Dr Al Rabanera is the epitome of Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change and is a leader in moving the agenda of the Seven Factors to create a culture of success for all students. Never satisfied, Dr. Rabanera is constantly looking for new teaching and learning strategies which emphasize student strengths over deficits. A major advocate for the teaching profession, Dr. Rabanera is committed to taking action and finding a resolution to the challenge of teacher shortages in our community. With 14 years of teaching experience, Dr. Al Rabanera is a passionate advocate for growth, stability, and success for those who are currently in or considering the teaching profession. Through his work, Dr. Rabanera actively assists in the development and implementation of new programs that promote the retention of current teachers and encourage new generations of students to pursue careers in teaching.
IFT - We are delighted you have agreed to participate in this strength-based interview and we are especially interested in learning about your strength-based teaching and learning ideas and vision for the future of public education. Tell us a little about yourself as a classroom teacher. Why did you enter into the teaching profession? Describe some of your best teaching experiences.
AR - Before I became a teacher, I had multiple leadership experiences that set the stage for my teaching career. I have always had the talent to organize and plan; talents which I have applied to my teaching. I enjoy coordinating activities and events, raising funds, and helping others to succeed. Basically, I have been driven by three basic themes:
- What can I do to help others to improve?
- Everyone is here to serve.
- Opportunities come when you are ready to receive them.
These three themes have grounded me, both in my teaching career and my personal life. For example, while I certainly had high regard for the teaching profession, my decision to pursue teaching was more or less based on a close friend’s decision to go into teaching. My regard and respect for this person helped to clarify my decision to become a teacher. Equally important, I decided to become a math teacher based on the recommendation of my advisor; it seemed to be a good fit as I had always been pretty good at math.
I have always been a continuation math high school teacher, where I serve as the Math Department Chair, Guidance, and Curriculum Leader. I have been teaching for over 14 years and I am proud to say that teaching at a continuation high school has been extremely gratifying. While a number of reasons exist, the most important is that I am able to see my students grow academically and socially. For example, I regularly see my students blossom and come out of their shell.
As a continuation high school teacher, I have the unique opportunity to really know my students; to see them mature and become responsible young adults. As an educator, it makes me really proud to watch kids that at one time had very little focus mature into college-bound, responsible students.
IFT - Now to the IFT, why did you get involved; what motivated you?
AR - I actually was introduced to the IFT through the ILC at a CTA Service Center Council Meeting. Dick Gale, the IFT Department Manager was the guest speaker and I was sincerely impressed. Specifically, I was most interested in the IFT Grant Program. This seemed like a great opportunity for obtaining funds and I was intrigued by Mr. Gale’s IFT presentation.
I was interested in developing a teacher mentorship program and discussed the topic with Dick. I was pleasantly surprised at Dick’s reaction and support.
Short story, I received IFT funding and my program was off and running. Soon I became a strong advocate for the IFT, doing workshops and supporting the IFT whenever I could. However, I am most proud of my involvement with the IFT Think Tanks. As the IFT Think Tank Facilitator for North Orange County CTA members, it has been a real privilege and thrill to work with colleagues who are so committed to enhancing the teaching profession and teaching.
IFT - Let's dive a little deeper into your interests around the IFT. What is it about the IFT that you find most unique and how does IFT match your professional interests?
AR - Obviously, the seed money I received from the IFT was gratifying; it certainly grabbed my attention and provided me some new and great opportunities. And the think tanks are something very unique for teachers and the teaching profession. But the thing that really separates the IFT from so many other organizations and initiatives is IFT’s ability to change on a dime.
The IFT is able to move quickly; you don’t have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get something accomplished. If a CTA member has an interesting idea, you can apply for an IFT grant, seek special IFT funds, or join a think tank to get your idea going.
CTA members can move from idea to idea, have the support of other teachers, and be part of a movement with few restrictions and very little red tape.
For me, it’s pretty simple. I was always looking for something to match my interests. I was looking for something more — IFT helped me focus and get to work. I am able to create my dreams on my own terms.
IFT - Let’s talk about Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change (SBTDC) and the Strength-Based Model. How has SBTDC and strength-based thinking influenced you, both personally and professionally?
AR - In many ways, I thought the public schools and teaching were basically moving the numbers — get kids to pass exit exams. Pretty basic stuff.
With the strength-based approach, I have a new lens; a new way to engage students. It’s not just about content or soft skills; it’s about students identifying and understanding their talents and strengths and building on them to be successful. First with Gallup and then to Thrively, students build on their natural talents and produce their own success.
The strength-based movement says, let’s focus on what kids are good at and then let’s move forward with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful. As a strength-based teacher, I provide a context — interests, knowledge, and skills to create a successful learning environment for my students.
IFT - Has your teaching changed? What has been the reaction of your students?
AR - As a strength-based educator, I am more reflective. I do a lot more thinking about my teaching and I believe I am having a real impact. I just don’t move through lessons. I am able to view the totality of my students; I have a real sense of how they are developing as people.
When we focus on strengths, students are more engaged in the learning process and as their teacher, I have so many more opportunities to connect with them. For both my students and myself, we no longer focus on just mastering something. We are developing a teaching and learning relationship based on my students’ strengths, I simply know them better. It makes them better learners and it certainly makes me a better teacher.
