Eight Questions for Emerging Leader Kati Pearson

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Kati Pearson on educationWe’re always looking for new ways to insert ASCD voices into our conversations on Inservice. With this in mind, we’ve developed a question and answer session for our ASCD Emerging Leaders. The Emerging Leaders program recognizes and prepares young, promising educators to influence education programs, policy, and practice on both the local and national levels. Learn more about Emerging Leaders on the ASCD website.

Tell us about your role as an educator. What does your typical day look like?

My day, like most, is never the same thing twice. Some days my day consists of working with schools and school leaders to increase student achievement through developing strong systems and implementation plans. Other days, I am working with team members to support districtwide programs through collecting walk-through data and system data. My favorite days are when I get to work with teachers and students, either conducting professional development or modeling in a classroom.

What’s your education philosophy summed up in one sentence?

Every student is entitled to a quality education.

Why did you become an educator?

I was raised by a single mom in the inner city, and she could not afford day care. That alone may not be interesting; however, how she dealt with that situation may be. She made me go to the public library after school until she got off work. Every day I went to the library, completed homework, and read books. I fell in love with reading and books at the library. Educators speak about that one teacher that made an impact on their lives and how that teacher inspired them to teach. It was not a teacher that inspired me to teach, it was my love of learning that I acquired through my many hours in the library. I never left the city, but I was able to journey around the world, dance in the Russian ballet, explore the lost city of Atlantis, and travel through the universe, all through the books I read. I know my life would have been drastically different if my head wasn’t full of so many bits of information and fantastic encounters. In my various roles, literacy has been something I have always focused on and championed, because it truly changed the trajectory of my own life.

As an ASCD Emerging Leader, how do you hope to have a greater impact on education in your community and beyond?

ASCD has been the most valuable resource to me in my own professional evolution. When I was encouraged as a teacher to go into administration, ASCD was the resource I utilized most. The website, blog, ASCD SmartBrief, Educational Leadership, conferences, and books were essential to my own development. I see myself being able to share my experience as an emerging leader and become more involved with education issues and advocacy.

What types of professional development (books, DVDs, webinars, courses) have made a difference in your career?

The Pedagogy of Confidence by Yvette Jackson, Teaching with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen, and Closing the Achievement Gap: No Excuses by Patricia Davenport and Gerald Anderson are my favorites and must-haves that I find myself always referencing.

Was there a pivotal moment when you realized your career choice in education was the correct one? Describe that time.

While working as an intensive reading teacher in a middle school, I met a young lady with a wonderful personality, tremendous gaps in learning, and a very tragic circumstance. After further developments, it was determined that home issues warranted investigation and she was placed in foster care. Long story short, we ended up adopting her, and my daughter is now all grown up with a daughter of her own. She was brought into my life as a student and is still in my life as my family. It’s the full circle moments that validate you made the right career choice—when you see students you have taught and they tell you how you impacted them.

If you could make one major change in education what would it be?

State accountability systems. I believe in accountability and have witnessed tremendous student growth because accountability systems were established. However, I also think we tend to lose focus on what we truly want from accountability and have become test-driven. I would like to see accountability systems remain consistent in their measurements for at least five years to determine true growth, instead of changing formulas and cutting scores every year, which makes it impossible to see a constant comparison.

What’s the craziest thing a student has ever said to you?

Because my last name is Pearson, I sometimes get associated with the textbook publisher by the same name. I was proctoring a test in a 3rd grade class and was introduced to the students by name. One student raised his hand and said, “Wow! You wrote my book and now you’re here to see how we do on the test!”