Category Archives: Education

Share Your Stories

“Oh you’re a teacher!  You guys have it made.  Paid summers off where you sleep in every day–what a cushy life.”  These words, uttered by my dentist while his hands were in my mouth drilling a tooth, caused far more discomfort than the actual dental procedure.  So after he was done (and yes, the novocaine still had half of my face numb) I shared with him that I spent most of my summer at conferences and in classes. I also explained how the pay structure works.  And, as these conversations typically go, it ended up with, “I really had no idea.”  

A year ago I felt a fire light inside me. I can’t remember what started it all to build, but the result has been an overwhelming desire to advocate for the teaching profession.  Maybe it was the need to address the misconceptions that people have about this lifestyle (I consider teaching a lifestyle, it’s far too encompassing to just be a job) or perhaps it was the oversimplification of this work by the media, tv shows, and movies that show burned out teachers, but either way, that fire started and it keeps burning brighter.  

So last week, when the airplane pilot standing next to me on the shuttle to our plane started asking me questions about my work, I was happy to share the dynamic nature of teaching. I also made sure to note that I was flying back from a week long class on constitutional law.  The pilot didn’t realize that teachers participate in summer coursework to strengthen their knowledge and skills in the classroom.  He was curious about this and we had a great conversation (our shuttle was stuck on the tarmac for 30 minutes) about professional development for teachers and pilots, thus shedding light on both of our professions.

I have spent the past eight months talking to policymakers and stakeholders about the impact of legislation in the classroom.  While I go in with a game plan, inevitably the conversation always turns when I tell a story about my students, my colleagues, and my own children.  Last month I met with my US Congresswoman in Washington D.C., and while my ask was to retain Title II funding in the budget, my story was specific to how we use that funding in our schools.  This story provides insight into policy impact and also constituent needs. Her job is dynamic, too, and I do not expect my representative to be an expert in all facets of life.  So if I can be a resource and share my experience with her, then perhaps that experience can shape her thinking on an issue.

I’ve come to see these interactions as opportunities to educate and advocate for this work. We can control the narrative.  It’s easy to sell an anti-teacher message when the public doesn’t have a deep understanding of what our work looks like.  Worse, if people rely upon their varied past experiences as students without recognizing how that skews their vision of what schools look like today, the picture that’s created may likely be inconsistent in practice and unrecognizable to those of us who do teach.  So instead of dismissing ignorant remarks about our work,  it is imperative that we seize the moment as an opportunity to teach.  We must teach others about our work so that they can see the intricacies of this lifestyle.  We must share our stories, our experiences, our successes, and our struggles. Only then will the larger public begin to see who we really are.

Rethinking our Assessment System Statewide

On May 24th, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal outlined a series of phases that addressed his long term vision for K-12 education in the State of Washington.  Included in
that vision is a differentiated assessment model that allows students pathways to demonstrate proficiency and mastery.  The plan calls for an immediate suspension of all test based graduation requirements for the Classes of 2017, 2018, and 2019, a policy that some legislators can get behind.  (See the June 4, 2017
Seattle Times Op-Ed piece by Rep. Monica Stonier and Rep. Laurie Dolan)  This agenda item isn’t necessarily as visionary as others but is more triage in nature.  Asking for these assessments to be waived now is a pressing concern for our potential graduates waiting in the wings (including the 7 students at my high school who are hoping that the state legislature acts immediately since graduation is on Friday, June 9th).  However, other components of this assessment system provide more opportunity and greater steering towards a student’s plans for high school and beyond.

One of the key takeaways from this plan is the use of assessment data for high school planning.  Superintendent Reykdal proposes that the 8th grade assessment (assuming this will still be mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) be used to determine what courses and in what sequence students need to take.  A 10th grade assessment (the Standards Based Assessment, or SBA, also mandated by the U.S. Department of Education) would further clarify what students need in order to be career and college ready.  That exam, while not necessary as a graduation requirement, would be a baseline for which other decisions would be made. The assessment would help stakeholders update a student’s high school and beyond plan (commonly referred to as a HSBP), either demonstrating that is student is now proficient in the required basic knowledge and skills needed to earn a diploma or highlighting what specific skills students need to further develop in order to achieve proficiency.  The plan suggests that alternatives such as the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, Running Start, College in the High School, and other options be used to demonstrate proficiency.  All students after 10th grade must work towards a pathway that includes immediate entrance into the workforce, technical college, community college, apprenticeships, four year colleges/university, or the military.

