Brittany Ferrell – WestTeach

The profession of teaching can be an isolating experience.  Even though teachers are surrounded by a class full of students, they are honing their professional skills in seclusion – each educator in their own classroom separated from their peers.  Professional development days and weekly Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) can help to alleviate some of the professional loneliness that teachers can feel at times, but programs such as WestTeach allow teachers to connect beyond their classrooms, schools, and districts.

WestTeach is a developmental program for teachers in the 21 counties of West Tennessee.  The mission of WestTeach is to engage and equip West Tennessee teachers with tools and leadership skills for success in and out of the classroom.  Throughout the program, teachers gain insight into the economic needs and opportunities in the area, build connections with industry and community leaders, and understand better what students experience outside of the classroom by interacting with community resource agents.

Haywood County Schools (HCS) teacher Brittany Ferrell applied and was chosen for the WestTeach cohort, and her experience in WestTeach opened her eyes to challenges that other districts face as well as opportunities for personal and professional growth as a teacher.

Brittany has been a teacher in HCS for eleven years splitting that time between Haywood Elementary School and Anderson Early Childhood Center.  She taught second grade and now teaches kindergarten and can see the differences in the ages very clearly.

“Moving to kindergarten from second grade was definitely an adjustment.  A lot of kindergarteners come into school not really knowing any procedures or even how to socialize with other kids, but it’s so rewarding to see how far they’ve come at the end of the year,” she said.  “We have to teach basic procedural skills to kindergartners like how to push their chair up to the table or how to raise their hands or ask to go to the bathroom.  They pick up on things really quickly, though.”

Brittany was nominated for WestTeach by former Anderson principal, Charles Byrum, but the start of her cohort was delayed due to COVID-19.

“Mr. Charles nominated me for WestTeach two years ago, but COVID delayed the start of my cohort.  I applied in 2020 and just recently completed the program,” she explained.  “I was one of twenty teachers from all over West Tennessee.”

Because WestTeach is focused on developing leaders who are in the classroom, WestTeach seamlessly aligned with Brittany’s personal and professional goals of developing leadership skills.  

“I’m a teacher leader at Anderson.  We have a Pre-K teacher leader and a kindergarten teacher leader.  We meet with Principal Chris (Halliburton) weekly and help make decisions for the school and then roll it out to our teachers,” Brittany said.  “I’m also working on getting my administrative license at Austin Peay.  The program really focuses on teachers who are in the classroom but are also aspiring to be leaders.  It really fits well with what I’m pursuing on a personal level.  It really helped me build a network with leaders in education, business, and community.  We met five different times and in five different counties.  It really helped me to see what my students’ lives are like outside of the classroom – what they experience, what their parents may experience.”

Brittany’s experience in WestTeach allowed her to sharpen her leadership skills while also developing relationships and connections with other teachers in districts across West Tennessee.

“It was so valuable to go to other districts and see that they’re dealing with the same challenges we are.  It was productive to talk to other teachers and collaborate about how to face common challenges that all districts have.  It was also encouraging to see that Haywood County is ahead of other places as far as the support we have in place for students,” she said.

Apart from valuable collaboration time, Brittany’s WestTeach experience also opened her eyes to available options in the community that can enhance learning in her classroom.

“WestTeach gave me a lot of ideas of opportunities that I didn’t know were available.  Farm Bureau offers a lending library; Lowe’s offers a free garden to plant outside your classroom,” she said.  

“Overall, WestTeach was such a valuable experience because it connected me with other teachers from the region and allowed me to see that we all share a lot of the same challenges and successes.”