A version of this commentary was published in Education Week. For practical resources that teachers can use to lead discussions on evaluation reform, check out Everyone at the Table.
The push to involve teachers in policy design and implementation is not new. Teachers'
unions historically have served as (sometimes the only) mouthpiece for
teachers in policy. In the past five years, other kinds of grassroots
teacher-voice organizations have sprouted too, including Educators 4 Excellence, Teach Plus, and VIVA Teachers.
the school year commences, how can teachers and principals leverage the
growing interest in teacher voice to improve teacher engagement at
their own schools?
teachers can probably already think of a few colleagues in their school
or district who are ready to jump at the chance to discuss, say,
teacher evaluation and common-core implementation. But what do the other
teachers think? The most sustainable policy is the one that based on
the widest range of perspectives. Teachers and education leaders should
reach out to include those sidelined from the policy debate and to those
who hold opinions different from their own.
a meeting this summer of state teachers of the year, Philip Bigler, the
1998 national teacher of the year, said: "When I was a regular
classroom teacher, nobody wanted my opinion. ... Once I became the
national teacher of the year, everyone wanted to speak to me and assumed
I was an expert on everything. But even when I was a regular classroom
teacher, I still had a lot to say." Teacher-leaders and advocates have
many things of importance to say about teaching, but so do "regular
it comes to education reform, teachers and others have tough, emotional
conversations ahead. Teacher evaluation and preparation,
performance-based compensation, instruction, and classroom management,
for instance, are often deeply personal, emotionally fraught,
politically heated, and mind-bogglingly complex. Leading conversations
around them is so challenging that it's tempting to sit some out.
move forward, all players must determine common ground and acceptable
compromises. Even when a conversation stays on track and focused on
solutions, how can participants identify shared interests? How can they
navigate contentions? How do they separate solutions that all will view
as workable from those likely to fail upon implementation?
will be hard work, but it will be worth it. It's also not
unprecedented: Many teachers are already engaging their colleagues and
informing policy, and they're doing it very well. The nation is facing
many complex issues in education policy. Through an appreciation for
teachers' experiences, insights, and ideas, and a commitment to genuine
collaboration, teachers and education leaders can lead the way on
meaningful education improvement.
Successful Schools: Tell Your Story
the sometimes negative clatter surrounding public education, stories of
success can break through the pessimism. We learned that first hand
when we studied nine schools in Ohio that beat the odds and demonstrated outstanding academic achievement despite tight budgets and a large proportion of low-income students.
The stories of these schools are included in "Failure Is Not an Option," our report from last year. We hope these stories can inspire principals and teachers as they tackle the new school year.
The practices that the
nine high-achieving Ohio schools implement do not address all of the
challenges we must overcome to improve our education system. However,
their stories both provide a reason to celebrate and underscore the
principles that educators and school leaders can adopt to improve
achievement within the doors of their own schools.
At all of these schools,
excellent leadership was one key ingredient for driving student
success. And excellent leaders in these schools are not all that
different from excellent leaders in other sectors. They build and
maintain a culture of high expectations. They promote teamwork,
collaboration, and data-informed self-evaluation. They lead by example,
emphasize improvement, and hire with care and strategy.
They celebrate success and spread the credit around.
Though strong leadership
won't be a cure-all for every struggling school, we hope that the
excellent leaders profiled in "Failure Is Not an Option" can, by
example, generate more success stories in Ohio and beyond.
a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens
navigate complex, divisive issues. Through nonpartisan research and
engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need
to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their
differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on
K-12 and higher education reform, health care, federal and local
budgets, energy and immigration. Find Public Agenda online at PublicAgenda.org.
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