This new assessment system may just help us combat the apathy that emerges junior and senior year from students wondering why they are enrolled in certain courses that don’t remotely relate to their post secondary education plans.  Such a plan opens the door to exciting new classes tailored to meet the needs of the 21st century learner on whatever pathway he/she may be on.  High schools will be able to utilize the flexibility and creativity that this system promotes and adjust current course offerings, tapping into the talents and expertise of their staff.  The idea that students can select pathways and prepare for those future careers allows students more buy in on their secondary education, potentially impacting overall attendance, number of failed classes, and eventually graduation rates.  Specific training and coursework geared towards a pathway will indeed result in a better worker or stronger college student thus largely impacting the state’s post secondary education system and the local workforce.  Superintendent Reykdal’s proposal directly impacts students allowing them to tap into their talents and interests at an earlier age so that they may develop as stronger, more effective and more efficient contributors to our communities and overall economy.

Fakes, Facts, and the Hardest Lessons to Teach

I was numbly scrolling through Facebook a recent morning when one of those infographic-ish memes appeared. Of course, since it was in my feed, it aligned with the political leanings that my clicks and likes had already communicated to the Facebook algorithms, and in my pre-coffee state I found myself hovering over the “share” button.

I had to pause, though. Even though I wanted (desperately) to believe that the political statement being made in the meme was true (hint: it had to do with golf trips and certain federal budget items), I wasn’t sure. I didn’t see any sources linked, I didn’t know who the creator of the meme was, and I didn’t want to spend a ton of time researching its veracity. I did anyway, and after about three minutes of research it turned out that this particular meme had its number off by about 100 times and misrepresented the nature of the budget in question. Darn those pesky alternative facts.

While I didn’t click “share,” that nugget of information, despite being proven false, is now lodged in the schema that I bring to political conversations in the near future. I will have to very intentionally not use it as I form my arguments to support my political positions. That will be hard, because meme-depth facts are what it seems most political conversations resort to anymore.

We hear plenty about Fake News nowadays. Fake News is to critical thinking what super-sized fast food is to our diet: It is convenient, appears to look more or less like it’s authentic counterpart, and satisfies a need. Yes, a flawed analogy if extended completely, but there are valid parallels about the long term health of both individuals and the community. In particular, a good parallel is that the amount of comparable effort it takes to systematically deconstruct and discount Fake News is as seemingly insurmountable as making seismic shifts to unhealthy diet habits. If the latter were easy, we’d all be fit and healthy; if the former were easy, Fake News would be a nonissue.

How do we teach “quick” critical thinking? How do we teach students to resist the temptation of our confirmation biases? How do we teach that facts aren’t established by clicks, shares, or re-tweets…and that our own opinions don’t trump facts just because our opinions are our own?

Forget Common Core. This is the great pedagogical challenge of the next phase of my career.


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What Actually Works

According to a report on The Huffington Post, the money spent on the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) didn’t accomplish anything. That’s $7 billion dollars spent on failed efforts. The final report from the Mathematica Policy Associates said the “SIG grants made essentially no difference in the achievement of the students in schools that received them.”

SIG grants offered low-achieving schools just four choices:

  • close the school
  • convert the school to a charter school
  • replace the principal and half the staff
  • or replace the principal, use achievement growth to evaluate teachers, use data to inform instruction, and lengthen the school day or year.

Wow, those sound like popular choices being floated right about now, don’t they? How many legislators at the state and federal level like the idea of converting public schools to charter schools? Or maybe they think replacing staff or using achievement growth to evaluate teachers or using data to inform instruction or lengthening the school day or year—or some combination of the above—is the magic bullet to cure the ills of schools in America.

But none of those solutions worked.

None of them improved student achievement.

Of course, not one of the four choices has a strong research base to support using it. There is no compelling reason, based on actual science or statistical study, to choose any one of them.

So all that money went down the drain.

(It makes my stomach hurt just to think about all that wasted money. What we could have done with $7 billion dollars!)

Now for the good news.

There are, in fact, four whole-school reform models that the Department of Education has approved as being evidenced-based:

The fourth model, by the way, is the only one that is not proprietary. Small Schools of Choice are organized around smaller units of adults and children. Three core principles provide the framework: “academic rigor, personalized relationships, and relevance to the world of work.” As I looked over the SSC plan I noticed items like thematic units, longer instructional blocks, common planning time, adults acting as advisers to 10-15 students, partnerships with the community and parents. Those are all good things that we KNOW work.

Now for the really good news!

The Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University has a brand new website called Evidence for ESSA. Their staff has reviewed every math and reading program for grades K to 12 to determine which meet the strong, moderate, or promising levels of evidence defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). As they say, “It’s long been said that education needs its own version of Consumer Reports—authoritative, well researched, and incredibly easy to use and interpret. We hope Evidence for ESSA will be just that.”

