2014 State Teachers of the Year at the White House wearing a pink suit in honor of breast cancer awareness for my mother (a survivor), friend Peggy Claus, and my dear teacher friend Margie McDermott

I attended a two-day workshop this week on Professional Learning Communities.  At one point in the group discussion, the presenter mentioned that in her school while serving as principal, she moved away from individual awards to group recognition in order to promote teamwork and collaboration.  She then mentioned that many states have a Teacher of the Year program where one teacher is chosen to serve in this role.  A person in the crowd asked what TOY meant and how was this person chosen.  I did not speak up in the room but did go later to the person to explain the process in Iowa and will now explain it here.

In Iowa, the Iowa Department of Education sends out an explanation and nomination papers to every superintendent in the spring.  They are encouraged to nominate a person for this award. Nomination forms are also linked on the Iowa Department of Education website so any teacher, parent, or student can nominate a person to become Iowa Teacher of the Year.  In my case, a colleague nominated me for this honor.  Once a nomination is given, the person nominated receives an application to complete.  This application and questions are modeled after those questions each state Teacher of the Year must complete for the National TOY program.  Completing the application is a reflective process, much like the process one must go through when seeking National Board Certification.  You analyze your teaching, best instructional practices, and explain your vision for the future of education.  Along with your reflections, you present three letters from various people who believe you should be the Iowa Teacher of the Year.  In my case, letters were given from my superintendent, my mentee/co-worker, and a past student majoring in education.

Once you have submitted your application, the applications are evaluated by a committee and six finalists are invited for an interview in DesMoines.  You are invited to give a presentation followed by an intense interview with more than 12 present, representing educational organizations from around the state of Iowa.  The person chosen as Iowa Teacher of the Year is considered to be the Ambassador of Education for our state.  It is an honor I will always hold dear.

When going through National Board Certification ten years ago, I was consumed by the process.  When I consider both Master’s programs I have completed, none compare to the NBC process for reflection and analysis.  I became a reflective practitioner and when the NBC process was over, and I became National Board Certified,  I continued to be reflective in all of my instruction.  Throughout my years in education, I have  been committed to continuous learning.  I firmly believe that we only improve through goal-setting, risk-taking, and a commitment to the process of improvement.  Have a met all of my goals?  Not yet which keeps me fresh and moving forward.  Have I always been successful in risk-taking?  No, but I have learned more from my mistakes than from my successes.  Am I committed to improvement?  You bet.  It’s this commitment that keeps me seeking new and different ways to motivate and inspire students.  All of these beliefs have now led me to hold the title of Iowa Ambassador to Education.

As I move into my second half of the year as the 2014 Iowa Teacher of the Year, I look forward to visiting school districts and education programs across the state.  I enter a sabbatical from the classroom this next school year.  It will be very different not preparing a classroom and writing units, but I look forward to meeting educators, sharing their ideas with others, and experiencing firsthand the outstanding work that Iowa teachers and administrators are performing across our great state.  I hope districts and college education programs will invite me for visits.  I am more than willing to present to groups about a profession I hold dear – making a difference in the lives of today’s youth.