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Kathryn Thompeon

When I think about the women involved in Mom Congress, I find that they have many things in common. They are generally kind, driven, intelligent and often have great senses of humor. But the one thing that stands out most to me about the women I’ve met through this venture is that they are all people who look outside themselves. They’re the ones who notice a new family at the school or who wonder if the recess aids could use some extra support. They’re the ones who take the opportunity to look up and out and then do what it takes to make a difference.

Many of the actions they’re taking, whether big or small, don’t take any special set of skills. In fact, I think that much of what they’re doing could be done by a large percentage of parents. The difference is – they’re getting it done.

Maybe they picked up some extra empathy during their lifetimes. Maybe they have special confidence or were mentored by someone who taught them to use the power within them. All of them are now mentoring others to do the same. They have mentored me.

I started my job as lead blogger for Mom Congress a year ago, setting the clear expectation for my superiors at Parenting that although I loved education and cared deeply about being an advocate, I did not have any special knowledge and would be using my time on the blog as a training ground where I would bring people along on my journey to greater understanding. I had served on the PTA board at my school from the time my first child started kindergarten and I was a regular classroom volunteer.

A year ago, I did not know the US Secretary of Education’s name. I knew nearly nothing about teachers’ unions or charter schools or what was being done to combat bullying. School nutrition was barely on my radar and I had given very little thought to early learning.

A year ago, I saw my role as an advocate to be to make sure that my three children got the best education possible. And that was a good starting place. I was thinking and I was looking out for them.

At the conference last April, I was terrified, a runt among giants and I came away in awe of how much work there was to be done and confident that with these women at work, great things could be accomplished. I came away understanding for the first time that my role as an advocate needs to be focused much more broadly than simply looking out for my kids.

It’s a year later and my knowledge base has grown immensely. I know about people and programs and big picture educational ideas. I can hold my own in a conversation about the state of national education and I feel more confident in that knowledge.

But the most important thing I’ve gained this year is also the thing that’s pushing me to leave my post as a writer here. It’s a change in outlook and expectations. I notice things and I want to do something about them. I have a desire to improve things, not only in my schools, but in my family as well. As I’ve listened and conversed with these women, I’ve caught their vision of constantly striving for excellence and for me that excellence involves less writing and more acting. For now, a good deal of that acting may simply involve watching my young children grow and being more attentive to their needs. It's funny how, as my view broadens and I see what needs to be done in the world, I can also see more clearly that I need to be more careful and involved at home.

There have been times over the past year when I’ve decided to volunteer less in the classroom or not read as much to my kids because I was busy blogging about education. Working from home, there have been more times than I like to remember when I’ve plopped my two-year-old in front of a cartoon so I could get my work done, or spent time with her and then ignored my older kids or my husband when they got home in the evening.  I think about things I want to do at my school and there just isn’t enough time to do everything well.

Time is precious and I know I will continue to struggle with finding a balance, but after a year of blogging several times a week, I’m ready to take my show on the road with a more hands-on approach to advocacy and family life. There may not be time to do everything but there is always time to do something and I’d like to do a different something in 2012 than I did in 2011.

That being said, if I had not spent this formative year as a major part of Mom Congress, I would not have the confidence or the drive to go forward and do more in the years to come. Thank you so much to everyone for your patience with and kindness to me. I have been nurtured and mentored in a way that I will treasure throughout my life. You have inspired me in so many ways, education advocacy being only a small part.

Of course, I can’t stop writing but I’ll be scaling way back.  My sister and I are in the process of launching a food blog to share our favorite recipes with each other and with you. I also completed my first novel in August and I’d love to catch my breath long enough to edit it and shop it around.

I will still contribute to the Mom Congress blog from time to time to let you know what I’m working on and ask for your suggestions.  We’re starting a parent advisory council at my son’s school and I’d love to get your input about that. I think it could be a really good thing for parent/administrator collaboration.

On President’s Day, my kids and I are joining my state PTA on a march on the Washington State capital building in support of education. This is something I would not have done a year ago because I would have been worried that I didn’t know enough to join in that effort. Thank you Mom Congress friends for helping me find my voice.

I’ve discovered that when it comes to advocacy, most people don’t lack power, but they lack empowerment. I really believe that the Mom Congress movement has the potential to empower a generation of parents who, once empowered, can change the world.

Kathryn Thompson is a mom to two school-aged kids, a toddler and a deceased betta fish. She can also be found at Bite Upon Bite, and occasionally the gym.