  • A program is ranked strong if it has a significant positive effect with at least one randomized study.
  • A program is ranked moderate if it has a significant positive effect with at least one study that is classified as “quasi-experimental”—a matched study, say.
  • A program is ranked promising if it has a significant positive effect but the study was classified as “correlational.”

Notice that even for moderate and promising programs, the effects are still good—the program shows a significant positive effect. The reason those programs get a lower rating isn’t that they have poorer results. It’s because the controls of the studies were not as rigorous.

Ah, reading these standards take me back to my MA class on statistics. (Which I passed by the skin of my teeth.)

As soon as I found out about the CRRE site, I sent the information to my district administrator in charge of curriculum. He says this site will be very useful.

No kidding.

There’s not an endless amount of money to spend on education. We all know that. Let’s spend it where we know it will work.

 

 

 

 

 

HB 1319: National Board Certification and Washington State’s Comprehensive Evaluation System

What does accomplished teaching look like?  Does being accomplished mean that you are also distinguished? Are these terms synonymous with one another?

I will admit it- I don’t mind our new state teacher evaluation system TPEP.  In fact, I jumped on the TPEP bandwagon fairly early. Analyzing my teaching and reflecting upon my effectiveness has been a part of my practice for many years.  I certified as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2005 and renewed two years ago.  Having facilitated several cohorts of teachers through the process, I can attest to the planning, engagement, and reflection involved in seeking National Board Certification.  Those same skills and practices are echoed and assessed in the TPEP process.

With the amount of work and documentation involved in TPEP, it seems like a no brainier to support HB 1319, a bill, if enacted, would allow National Board Certified Teachers the ability to complete the comprehensive evaluation once every six years if the teacher received a rating of 3–Proficient on his/her last comprehensive evaluation, and once every eight years if the teacher received a rating of 4-Distinguished on his/her last comprehensive evaluation.  The time is right for this piece of legislation.  Now that the National Board Certification renewal process is every five years instead of ten, it strikes me that attainment of renewal will clearly demonstrate that the National Board Certified Teacher is, at the very least, proficient, if not distinguished.  Last year, a similar bill was introduced into the House and ended up in the “x” file.   I still can’t understand how this happened as the bill had no cost associated with it, but I am glad to see a similar version this year as it will balance the logistical challenges associated with the teacher evaluation system by supporting focused, more meaningful conversations on one area of teaching and learning versus eight.

When TPEP was rolled out to teachers and administrators, we all knew that the evaluation system was going to change.  What we didn’t know was just how much work it would be.  Again, I like TPEP.  I enjoy the conversations that I am having with my administrators about what teaching and learning looks like in my room.  I’ve been on the focused evaluation form for the past three years.  Admittedly, I enjoy the focused reflective and analytical conversations about what is going on in my room. I am thankful that the workload is reduced to evidencing one criterion and collecting evidence for one student growth goal (sub group or large group). When I was on the comprehensive form I needed 24 artifacts (eight criteria and a minimum of three artifacts per criteria) and had to write and collect evidence for two student growth goals. I work at a relatively small high school with a principal and an assistant principal.  We have around 40 teachers in our school, which means that each administrator is responsible for roughly 20 evaluations.  We embraced TPEP with a growth model mindset–teachers on Comprehensive meet every 2-3 weeks with our administrators to discuss artifacts and document evidence/progress towards the evaluations.  Teachers on Focused meet, at minimum, every 6-8 weeks to do the same.  These meetings take 30-50 minutes each time if both parties are well prepared.  While I know that not all schools and administrators use this model, I also see the value in this process.

For the past two years, I’ve also worked as a part time instructional coach–largely working collaboratively with teachers to provide evidence of the criterion and develop high quality, measurable student growth goals.  Now there are three of us (my principal, assistant principal, and me) doing routine observations, meeting with teachers to reflect, and working on evidencing the criterion.  My work as a coach has cut down on their work but admittedly, the position was created from a need of helping both teachers and administrators manage TPEP.  However, with more teachers on Focused, my coaching has been less about evidencing a TPEP criterion and more about analyzing and reflecting upon quality teaching and learning.  This is where I’ve seen leaps and bounds in our professional development as a staff.  Teachers on Focused are now visiting one another’s  classrooms both through the use of the Observe Me signs and through the use of a Pineapple Calendar (Pineapple Calendar’s are a way to invite colleagues into your room to observe a specific lesson).  With the vast majority of our staff on Focused, teachers are participating in book studies of choice, engaging in criterion centered PLCs, and spending lunch periods talking about teaching and learning.   Our culture grows organically because teachers have more agency in their evaluation system and can therefore dig deeper into areas of interest and need.

