May 21, 2013

Voices of Inspiration

voi13.jpgOn May 16, 2013, Umoja hosted Voices of Inspiration, a celebratory event that brought together over 30 teachers, counselors and administrators, representing eight high schools from across the city to share their stories of inspiration and dedication to the craft of teaching.

Lila Leff, founder of Umoja, began the event and led participants through an exercise that helped them acknowledge their individual and collective power;  "I-Statements" decorated the room taking participants out of the "trenches" and reminding them of their strength and impact:  "I will listen to every child’s story," "I change lives," and "I believe in the power of healing and restoration."

Steve Zemelman, director of the Illinois Writing Project, continued the program by leading the participants through his recent article from Catalyst Chicago, Teachers’ stories need to be heard.  Steve acknowledged the difficult landscape of public education and how the public needs to hear our voices: "teachers can begin simply and effectively by telling their stories – not complaining about challenges we face, real as those can be, but telling what our classrooms are like, at our best. Without this understanding, it’s impossible for citizens, parents, or policy-makers to know how to support our work. If we want people to understand and value what we do, it’s up to us to tell them."  Visit to share your story.

"Teach to the potential of our students, not to who is sitting in front of us today."

-Janice Wells, Principal

Janice Wells, principal of South Shore International School, closed out the evening with a motivational speech where she challenged educators to think about what our students say when we are not around. Wells asked inquisitively, "Would you like what you hear? If not, what are you going to do about it?" She reminded us of our central role – to motivate and inspire our students to be the best versions of themselves.  

It’s easy to forget the power you have, the influence you bestow and the positive change you instigate everyday as a teacher.  You get lost in the day to day, isolated in your classroom, overwhelmed by the responsibilities you carry.  Teachers left Voices of Inspiration proclaiming, "This is what I needed…thank you."  Thank you to all the teachers who attended and who make a difference in students' lives daily!