California Dreamin’

California Dreamin’

One of the wonderful things about Twitter is that we are able to learn of opportunities that we otherwise would not have known about.

This happened for me over our Spring Break. My friend, Judy Blakeney posted information about a “Strength- Based Summit” that was happening in San Bernardino and encouraged me and other local educators to get involved. I emailed one of the coordinators, and the next thing I knew, I was registered and providing information so that the California Teachers Association (CTA) could pay for my substitute for the Friday of the 2-day event.

I’ll admit to not being as connected to my local (Temecula Valley Educators Association) affiliate as I was earlier in my career. I’ve encouraged younger teachers to get involved, learn the ropes, so to speak, and stay abreast of educational issues (and the juicy district gossip!). Stepping into this opportunity reminded me of – actually TAUGHT me – more of what CTA is doing for us “these days”.

Harkening back to my early years in TVUSD, Dick Gale was introduced at the beginning of our Summit. Dick was TVEA president when I was a new teacher in Temecula, and we calculated that we hadn’t seen each other in about 24 years. It was fantastic to cross paths with him again. His current role with CTA is as a Manager/Program Director of IFT: the Institute for Teaching, a non-political branch of CTA which uses a portion of members’ dues to support teachers and teaching, funding grants ($2.9 million in its first 8 years), and more recently supporting these Teacher-Driven, Strength-Based Summits. From its website:

“The CTA Institute for Teaching is attempting to bring a new approach to school change. Based on its work in California schools, with foundations and from discussions with hundreds of practitioners and students, the IFT has determined that school change must include two key factors: (1) It needs to be teacher-driven and (2) It should be based on what is working and successful in our schools and classrooms. By focusing on what works in our schools, the IFT believes strength-based models for school change add a new dimension to school improvement.”

Our Summit continued with several well-planned and important activities that created a deep bond among our teams/tables (SHOUT OUT TABLE THREEEE!) and a definite sense of community with the other 75 educators working in other teams. Our first activity involved creating individual mind maps of current classroom practices that we are proud of and feel contribute to student success. We then partnered up, finding three commonalities to share out with our group. Our groups then shared out with the entire room. It quickly became clear that we were all operating from the mindset of considering empathy, innovation, inclusion, and student voice to be priorities in establishing the schools of our dreams.

Our tasks continued with more dreaming, developing, and designing action plans to implement, focusing on finding and encouraging our students’ strengths as they work toward their futures. Asking, “How can we move our students from ‘At Risk to At Hope’?” We built on the previous work of IFT “Think Tanks” which have been convened in regions throughout the state, our Summit being hosted by the Moreno Valley Think Tank.

Our teams each developed our “Positive Core” – a statement of how we represent what we do in the most affirmative light. We then studied the “Seven Factors for Creating a Culture of Success” that the Think Tanks have identified and designed a statement to summarize the best instructional environment that we could envision. Our “Provocative Proposition” reads:

“Educators nurture student success by modeling excellence, healthy relationships, and passion for learning. Students build their self-image, perception of others, and our shared future using school-fostered knowledge of the strengths we all possess.”

We finished up by developing individual or small group action plans: goals to implement in the final months of this year or the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year. Going back to my initial mind map, I built upon what I am already doing which I consider to be positive and strength-based. I am looking forward to extending this work next year in several ways. In addition, I am looking forward to growing with our Summit cohort and the rest of the IFT family… more wonderful people to add to my PLN… my tribe!

Bottom line, the goal of growing the teacher-driven, strength-based community is to create a voice for educators who hope for more nurturing and positive environments where we can work with students and their families to design instructional programs that better meet the needs of all students. Likeminded educators can join the conversation by creating an account and contributing their ideas at Additionally, they can propose a project for the CTA IFT grant awards ($5,000 – $20,000 awards), investigate this movement more at, and follow @ctaift on Twitter!

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