Who Sharpens You?

Susan Collins Mentoring, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership

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As Iron Sharpens Iron, so One person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

Teachers are members of learning communities. Core Proposition 5, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

I have had the privilege of participating in multiple small communities of learning groups. As I reflect on the places I have grown, one common thread runs through all of them: community.

  • In-depth Bible studies
  • District level Music teachers’ PLC
  • Board member for state music educator’s association
  • Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellowship
  • National Board Candidate support provider
  • Group therapy
  • Arizona NBCT Network Board
  • Faculty member

All of these groups have challenged me in different ways, helped me heal, grow and prosper. The cumulative effect is exponentially greater than anything I could do on my own.

I recently participated in the Arizona Celebration of Accomplished Teaching. It was a group effort that none of us could have done individually, but collectively we created magic. The leaders prepared everything we needed to set up the day of the event. We gathered that morning and transformed an empty ballroom and lobby area into a red carpet event for Arizona’s newest and renewed National Board Certified Teachers and Master Teachers. As the honorees began arriving I watched groups cheer, hug, and celebrate each others’ successes. I watched families arrive to celebrate the hard work they had supported.

As I worked that day to prepare the venue with our event team and watched the honorees arrive, I began to reflect on the evening I arrived at the same event as an honoree. It was two years earlier, I was in my first year of teaching in Arizona, and had achieved National Board Certification just months before. I did not know what the Celebration of Accomplished Teaching was about, I did not know anything about the Arizona K12 Center, and I was still searching for professional connections outside of my school and district. My 13-year-old daughter attended with me, and we celebrated the huge accomplishment of achieving National Board Certification. I had no team, no district cohort, no one to meet me there and show me around. To say that I was a bit intimidated would be a severe understatement.

I found a table with two empty chairs and asked the people sitting there if we could join them. They were gracious and friendly. We talked about schools, teaching, what had brought me to Arizona, the rigor and joy that come from the National Board Certification process, and a friendship began. I registered for the AZ NBCT Network Convening where I connected with my Scottsdale friends again and learned more about the Arizona K12 Center.

As the saying goes, the rest is history. I became an Arizona Hope Street Teacher Fellow, learned the basics of advocacy, and developed relationships with teachers from all areas of the state and teaching profession. I attended my first Teacher Leadership Institute and began to form an identity of myself as a teacher leader. I attended training to become a National Board Candidate support provider, and now I guide other teachers to find the accomplished teacher within themselves. I learned how to write opinion pieces and use my voice to tell the stories of my profession.

This growth could not have happened in isolation. I needed the people involved to encourage me, read my writings, brainstorm ideas, share their experiences and walk beside me. I needed others to dispel my fear that I was going completely in the wrong direction and to help me view a topic from a perspective I had not considered. Just as a sharp blade is easier to use, more predictable, and has a low risk of losing control, a person who surrounds herself with people who shape, hone, and smooth her skills is a very effective advocate.

I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:

  • What are you doing to build others up?
  • How are you seeking input from others to push your practice forward?
  • How are you strengthening your profession?

I’m looking forward to hearing and seeing the results of your ponderings.


photo credit: https://www.dremel.com/productimages/Dremel_Sharpening_Attachment_A67902_675_(EN)(9).jpg


Susan Collins began her teaching career in 1991 in rural Mississippi. She served in 4 different communities in central and north Mississippi as a music educator, mostly elementary general music with one year as a middle school band director. She stepped out of working full-time in the classroom for 9 years when her children were very young but never left teaching. She set up an early childhood music studio and taught music from birth to age 5 (with an adult caregiver). Susan moved to Kingman in northwest rural Arizona in 2016 where she teaches k-5 general music. Susan achieved National Board Certification in the fall of 2016, just after moving to Arizona. She has served as a 2017-18 Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellow and a Candidate Support Provider for National Board Candidates. She is passionate about advocating for the needs of rural schools and ensuring that every student receives an excellent education. When she is not teaching, advocating, or writing about education issues, she is outdoors hiking, reading, and going to musical performances. She can often be found off the grid pondering her next writing piece!

Comments 1

  1. Mike Vargas

    Thank you Susan for this piece. I completely agree it is community that is at the core of what we do. Kingman is very lucky to have you. ” SHAPE, HONE, and SOOTH” ….. I really like this… thanks for your insights and wisdom..

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