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Field Notes: Sharing Knowledge, Inspiring Growth

If you had a chance to tune in to the very beginning of the January 21 #NCTEchat, you would have observed one of the things I’ve come to love about our community. A professor had encouraged a cohort of preservice teachers to participate, and their excitement was palpable. But what was even more wonderful to watch was the outpouring of encouragement, support, and sharing from literacy legends across the country who embraced these newcomers wholeheartedly in that space.

In many ways I think this tradition of passing knowledge from one generation of teachers to the next is at the heart of what makes NCTE great. Within that knowledge transfer is a willingness to let learning go both ways. And in this sharing, we continue to improve our field and the learning for our students.

This generosity of spirit can be found every day in our social spaces, and it’s certainly on display in beautiful ways at our conventions, but it’s also evident in the tremendous work volunteers undertake on behalf of members behind the scenes.

Early this month I participated in the annual Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) officers’ retreat in Arizona, and I was inspired by the collaboration and thoughtfulness of the leaders with whom I shared that space. Each brought a unique set of skills and experiences to the table that complemented and enhanced one another. We are a strong organization because this structure is built into our governance model.

NCTE and CCCC employ a leadership structure that fosters continuity while constantly making way for new voices. In CCCC these leaders are called chairs, while in NCTE they are called presidents. But for each a team of people in four different collaborative roles leads together. On these teams each leader rotates through the four roles over the course of a four-year cycle. When working well, nobody is ever a leader in isolation, and each person has a model from which to draw counsel and share ideas. With great frequency, the team references prior leaders who contributed a specific improvement, vision, or change that supports the organization and its members.

This kind of succession plan can be found in our other groups as well.

While in Arizona, I was fortunate to participate in a strategic planning session with Jeff Andelora, current chair of the Two-Year College English Association (TYCA). In this meeting we talked about challenges and opportunities for the group moving forward. We discussed new ideas and strategic experiments designed to support TYCA and its members. The conversation felt especially promising because I knew that as Jeff rotates off as chair, Cheryl Hogue Smith will be able to carry the baton forward. Strong collegial spirit was at hand, evidenced by the frequency of references to past chairs and the associate chair.

This month I got to see such leadership and collaboration on NCTE’s Presidential Team as well. They are working together to enact policies supported by the Executive Committee and solidify processes on which future NCTE presidents can rely. One example is developing a process to review and update our position statements, ensuring that the tools we provide for members to support their practice are reflective of the tools they need in our current times. Such guidance from elected leadership makes it possible for NCTE staff to carry forth projects that can last far beyond a presidential team’s tenure.

I love that the spirit and work of NCTE is built around these formal and informal structures of sharing and knowledge-building. We embrace the idea of teacher as learner in all facets of who we are as an organization, and I believe that is what makes us strong. I look forward to all that our teachers and elected leaders share and create together in 2018. It promises to be a wonderful year.

In the end of March, NCTE elections will open. Casting your vote is an important responsibility and commitment directly tied to our leadership and continued growth.