Alyssa Dodds was a high school dropout at 16. She didn’t feel challenged or motivated, and after an administrator suggested she stay enrolled so as not to ruin the school’s “numbers,” she walked out.
Eventually she earned a GED, working two jobs on the way to a degree from the University of Oregon. She says, “It was really good to go to college and reinvigorate my love for learning.”
Today Dodds is a high school English teacher on the path to becoming a school principal, thanks to Chalkboard Project’s Aspiring Leaders program. Yet she has never forgotten how it felt to be a disconnected, disenfranchised teenager. Her experiences not only motivated her to become an educator, they also continue to inform and inspire her day-to-day work and commitment to equity.
“As a teacher, I see kids struggling and understand it isn’t them necessarily—it is more the fact adults aren’t paying attention to them,” she says. “I realized early on that young people’s voices weren’t being heard or valued, and that’s why they weren’t being served…You have to build relationships and rapport.”
After graduating from the University of Oregon and earning her master’s degree and teaching certification from Pacific University, she went on to teach high school English in Springfield Public Schools, and is currently at Thurston High.
From the start, Dodds volunteered to teach classes for students at risk of not graduating. She developed her own curriculum designed to re-engage students. She approached her teaching as a creative and collaborative undertaking, because “anytime you get kids teaching each other, it challenges them.”
Dodds connects with students’ personal lives, keeping in mind the challenges they might face outside the classroom and away from school. She has come to understand the importance of asking her students the right questions to make what they are learning in class both rigorous and relevant.
After years of being involved with equity discussions in her school and district, she applied to Aspiring Leaders program specifically because of its emphasis on cultural awareness and equity. The program is part of Chalkboard’s Leading for Learning initiative, which supports new and current school administrators to become more effective leaders for educational excellence and equity in their districts.
"I really appreciate that when they say there is going to be a focus on equity, there really is that focus,” she says. “The texts we’re reading and the conversations we’re having are really challenging and important, and everything we do and talk about gets viewed through that lens of equity.”
The program also provides participants with on-the-job experience, which has been eye opening. “The best administrators are rarely sitting in their offices,” she says. “They’re interacting with students and teachers and engaging with parents and the community so much more than in my preconceived notion.”
The experience so far has been everything she wanted. She looks forward to a career working closely with teachers, taking the same respectful, collaborative approach she has taken with students. She says, “When you’re having tough conversations, whether it’s with kids or parents or staff, it’s all about trust.”
After completing the program, Dodds plans to seek a position as an assistant principal or instructional coach. “This is the most relevant and rigorous program I’ve ever been in,” she says. “I definitely feel ready.”
Note: The Aspiring Leaders Program is a partnership between Chalkboard Project, the Oregon Department of Education, and two preliminary administrative licensure programs, Portland State University and COSA Leads. Alyssa Dodds is a participant in the program at Portland State University.
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