Recently, I had the great pleasure of visiting with Vicki Phillips while she and her colleagues at the Gates Foundation were visiting Pikeville, Kentucky. We gathered around a table during a reception at the Blue Raven and Vicki began recounting her path to becoming a leader in education.
From a humble beginning in a small Kentucky town, Vicki didn’t even envision herself in college. She found herself there, nonetheless, because of the encouragement and active support of a high school peer who could see Vicki’s potential. She went on to complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. She taught in Kentucky schools and ended up working alongside leaders in the Kentucky Department of Education to implement the Kentucky Education Reform Act. Very early on, Vicki was known for her leadership and her ability to connect best practices in schools to policies at the state level. Before long, Vicki was on the national stage - leading school districts, state departments of education and national conversations about education. Her focus has always been on changing outcomes for students and knowing that this happens in a rich classroom environment and in the relationship between teacher and student.
Like so many who have a lasting and positive impact on our world, it became clear to me that Vicki’s passion for her work is deeply rooted in a desire to make things better for those who come behind. Her life’s work is in service to the students and teachers in our classrooms and the system that serves them.
Right before visiting with Vicki around that table in Pikeville, she announced that she would be leaving the Gates Foundation. She remarked that she had been with Gates for eight years - the longest she’d been anywhere and that it was time to open the space for the next person and to move on to her next thing. This post is a tribute to Vicki’s amazing work, work that has been supporting Kentucky’s reform efforts since the 1990’s. Below you will find comments from teachers who have been impacted by Vicki’s vision and passion.
We wish Vicki all the very best and look forward to hearing about the next chapter in her life. Until then, send your own best wishes to Vicki and see what others are saying at #whyilovevicki.
|Photo: (From left to right) Me, Brian Bishop, Vicki Phillips, Cory Curl and Brad Clark|
Vicki Phillips has changed my life professionally and personally by allowing me to serve as part of the Teaching Advisory Council, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Not only did this opportunity open my eyes to a national perspective of teacher leadership, but my doors are now open to best practice outside of Kentucky. I have colleagues with whom I collaborate daily in all corners of the United States. Vicki was our mentor and believed that our voice mattered. She embraced the quote, “Nobody knows teaching like teachers” and I have the deepest respect for the culture change for which she helped create in Kentucky and nationally. Thank you, Vicki Phillips, for being a true inspiration and elevating the profession for all teachers and students.
~ Kip Hottman, Spanish teacher, Louisville, KY
“Dr. Vicki P” has been one of the driving forces in my teacher leadership journey. I will never forget being in her presence for the first time at my initial Teacher Advisory Council experience last June in Seattle. Her passion came through every word; all in attendance were captivated. In the months since, I’ve had the opportunity to hear her speak in several settings. Her message continues to be that teachers know what the profession needs, and the time is now to make our voices heard. The work that teacher leaders do across the Commonwealth is linked by her leadership and vision for improving both student and teacher learning.
~ MeMe Ratliff, Physical Education teacher, Louisville, KY
Vicki Phillips has been a change maker in education and a guiding light for Kentucky teachers. As a teacher who is spreading her teacher leadership wings Vicki provides an amazing example of what a lil’ ole Kentucky teacher can become and what they are capable of doing for teachers and students around the US. Vicki is an inspiration and I am honored to have had the pleasure of meeting her as well as sharing our Kentucky roots. She will be missed at the Foundation, however nothing but great things lie ahead for the amazing Vicki Phillips.
~ Samantha Sams, Math & Science teacher, Versailles, KY
Dr. Phillips has always been a thoughtful supporter of the education reform work in Kentucky. Her attention to detail and willingness to ask the difficult questions of teachers on how to improve student and teacher learning experiences created ripe conditions for classroom practitioners to lead the redesign of education systems. Kentucky will miss her support but what Dr. Phillips and her team kick-started in Kentucky is a sustainable distributive leadership movement that has the potential to deeply impact the public school students of Kentucky.
~ Brad Clark, Hope Street Teaching Fellows, Kentucky
Dr. Vicki Phillips has irrevocably changed my life. She mentored me while I served on the Teacher Advisory Council for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but has paved the way for Kentucky teachers--and those of the nation--to do what they know best. Her mentorship has fostered my relationship with teachers across the nation, and her parting words to “raise my voice” collectively with my teaching peers has never been more timely. I know Vicki will continue to mentor, raise her voice, and challenge all teachers to do what they know best--and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds for her.
~ Missy Callaway, English Language Arts teacher, Louisville, KY