September 25, 2017

Total Teacher Project Helps Teachers Become Better Leaders

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A group of teachers, parents and students with connections to Seekonk have created an organization, the Total Teacher Project, which offers a new strategy to improve student performance by focusing on teachers as leaders.
The non-profit organization’s vision is for teachers to see themselves as leaders and to demonstrate their leadership qualities for students to model.

The Total Teacher Project was founded by Ellyn Metcalf, who taught science at Seekonk’s Hurley Middle School for 8 years and currently serves as the Associate Director of the Loy Institute for Leadership at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. “The relationship between teachers and students is one of the most important things in learning and in the success of students,” Metcalf said. “If you feel good about yourself, you help students feel better about themselves and about learning. That type of energy is invaluable in the classroom,” Metcalf added.

Metcalf understands firsthand the importance of this type of training for teachers. After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard on active duty for seven years, she began a second career as a middle school science teacher (and continued as a Coast Guard reservist for a few years). She came up with the idea for the Total Teacher Project while teaching in Seekonk. “I started to realize that a lot of my success in the classroom was linked to my leadership training in the Coast Guard,” Metcalf said.

In 2015, she participated in the National ‘Teach to Lead’ Summit in Boston, where a group of educators from cities and towns across the state and representatives from the Massachusetts Department of Education got together to share ideas on how to improve teaching and create local teacher leadership summits. The Teach to Lead summit was effective because it looked at the issue from the teacher’s perspective, from the inside-out, instead of a top-down approach, says Metcalf.

When Kara Salit, a Seekonk parent, heard about Metcalf’s idea to develop a regional teacher summit here, she offered to help. Salit, who has a background in financial management and analysis, handles the business side of Total Teacher and helped the organization become a 501(c)(3) non-profit.

Another founding member of the Total Teacher team is Kara’s son, Brian Salit. Brian is a graduate of Seekonk High School and currently studies business at Bryant University. He has been actively involved in event planning and nonprofit startups since 2012.

Other Seekonk educators involved in the organization include Janet Fitzgerald, who has served in the Seekonk schools for 22 years as a teacher, Special Education Transition Coordinator and currently, as Mentor/Induction Program Coordinator; and Holly Quaratella, who has been an educator for 34+ years and currently serves at Instructional Technology Coordinator for the district.

Metcalf says it is important to recognize that teachers are professionals and they need the same kind of personal development and leadership training that many large corporations offer their top managers. Usually teacher professional development focuses on teaching and learning in the classroom, says Metcalf. Most teachers only receive the type of training that the Total Teacher Project offers if they want to be a principal or administrator. “I studied for my Masters degree in education, but I never took a course in effective communication, team-building or self-awareness,” Metcalf said.

The Total Teacher Project recently held its second Teacher Leadership Summit at Bryant University on August 14. More than 100 educators from Massachusetts and Rhode Island and even a few from Connecticut attended sessions on topics such as “Mindfulness in the Classroom” and “Improving Time Management and Organization with New Technology.” The keynote speaker was Courtney Lynch, New York Times best-selling author and founding partner of Leadstar, a leadership development firm. Herb Chambers Honda of Seekonk, Bryant University and Leadstar were major sponsors of the Summit. “What I think is exciting is that teachers in Seekonk are taking the opportunity to improve teaching from the inside out,” Metcalf said.

The Total Teacher Project plans to host additional events in the future to connect leadership development experts to talented teachers.  For further information, visit the website at: www.totalteacherproject.com.

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