Building Sustainability Through Relationships
How much does your local Board of Education know about your TAH program? Have you ever invited them to attend one of your training sessions? What about central office personnel, have you ever involved them in your program? Hopefully, you are ahead of the game and have done these things already; but if not, let’s look at the possibilities.
In 2002, a colleague asked me to co-write a TAH grant. I was intrigued, as my largest endeavor to date was $3,000. Our system did not have a grant writer nor did they have curriculum specialists, but the superintendent was willing to allow us to embark upon this adventure. In the fall of 2002, we received word—our grant proposal was awarded. We were truly blessed!
This, however, created a dilemma for our district leaders as they were not quite sure what to do with me, the "new TAH Coordinator." So I fledged along and depended heavily on my supervisor who was Coordinator of Secondary Education. The Coordinator of Elementary Education, a seasoned veteran, became a willing mentor.
One of the components of our grant was a week of summer travel to historical sites and museums. Since I had been out of the classroom less than a year and was still uncertain as to where my authority began and ended, I asked my mentor to travel with us. I did not realize at that time what a smart move that was for the program. Her presence had both anticipated and unanticipated benefits.
I had asked her to accompany us primarily to serve as my protection; I didn’t want to do anything stupid as the newbie! What I did not realize was that while central office knew something about my work, they did not really know or understand what my job involved. Her first hand experience gave me credibility and she became our TAH cheerleader. It is hard to communicate the power of like-minded teachers traveling to historic sites or the effort that goes into planning their travel. If you want to create synergy, try taking a group of teachers to a museum for professional development; it creates an incredible sense of community and fosters life long friendships.
The following year, I invited a member of our Board of Education to join us. After attending our prep meeting, the board member approached me with a question; he asked why the schedule reflected so much time in museum gift shops. I explained that he would just have to experience it. Each teacher was allocated $300 to spend on educational resources. As we traveled, he began to understand. Teachers in a museum gift shop are like piranhas descending on lunch. They talk to each other, share with each other, and ask advice about materials. In addition, he was amazed at how attentive the teachers were from museum to museum.
While on the USS Enterprise, he found a place to sit down, exclaiming that he was simply exhausted. Well, so were the teachers, but they knew they may never get a chance to be on the Enterprise again. Teaching about World War II and aircraft carriers would look differently than before their visit. It is difficult to describe the impact that travel has on teachers and their teachings. A visit to St. Paul’s Chapel had everyone in tears, and again teachers will teach 9/11 in a very different way. These experiences made an impact not only on the teachers, but on the district staff and our Board member. He is now our cheerleader too!
By the third year, there were others asking to travel with us. That year, I took my boss and a different Board member. The benefits of involving these people are numerous; I now have the respect and appreciation not only of the teachers I serve, but my central office colleagues, my bosses, and our Board.
I am now embarking on our fourth grant and I have not forgotten the lessons I learned about involving others in positions of authority. When you consider ways to sustain the gains you have made through your grant, contemplate involving others from your central office and members of your Board of Education. This coming year, I plan to invite principals of the teacher participants to attend our monthly meetings and again, I will invite a Board member to travel with us. Relationships take time and it is my endeavor to continue building relationships that will shore up support for history education after the grant period ends. Everyone needs a few cheerleaders!