Five Lakeville educators took the national stage Jan. 28 to help other teachers learn how to drive innovation in education.
Leah Johnson, Michelle Johnson, Julene Oxton, Allison Thoen and Superintendent Dr. Lisa Snyder presented at the Teacher-Powered Schools National Conference. Their goal was to share their journey as they worked with the district to create the Impact Academy model. The educators said they wanted to inspire others while learning new ideas from other teachers and schools throughout the country.
Third-grade teacher Michelle Johnson said it was an honor to be invited to present at the conference, adding she wanted to learn new ways of navigating decision-making and how other schools are innovating.
Some of the teachers attending the conference are just starting their journeys, said Oxton, the district’s innovation coordinator who was part of team that developed Impact Academy. Others are already on their ways. She said she hoped their presentation would leave colleagues across the country with some how-tos and inspiration.
Thoen, a third-grade teacher, said one of the messages she wanted to share is that the Impact Academy teachers held shared beliefs about approaches to improve their students’ educational experiences. Talking about and agreeing to those shared beliefs – combined with developing trust – helped make the model successful.
Those are elements Michelle Johnson said she also believes were important.
“You need common purpose and vision,” she said. “We had trust first and built that common purpose and vision.”
Giving back, learning from others
The teachers said they were glad to give back, but learned just as much from colleagues across the country.
“I left the Teacher-Powered Conference inspired, hopeful and validated,” Oxton said. “Educators in all types of positions, representing 22 states across our country, strengthened a network of teachers who are no longer complaining about our educational system but instead are approaching the challenges we face with transformational ideas centered on the students.”
Michelle Johnson said it was an honor to share their experiences.
“Our journey was well received by colleagues who are looking at ways to use resources creatively to meet students’ needs,” she said. “I enjoyed the opportunities to collaborate with colleagues from around the country and was energized by the conversations and connections that resulted.”
The teachers also walked away with new ideas.
“I had the opportunity to attend multiple learning sessions facilitated by teachers exercising innovation,” Leah Johnson said. “We also toured local schools to observe how innovation looks different while serving the same purpose of meeting students’ needs. It was engaging to see how this work is impacting students and their learning.”
For Thoen, the conference was invigorating.
“The conference was a powerful professional learning experience,” Thoen said. “It was inspiring to connect with other colleagues around the country and hear their stories of not only teacher empowerment, but also student empowerment. It was exciting to share how Impact Academy has evolved as a part of the Teacher Powered movement and was an incredible opportunity to learn more about keeping students at the center of decision-making.”
One other team from the Lakeville Area also attended the conference. Members of a Lakeville North High School team that is exploring whether taking an interdisciplinary approach to the four core subjects could help students also build skills in leadership and civic responsibility were able to attend, thanks in part to a $50,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Education aimed at helping educators explore how they can lead innovative practices. Impact Academy and a team from the Area Learning Center also received $50,000 grants in January.