Feb 24, 2012

Empowering Teachers To Drive Change (Change They Don't Want, Need Or Condone)

Abby Parker was a teacher in Baltimore and education program manager for both non-profit and government agencies in Washington, DC, before joining StudentsFirst last May. In her current role as National Manager, Teacher Outreach she works with teachers across the country who want to advocate for change. 

Most teachers across the country have concerns about the state of education today. They are troubled with the injustice they see between different schools in the state. They are bothered by the information or lack of information they receive from the district. They need more meaningful support and professional development to improve. They want to be engaged in the changes taking place. As StudentsFirst’s National Manager of Teacher Outreach, I have the privilege of working with teachers all over the country and I know that teachers have powerful feedback and solutions to the current problems.

Teacher voices are key to meaningful change. From Michigan to Pennsylvania to California to Minnesota, I am humbled by the commitment of teachers I work with who spend time after a long day in the classroom to help tackle the problems they see with education today. Despite the daily challenges, from lack of supplies to managing classroom behavior, and handling relationships with parents and administrators, these teachers are discussing and advocating for real solutions to improve our schools. They are seeking, developing and leading opportunities to be involved in a student-centered movement that promotes excellent teaching and elevates the profession.

This level of interest and commitment has encouraged us at StudentsFirst to start teacher networks. Led primarily by teacher leaders and engaged teacher members across the country, the networks provide opportunities for teachers to connect with others that feel the same way, learn more about local and state issues, share information about state advocacy efforts, address issues they have experienced for years, and create actionable next steps. These teachers are advocates for students, schools, and the communities they serve. The potential of this network across the country, the impact it could have on students, is truly mind-blowing. We hope to empower these teachers with tools and opportunities to lead the discussion and advocate for policies that will ensure a quality education for every child.

The connection I see, between all of the teachers involved, is not only an unwavering belief that all students have enormous potential, but also a deep dissatisfaction with the current system, and a desire to do something to change it.

If you are one of these teachers, I hope you will reach out and join us.

Feb 14, 2012

A Teachers 1,501st Decision (To Support Students First? Really?)

Gina Wickstead is a StudentsFirst Teacher Fellow and currently teaches at Aki Kurose Middle School in Seattle where she has been for 8 years. She also serves as a staff developer in her building and site supervisor for student teachers. In addition Gina is working this year with The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession on the New Millenium Initiative to ensure students come first when policies are made in Seattle Schools.

Research states that “the average classroom teacher will make more than 1,500 educational decisions every school day.” Along with these important decisions teachers make every day, there are many more to be made while grading papers, lesson planning, leading after school activities, and researching how best to serve the children we teach every day. With the sheer volume of decisions made impacting student outcomes, who better to be involved in educational change than teachers?

But too often, teachers’ voices are not a part of policy discussion.  Throughout my nine years of teaching, I have had multiple conversations with my colleagues about things we were unhappy with and wanted to change. No one outside of the administration in our building was asking our opinions on policies that were affecting us. Many of us felt changes in education were being done to us, not with us.

Then one day I got an email from an organization called The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP). It stated that they wanted teachers to be part of a teacher leader cadre in Seattle. We would meet once a month and would choose a topic we wanted to work on. Then we’d provide our recommendations to policy-makers.

The CSTP experience was so empowering and gave me a clear example of how teachers could participate in policy decisions.  I wanted to continue to help teachers be involved with educational change and was selected to be a Teacher Fellow for StudentsFirst.  As a Fellow, I bring a teacher’s perspective to the StudentsFirst Policy Agenda to help shape the reforms that StudentsFirst members are fighting for nationwide.  In addition, I serve as a leader for other teachers who want to have a voice when it comes to education policy decisions.

As part of the Fellowship, I started a StudentsFirst Teacher Network in Seattle. Through this network, I meet with like-minded educators who want to make a difference in our community and state. We have discussed why we want to be involved in educational change and have come up with ideas for an action plan based on our discussions.

My hope for the Students First Teacher Leader Network is that teachers feel a sense of empowerment and that our perspectives help drive education policy decision-making.  Teachers need to have a forum in which we can talk openly about educational topics that are important to us. The mud slinging going on between different educational organizations is not productive. Teachers need to lead the conversation by deciding what we can agree on and then advocating for common-sense solutions at the school, district and state level.

We teachers are at the helm of the classroom every day, relentlessly working to best serve our students. We have a unique perspective on how policy decisions affect our students, our classrooms and our school. We are the ones who make those important 1,500 decisions every day and we must get involved to make even more. If you are a teacher, make your 1,501st decision today and get involved.

Feb 9, 2012

Connecticut Students Have Only One Shot (So Let's Shoot 'Em!)

Milly Arciniegas is former President and current active member of the Hartford Parent Organization Council (HPOC), a coalition of 48 PTOs at public schools throughout the city of Hartford. She is also the mother of 2 boys educated in Hartford public schools.

As a mother of two boys educated by Hartford public schools -- one a current student and one a former student, I know first hand of the challenges faced today by parents, teachers and district leaders as we try to provide a quality education for all Connecticut students.

We have an enormous achievement gap in this state -- perhaps the highest in the nation. The difference in academic achievement between groups of students -- particularly between low-income minority students and their wealthier white peers -- is staggering and unacceptable.

Our kids only have one shot at a quality education. We cannot wait another year to make changes -- change must occur now. It is critical that the state step in with some clear policies that help ensure that every child gets a quality education.

That is why I’m so excited that StudentsFirst has come into the state of Connecticut to help organize and support the 13,000 StudentsFirst members in the state and work with groups like HPOC and CHIPSA to make sure new laws are passed this legislative session that will drive meaningful change in our local schools.

One of our highest priorities is to implement rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluation systems across the state. Teachers obviously play a huge role in the education of our students. But without rigorous and meaningful teacher evaluations, we often lose some of our best teachers and we let teachers that need improvement flounder with no support. This is unfair to our kids – every kid deserves a great teacher.

I look forward to working with StudentsFirst members in the coming months to make sure that the state of Connecticut gets on the right track so that no more students lose their one chance at a quality education.