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.

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