“The more teachers are connected, the better we can support our California students.”
Better Together: Tell us about yourself. Where do you teach, and how long have you been a teacher?
Margaret Coughlan: I teach second grade at Camino Pablo Elementary School in Moraga, California. I’ve been teaching more than 20 years. I went into teaching because I wanted to work with children. I love learning, and children love learning. I wanted to work in an environment where children learn.
BT: You are also a teacher of teachers. What does it mean to you to be teacher leader?
MC: I’m passionate about teacher leadership because teacher leaders are the power of our schools. Super teacher leaders are teachers who go beyond their classroom practice, always seeking to see what they can learn, apply and share to help their kids and other people’s kids. And I think that’s what it’s all about – connecting with other teachers to make education better for everyone.
BT: Tell me about your experience at the Summit last year. What made the day special or unique to you?
MC: What I really love about the Summit is that it’s grown from the teachers. The energy is really high, and people come excited to spend time with other teachers and learn from each other. The whole day is so organic – you don’t know what’s going to happen in the room. The teachers are running the show. The Summit gives teachers an opportunity to learn about what’s really interesting to them. Having a place where teachers can talk about these important topics is critical, because they aren’t necessarily topics you’ll find at a conference.
BT: Why was it important to you to connect with other teachers?
MC: As an educator, I really think it’s important for teachers to connect outside of their district. The more teachers are connected, the better we can support our California students. Every time you make a connection with another teacher, you don’t forget it. There are big ideas you get from other educators that sit with you. It’s so amazing when teachers get together. It’s an automatic network, and all of a sudden the room is buzzing because we all bring something to the table, and teachers love to share.
BT: How has the Summit made a difference for you and your students over the past year?
MC: I really think that knowing the other teachers in my area who have been to Better Together makes me feel that my community is a vibrant teaching community, which is an important thing to feel as an educator. The more we feel connected with other educators, the more we feel that what we’re doing really matters and that we’re making a difference in a larger way. And I think students also need to feel connected. So I’ve been emphasizing things like Reading Across America, where all students are reading the same material on the same day. That whole idea of connecting to a larger part of education is important for teachers, and it’s important for my kids too.
BT: What would you say to a teacher who is considering attending the Summit for the first time?
MC: I really think in the middle of the summer it’s a nice way to recharge. Teachers matter, and teachers need to connect to other teachers. Hear the great things other teachers are doing, listen to the questions they have and connect in a way that helps you move forward in your own understanding as a professional educator.
BT: This year, the theme is “now more than ever,” and we’ll be talking about how we can foster inclusive classrooms and help students learn critical-thinking skills. How might that focus your thinking?
MC: I feel that access is really important. If we are developing our classroom and teaching style to support all learners, we need to be looking at how we work with the brain. How are we creating classroom environments where children have choice and movement and, if they have needs, where we can meet them? How do we support kids to participate more and collaborate more? Education is for everyone. That’s why we teach. So as a teacher, it’s important to make sure that we promote citizenship and open discussions and a safe environment for our children.