In my family, education always took precedence. From a young age, the expectations for my siblings and me were clear: graduation from college was essential to success in America, and mandatory. I complied with my parents’ command (as I said, I didn’t really have a choice) and completed my undergraduate work. I began my career and soon realized that a bachelor’s degree was not enough to move up the ranks in a large company. So I continued my studies and earned three graduate degrees in business and law. Unfortunately, at every stage of graduate school, I experienced less and less diversity.
While my work was rewarding, this lack of diversity trend that marked my experience in the corporate world was concerning, leading me to explore ways to increase corporate diversity through education. Off I went, back to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in Education, and decided to specifically work in urban schools. However, the landscape of education from the lens of a career-changer was surprising, and a bit disappointing. Schools and departments commonly lack transparency and the requisite agility to effect rapid change to educational trends and demographic challenges.
Early in my educational career, I did not have another educator to connect to or correspond with subsequent to my initial success in the classroom. My school was only in its seventh year of existence and we were growing by grade level. Therefore, there were many new, unseasoned instructors in my building. I was quite nervous when applying to the PBS Digital Innovator program because I felt that I hadn’t “made it” yet. However, my instructional manager urged me to apply.
After being selected as the 2016 Lead Innovator in Connecticut, the first to congratulate me (via Twitter, of course) was Connecticut’s 2014 PBS Digital Innovator, Rob Pennington. He immediately invited me to attend my first EdCamp in southwestern Connecticut. When I arrived at EdCampSWCT, every single organizer of the event greeted me with enthusiasm and warmth. EdCamp showed me that there is a vast network outside of the walls of my building and the purview of my district. I finally had an opportunity to collaborate and communicate with exceptional educators, many who had already accomplished some of the same goals I set for myself when I entered the field of education.
Shortly following my experience at EdCamp, I attended the PBS Digital Innovator Summit, where I was introduced to 49 other amazing educators and an esteemed list of guest speakers who spoke to the pedagogical excellence toward which I strive. The opportunity to exchange ideas about instructional strategies, educational technology and social justice was inspiring and drove my desire to build upon the success I had already experienced in the classroom, and enrich the scope and sequence of concepts I introduce to my students. Summit leaders facilitated intimate whole-group discussions that allowed us to directly question experts and collaborate effectively with fellow educators.
Since the Summit, I have earned several educator awards, which would not have been possible without the PBS Digital Innovator program. The program created many opportunities for me at multiple conferences and has allowed me to become a national voice for urban education. I am proof that an aspiring educator can yield exceptional student performance using online platforms such as PBS Learning Media, and successfully network through the PBS Digital Innovator program.
In the summer of 2016, Almetria Vaba invited me to KQED in San Francisco to visit the station. The educational staff introduced me to the "Letters to the Next President" project, which was designed to guide student research on contemporary issues, and write or create digital media that represents students thoughts on how the new Executive Branch should approach these issues. Through this program, I was able to incorporate research, writing and social studies performance standards in my digital media course. In fact, two of my student videos were featured in the "Letters to the Next President" newsletter. (Watch their video letters here and here.)
My connections with PBS, CPBN, KQED and the professionals in my expanding PLN have been prolific and will span the entirety of my career. My renewed sense of determination after becoming a PBS Digital Innovator is evident to my students and supports my efforts in the classroom to push students toward excellence. My mother, the veteran of pedagogy, is not surprised by my rapid accomplishments as an educator, and I am proud that my efforts have been validated and that I am moving in the right direction to provide effective, inspirational teaching for my students.
Leon is a 2016 PBS Digital Innovator and High School teacher from New Haven, Connecticut. If you are ready to build your professional networl, you can APPLY HERE for the 2017 PBS Digital Innovator program. We’re looking for classroom changemakers: pre-K-12 educators who set the bar for thoughtful tech integration, and whose enthusiasm opens new worlds for students.