This post is written by NCTE student member Amy Vujaklija.
During my qualitative dissertation study on teacher leadership and professional development planning, I feared that some of my findings were too simple, too obvious. This narrative research explored the stories of teachers across the country, myself included, who were leadership team members and network liaisons. From recorded meetings and debrief sessions to agendas, meeting notes, and interviews, everything became potential data to analyze. Hours of transcribing and uploading data to NVivo revealed several interesting discussion points about our leadership team and how to plan professional development, but I feared these findings would not be impactful enough to earn my degree.
I considered the implications my findings would have in education and discussed my fears of oversimplification with my adviser. My conversation with Dr. Howell helped me realize that I had been living in a National Writing Project world for almost five years and conducting a qualitative study about one of its initiatives for over a year. What my Writing Project colleagues might see as routine might not be common knowledge in other places or spaces. For instance, the National Writing Project and local sites extend invitations—invitations to leadership through the Summer Invitational Institute, writing invitations, and initiative leadership invitations—and the power of invitation became one of the findings I presented through mini-narratives in my dissertation. The challenge was the “so what?” and who might care.
Imposter syndrome consumed me, but the narratives about the power of invitation overtook my fear of stating the obvious. I considered how invitation contrasts with summons and noticed the hesitation and even unwillingness with which a “summoned” person approaches a difficult task. Invitation, on the other hand, reveals how people join together to tackle the most challenging of obstacles. Inviting liaisons to work alongside the leadership team in planning a large-scale professional development for teachers across the nation empowered each of us as co-leaders in the endeavor. Extending an invitation implies value in one’s company and honor of one’s interests.
With the current backdrop of education debates about standards and teacher effectiveness, I discovered the “so what?” for my findings. Stakeholders continuously seek solutions to the problems in education. Yet, often educators are issued summons to fix education instead of invitations to co-create scholarship and develop assessments alongside administrators and students. For all its simplicity, invitation inspired positive outcomes in my study. At the initiative’s end, it became clear that the power of invitation should be made common knowledge in every space, starting with my dissertation.
Amy Vujaklija taught middle and secondary English/language arts for eleven years in Brandenburg, Kentucky, and currently teaches teacher education online graduate courses with the University of Louisville. Her research interests include teacher education and professional development, content-area literacy education, and narrative inquiry.