachers for their engagement with the community and advancement of educational equity. Five honorees from across the state were selected and recognized during surprise events this spring. I am honored to have met Tequila Pennington-Calwise of Cleveland Metro Schools, Leila Kubesch from Norwood City Schools, Sylvania’s Tami Blue, Sarah Thornburg of Columbus City Schools, and Alicia Spears from the Tri-State STEM+M Early College High School. These teachers strive to teach the whole child and every child. I, for one, cannot wait to hear about the teachers that will be recognized through this program in the future, for their service-centered lives.
Honestly, what I am most excited about is the future of the teacher-in-residence program and how it will continue even when I am gone. I am thrilled to see how future Ohio Teachers of the Year will put their own unique spin on engaging educators to use their voices, advance leadership, and recognize the goodness in one another. When I am back in my art room at Liberty Tree Elementary School this fall, I know that Mona Al-Hayani, the 2019 Ohio Teacher of the Year, will be stepping into this role, rebranded as the Ohio Teacher Fellowship. She will bring professionalism and passion to her work, advocating for all of Ohio’s teachers and students.
On my last full day as the Ohio teacher-in-residence, the Department hosted the first-ever Teacher Leadership Summit at The Ohio State University. Two hundred teacher leaders and administrators came from across the state to join Department staff and share in a day of learning and inspiration that had taken most of the year to plan. Many of the amazing people I met over the past few months were there, making connections with one another and filling the room with energy. As the morning opened, I stood on the stage looking out at faces I had not known a year prior and the table of staff members from my own school. These colleagues, both the familiar and the new, had become a part of the journey. I stood there at the summit realizing that this year-long adventure, this metaphoric summit, was only the beginning for me…for all of us. There are new mountains and challenges to take on in the quest to advance teacher voices, leadership and recognition. How incredibly grateful I am for the opportunity to have represented the amazing educators of Ohio in this work as the teacher-in-residence.