IFT - Speaking of SBTD Change, as the teacher facilitator for the North Orange County Think Tank, what are some things your team is working on right now and what do you hope to accomplish?
AR - While I am the official think tank facilitator, every teacher in our group is a facilitator; a leader, reframing topics as strength-based ideas. In a highly collaborative manner, think tank members drill down on issues to determine where they want to invest their time. Topics discussed and worked on include:
(1) Exploring student-centered pedagogy, (2) Developing and participating in strength-based CTA presentations, conferences and workshops, (3) Showcasing IFT grants and the Grant Program, (4) Creating a new educators cohort and supporting the New Educators Conference (teachers teaching teachers), (5) Supporting new educator workshops and conferences, (6) Creating a strong connection with the NEA Foundation, and (7) Developing and coordinating the teacher pipeline where we recruit potential and aspiring educators.
While it feels like we have accomplished a great deal, there is still so much to do. In many ways, we have just started to understand and explore a strength-based pedagogy and what it means for teachers and students. What is most interesting, the more we learn about SBTD Change, the more we know that there is so much more to learn and do.
IFT - With that said what are IFT Think Tanks doing to change the face of public education?
AR - Every member of our North Orange County Think Tank is unique with special gifts. Everyone is eager to see change. I think it’s fair to say we don’t have a lot of patience.
What is also great about the think tanks is that we have the ability to influence public education statewide. By presenting at CTA conferences and workshops we can inform CTA members on what we are doing, get feedback, and begin to connect the dots among the various groups and interests within CTA. In a sense, we are helping to create a strength-based infrastructure for public education.
The North Orange County Think Tank is continually looking for ways to support new and experienced teachers. Working closely with the IFT, CTA, and NEA, we have leveraged the strength-based model to help and support teachers.
While some might suggest I am a leader in the IFT Strength-Based Movement, I really don’t think of my self this way. Rather, I do my best to keep all of the balls in the air. I have a sense for who needs what and I try to support and make sure everyone has the necessary information and resources to be part of Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change.
IFT - I know you are very familiar with the IFT Grant Program and the Seven Factors for Creating a Culture of success. What are your overall reactions to this program?
AR - I love the IFT Grant Program; it helps teachers live their passion. Results have been amazing. I have personally witnessed and heard IFT grantees present and discuss their grants at the IFT Grant Innovation Expo. The grants encourage students to be directly involved in their education. It is also rewarding to see parents and the community involved in the IFT Grant Program.
The key to the success of the IFT Grant Program is the Seven Factors. The Seven Factors, in a very simple and elegant way, connect teachers to students to parents and the entire school community. The result is we are all pulling together for student success.
IFT - How have you used the seven factors? What suggestions do you have for expanding their use throughout the CTA membership?
AR - The seven factors create a perfect framework for Strength-Based Teacher Driven change. They push you to become a better educator while creating more opportunities to enrich the teaching and learning process. There’s nothing in education that isn’t in some way connected to at least one of the factors.
Getting the message out to more CTA members is critical. Once members became aware of the Seven Factors, they are enthusiastic and want to learn more. CTA has many different venues to educate and organize around the Factors. A few examples include CTA service center councils, CTA State Council committees, chapter-representative council meetings, IPD events, and certainly CTA chapter president meetings.
Most important is to have a CTA member in every local chapter inform and educate members about the Seven Factors. And it’s not just the Factors. IFT provides support and resources to members, while always placing teachers first. More members need to know this.
IFT - From a broader perspective, how does the IFT influence the CTA and the teaching profession? What role do you see IFT playing in the future?
AR - I believe IFT has just scratched the surface influencing the CTA and public education. We are in the early stages of forming a critical mass of CTA members who are connecting and forming partnerships. From higher education to various education groups and organizations, the IFT Board of Directors, Grant recipients, and think tank members are discussing possibilities for how we can apply Strength-Based Teacher Driven Changethroughout public education, both within California and around the nation. To do this, teachers need to believe in themselves as change agents; to message and leverage their strength-based ideas in their schools and districts.
In terms of the future, we need to create strategies for expanding the great work and success of our IFT grants, why it’s critical for CTA to expand its investment in the IFT Grant Program, educate and organize around our think tanks, and showcase strength-based thinking and models at all CTA events, trainings, programs, and conferences.
IFT - Let’s say you fell asleep for five years and you just awakened. What does the IFT look like? What is the role of the IFT within CTA? What stands out?
AR - IFT would have its own CTA Department and be fully funded and staffed. The ideas behind Strength-Based Teacher Driven Change would be part of the CTA mission. Although completely independent, the IFT would be part of a broad-based international coalition of teachers advocating for strength-based education.
IFT - Finally, as a leader in the strength-based movement, what are your hopes and dreams for the future of public education, for the teaching profession, and most of all student learning?
AR -That’s simple: Equity for all students, the best and brightest in the teaching profession, and the IFT Seven Strength-Based Factors creating a culture of success for all students.
IFT is unique in the educational world. Most exciting is that teachers have the opportunity to chase their dreams.