The Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District has a seat at the table for the next two years with the Ohio Department of Education, thanks to Kindergarten teacher Jennifer Huff.
Huff, who has been with the district for 25 years, went through a thorough application process to become a Teacher Leader liaison. The program has been in place for several years and teachers who are chosen serve two. Huff is in the fourth cohort group the ODE has created.
“Mostly, I did this because I wanted a seat at the table and to be able to represent the district. I’ve done a lot of work at the district level, but I’ve never done anything this high up,” Huff said.
“I really feel like educators are in the spotlight right now, so anything I can do to make sure we are moving the conversations in a better direction, I am glad to do it.”
The Ohio Department of Education was looking for teachers currently instructing children in classrooms on a daily basis. Participants were chosen from classroom teachers, technology teachers, special education teachers, and other areas. A common theme, Huff said, is the desire to "Lead while Collaborating.” She didn’t know much about the program when she first saw it advertised and decided to look into it.
Huff supplied her resume, a letter of recommendation and answered several questions pertaining to student achievement, data and student well-being. She also provided specific examples of how she intended to problem solve/lead in different situations.
“There were lots of documents to go over and I had to apply the Teacher Leader Framework to my answers,” Huff said. “Applying for the program did not guarantee my acceptance. The ODE was clear they were looking to form cohorts of teachers from various teaching positions and school demographics. I was delighted to be chosen.”
Huff said it gives teachers a platform to engage with ODE officials and collaborate with other teachers. Liaisons take information back to their district and share communication, feedback and possibly pilot or research future initiatives the ODE may be working toward.
“I think the ODE is supportive, but there is a disconnect between what’s really going on in the classroom,” Huff said. “When I first started, it was all about standardized testing. Now that’s not even in my top 5 things I worry about.”
The Teacher Leader model is designed to enhance educators in fostering a collaborative culture, advancing instruction and student learning, driving initiatives, practicing equity and ethics and building relationships and partnerships. That, Huff said, is what really drove her to take a shot at the opportunity.
The group meets eight times each year – two in person and six virtual. In June, the ODE holds a Teacher Leadership Summit in Columbus, where teachers can learn from other Teacher Leaders and give presentations if they so choose. They also spend time in sessions to learn more about specific educational subjects, such as data, teacher retention, initiatives, student academic performance, improved instructional practice, student social/emotional health and more.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for Jennifer, and really, our entire district,” Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Schools Superintendent Doug Cozad said. “To have the opportunity to learn from some of the best teachers in the state – people who want to be there and want to share knowledge – and work hand-in-hand with the Ohio Department of Education is something that doesn’t come around very often. We are so proud of Jennifer and we are looking forward to hearing about all she is learning.”
“I’m pleased to have had many opportunities to work closely with Jennifer, including curriculum work, data teams, and serving together on our local professional development committee,” Director of Curriculum and Gifted Services Betsy Gann said. “To have her voice representing teachers – and our district as a whole – was a great choice by the department.”