Collaboration and leadership were the focus of discussion as more than 200 teachers spent last week at the Greenville Convention Center for an education summit.

The Division of Educator Effectiveness and Leadership or DEEL led the weeklong Summit for Collaborative Leaders. The session was designed to increase teachers’ capacities as collaborative leaders in their schools, according to director of professional learning and leadership development Thomas Feller.

“This is really about empowering our teacher-leaders to want to collaborate and work together for the benefit of students,” he said.

“We’ve got three multi-day training sessions,” Feller said. “Over the years, more and more teachers have wanted to participate, and our teacher-leaders have said some of the teachers they work with want to participate. That was one of the reasons we offered it over the summer, (it) was a response to people saying, ‘We want to do this.’”

DEEL held three different sessions: Adaptive Schools Foundations, Advanced Adaptive Schools and Data Driven Dialogue. While these forums typically are offered to members of Teacher Leadership Institute, facilitating and multi-classroom teachers and administrators, DEEL opened them up to multiple teachers who do not fall into those categories.

“It says a lot about the commitment of our teachers,” Feller said. “We have great teachers, and even as great as they are, they’re continually saying, ‘I want to be better. I want to improve. I want to grow.’

“I think it shows they have a lot of commitment and passion,” Feller said. “On the other side, I think it says a lot about the district that when teachers are asking for this. They said, ‘If this is going to help you, then we want you to have it.’ District senior staff has been very supportive.

“It’s not just our department, the district as a whole has been focused on how do we help our teachers, and when the teachers say, ‘This is helpful.’ The district says, ‘Okay. How do we do more of that?’” he said.

Chena Cayton, principal of Ayden-Grifton High School, enrolled in the Adaptive Schools Foundations training. The class emphasizes how to facilitate meetings to make sure everyone has an equal role. It also digs into how to collaborate effectively in a short amount of time.

Cayton said the training will be beneficial for her, especially in how she runs faculty meetings and professional learning communities.

“One of the things that we talked about was to make sure that people have a part in making an agenda,” she said. “For me, faculty meetings are usually information that I’ve got from principal meetings, so now I’m going to also go to my department chairs and see what the departments still have questions about, what things do they have insights about or need more explanation. I’ve never really done that before.”

Ayden-Grifton has three facilitating teachers, one multi-classroom teacher and several other teacher-leaders who are not part of that program, Cayton said. The administration takes pride in encouraging teachers to take on leadership roles.

“Teachers are very comfortable being leaders in their classroom,” she said. “In order to make an even bigger difference, they need to bring that leadership schoolwide to have those equal voices and to gather other people’s opinions, because the way I think something might need to be done might not be the correct way.”

Facilitating teacher Lori Moore is a 15-year kindergarten teacher at H.B. Sugg Elementary School in Farmville. This summer she enrolled in the Advanced Adaptive Schools Training. This course dives deeper into the techniques she learned in the foundations course.

“When people hear the word ‘conflict,’ they think negative,” Moore said. “But cognitive conflict is actually very good because it helps you grow. You’re not just focusing on one idea. Everybody is valued. You have balanced talk and everybody’s voice is listened to.”

Moore already has been using some of the strategies in her community of practice, a term that refers to a facilitating teacher and the collaborating teachers working with them, but she is excited to bring backwards design to her team.

“You come up with your problem and work backwards toward your solution. I think that’s a great way to think about it,” Moore said. “You know the issue, now let’s figure out what we can do to be the change agent to make a difference.”

Pitt County is one of the few school districts nationwide to focus on teacher leadership, according to Feller. Because of this, DEEL has been collecting data to see how investing in teachers affects retention rates.

“Some of our initial data is real positive,” Feller said. “When you look at the retention for those teachers compared to state average, it’s significantly higher. When you talk to those teachers, they’re saying, ‘This is why I’m staying.’

“Last year, we had teachers who said, ‘This is why I didn’t retire even though I’m eligible because I want these opportunities,’” he said.

“So we have anecdotal data, and we’re starting to get hard data, that is saying that these teachers are staying at a higher rate compared to other teachers,” Feller said.