Takeru Nagayoshi teaches English at New Bedford High School in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he has served since being placed there as a Teach For America corps member in 2014. He teaches English Language Arts, AP Literature, and AP Seminar.
In May 2019, Takeru was named the 2020 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year - the state’s top award for educators. Later that year in October, Teach For America awarded Takeru the 2019 Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teacher Leadership Award for his impact inside and outside the classroom.
Follow Takeru on Twitter at @tk_nagayoshi.
Thank you for taking the time to speak about your leadership journey! Please share a bit of your experience with LEE.
I did the Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellowship in 2018 because I wanted to gain skills & experience outside of teaching. I was partnered with the Education Redesign Lab at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As their fellow, I researched national trends on how states allocate fundings for K-12 education and children for FY2018, wrote event write ups and a policy memo that highlights patterns on state ed investments, helped coordinate event conferences, planed logistics, created documents (e.g., survey, slides, internal memo), and helped facilitate sessions and communication among staff and attendees.
The fellowship informed my broader theory of education reform, especially as it relates to systems-change. I learned about community-based forms of ed reform, and how siloed many of our ed stakeholders are. After the experience, I wrote an op-ed, “It’s time to rethink ed accountability,” in a state policy magazine.
I also participated in several other LEE programming over the years, from one-off sessions, to webinars, to coaching conversations. I attended the LGBTQIA+ Diversity in Public Leadership Summit in 2018, which connected me with incredible queer educators and taught me how our queerness (and its intersections with different aspects of our identity) make us uniquely qualified to lead.
In 2019, I participated in the National Organizing Workshop as a member of the School Organizing Fellowship, which taught me about organizing and its connection to power and liberation. NOW taught me how to strategically leverage relations to push the world “as is” to the world “as it should be.
What is the value behind identity work in leadership?
Our identity is our credibility. What we experience, who we are, what communities and backgrounds we represent all inform how & why we lead. The most effective and inspiring leaders are those who interrogate all aspects of their identities—including the privileges and challenges inherent within them—and inform their vision in response to who they are.
Photo credit: Peter Pereira
As individuals, we’re all limited in our perspectives. As leaders, this limitation can stymie our ability to organize, inspire, and impact change. Since we constantly engage with multiple stakeholders and the issues we seek to change are inherently multifaceted, it’s important that leaders understand how race, identity, and power intersect to create the world that we occupy.
LEE not only taught me how to connect identity to our work, but gave me the space to learn from and directly apply leadership driven by identity work. It pushed me to think big, in terms of systems and communities that extend outside our classroom—all the while imploring us to see how our classroom connects to these broader conversations. In fact, it’s our proximity to and lived experience from the classroom—our identity as teachers, if you will—that makes us qualified to speak on and lead systems-level change.
You led the creation of an initiative to empower educators to impact policy change in their schools & communities without leaving the classroom. What was that process like?
The Southern New England Alumni Leadership Initiative (SNEALI) developed from chats that extended way past the LEE sessions, where Peter Newman, LEE Massachusetts Regional Director, and I would discuss our vision for educator engagement in the South Coast area. As a South Coast teacher, I felt first-hand the frustrations around the lack of opportunities for teachers.
South Coast has poor retention for educators. Many Teach for America corps members in the area, for example, cite poorer opportunities and networks as reasons for them leaving. Many talented educators have left the South Coast region to bigger, better resourced cities. While there were efforts to address this talent & brain drain, much of the programing felt disconnected from our personal development as educators (e.g., random sessions that weren't relevant to our interests). We also felt as though that the proximity among the South Coast and Rhode Island districts made for an opportunity to collaborate and build professional connections that weren’t arbitrarily limited along state lines.
What did you learn from this process?
Don’t be afraid to take initiative. If you’re passionate, or even just curious about something, explore it. There are so many folks and organizations (like LEE) that will be more than happy to support you. More often than not, people appreciate and actively welcome those who bring forth a solution to a problem. Many of us are taught to be critical and point out the flaws in the system, but it’s so much more inspiring (and fun) to take a step further and suggest a solution to the problems we change—and be they through policy, organizing, or civic engagement, there’s so many paths, so many collaborators, and so many possibilities to impact change.
Is there something you would have done differently, or wished would’ve gone more smoothly?
SNEALI is still in its infancy. I’m hoping to make it into a space that feels more communal and collaborative. Many of our fellows appreciate the get-togethers where we talk and problem solved, so I’d like to have programming that facilitates that.
Photo credit: Peter Pereira
What did being awarded Teacher of the Year mean to you?
It means serving as an ambassador for the profession. As a teacher of an underperforming turnaround school, it was important that I represent the brilliance of my students, colleagues, and leaders.
It means advocating for equity and community. All of what I do centers around values of equity and community, which should be among the key guiding principles in envisioning our schools and the future of education.
It means doing what I always do, but with a platform that reaches a greater audience. I’ve always loved talking about education issues (I write a lot of op-eds). Being TOY means getting to highlight ed issues I think are important.
What kind of policy work have you done through your Teacher of the Year position, and in your overall leadership?
Advocate for greater diversity in the educator workforce. In MA, fewer than 10% of our educators are those of color. As an educator I consult on advisory groups, committees, and panels with similar initiatives. For example, I serve on a multi-state task force that identifies practices, trends and research regarding the educator of color pipeline.
I actively recruit teachers of color through the InSPIRED Fellowship. In 2019, I engaged over 60 students at various recruitment events. This year, as the fellowship’s senior fellow, I write op-eds on education policy and issues. I believe teachers are the most qualified to speak on education issues. It’s important that our voice is part of the conversation, so I try to contribute whenever I can.
I also consult as a thought-partner and advisor. I wear several advisor hats to organizations, non-profits, and individuals interested in a teacher’s perspective. These have ranged from commenting on state curriculum standards, to meaningful professional development, to addressing the racial/class gap among students in advanced academics.
Photo credit: Little Outdoor Giants
How can leaders ensure they are working towards the inclusion of student and teacher voices?
Tap into your potential as someone who organizes. All teachers are organizers in a classroom. We frame an issue or topic for our audience to understand. We seek multiple perspectives and voices to nuance the conversation. We invest in them and have them invested in us. We challenge them to make a change with what they’ve learned. We inspire them to lead the way. It’s the same kind of work that organizers do in a community.
What is something you want LEE members and leaders to know about your journey?
LEE offers so much. It’s impossible to quantify the impact that the organization has had on my development over the years. It’s not a single program, or a webinar, or a coach who made me the teacher leader I am today, but rather the totality of all the experiences and folks I connected with. LEE gifted me with a mindset and approach to leadership--one that centers on systems change, self-discovery, and building a community.
*The above interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with minor edits for clarity or brevity.
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