The passage of HB 1319 demonstrates continued support and value for second tier certifications such as National Board Certification.  National Board Certified Teachers have already demonstrated that they are accomplished, now let them engage in thoughtful, purposeful analysis centered on one area of teaching, instead of eight.  This bill helps administrators with the log jam that the comprehensive evaluation creates.  Washington currently has over 6000 NBCTs. Passage of this bill directly impacts how and when administrators schedule comprehensive evaluations.  HB 1319 allows administrators to spread out the number of comprehensive evaluations over a longer time period. I hear from other admin in neighboring districts that they simply don’t have the time to manage TPEP, all of its artifacts, and regularly scheduled face to face meetings with all of their teacher.  HB 1319’s commonsense approach offers an opportunity for teachers to deeply engage in the evaluation criterion while clearing up the evaluation congestion for administrators.

Bully Culture

Next year I will be returning part time to the classroom after a two-year hiatus as a new-teacher induction mentor (plus other duties as assigned). I will be returning with new strategies and ideas I’ve amassed from being able to observe and coach so many colleagues. More than that, I’ll be returning with a new mission, so to speak.

Many people have claimed that the election of President Donald Trump has given validation and permission for aggressive, disrespectful, and bullying language and behavior. Schools all over the nation have cited an increase in behavior where individuals in positions of real or perceived power have exercised this power to oppress, humiliate, intimidate, or undermine those over whom they felt somehow superior or powerful.

These power dynamics have a history far deeper than the 2016 election cycle. While Trump’s election took many in my own little echo chamber people by surprise, if we deconstruct the segments of the electorate who supported Trump, level headed thinkers of all political persuasions can acknowledge that a fundamental sense of powerlessness drove at least some proportion of the population to see Trump’s bravado as a means for reclaiming power. Powerlessness of one group or another is unfortunately woven into the very fabric of our history, and it just so happens that the current cohort feeling powerless actually turned out to be powerful enough to buoy someone into office who spoke directly to that void.

Through my years as a teacher and coach, in nearly every instance that I’ve responded to bullying language or behavior, as I’ve engaged with the “bully,” I’ve learned about their deep sense of powerlessness in some place of their life. Generalizing from real examples here, but the 9th grade bully always picking on the scrawny kid eventually reveals to me that he is frustrated by his own inability to succeed in school; the 10th grade girl known for vicious online peer-evisceration ends up revealing that she feels she has no sense of personal power because of what her parents say about her and do to her.

This is no profound new idea. It is Interpersonal Dynamics 101 and in each child psychology textbook. Bullying behavior is often an attempt to fill some personal power void.

As I look at how schools have attempted to deal with bullying over the years, much has been focused on the “don’t bully, be kind” approach. That’s great, but it is only part of the answer. I think we need to also talk more openly about power and powerlessness.

That’s the great thing about being a literature teacher: Literature lets us study humanity as a third point, and in doing so we can better understand ourselves and our society. Every work of fiction I’ve ever taught (and in fact even much of the poetry and nonfiction) has clearly visible in it dynamics rooted in a differential of real or perceived power.

I will say that the events of our presidential election have rekindled my sense of urgency in helping students consider deeply the inequality of power that is so entrenched in our society that. My mission is to help adolescents peel away a fundamentally flawed assumption that we often make about ourselves, bias and our society: As Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald describe in the book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, we assume that inequality and power differentials are simply an inevitable and unalterable law of nature, and that these differentials exist because of some deep truth about those who occupy different stations of power.

Through my teaching of literature, now more than ever I believe it will be important to examine how power and powerlessness contribute to a story’s central conflict so that perhaps we can better understand how it also exists as the core of nearly all of our society’s central conflicts. I believe it will be more important than ever to help my adolescent students explore where in their own lives and in our broader culture they are bestowed or refused power, even if they don’t necessarily recognize or want to acknowledge it (the very blind spot at the core of the book linked above).

I hope to help my students consider those stations where they have power how they use it, as well as how their sense of powerlessness ripples inward or outward toward other moments of their lives. I do think we’ve always lived in a bully culture. Like any pattern of human interaction, it has ebbed and flowed. We in public education have the opportunity to arm young people with the knowledge and skills to turn the tide.


Image Source: Wikimedia commons

#ObserveMe II: We Need Perspective

Last August I discovered the #ObserveMe movement. Within a few days, several brave staff members took on the challenge at Lincoln High School. I wrote about this process in my post “Goals for a New School Year.” What I’ve learned the most from this experience (so far), is that others see my classroom very differently than I do and I need their perspective in order to grow professionally.

I like to think I have teacher hearing and eyes in the back of my head. But I know I miss things. Teachers are 1,500 or more tiny decisions each class period, trying to capitalize on each teachable moment and fix everything that is “wrong” in order to maximize the learning experience. I can simultaneously be thinking about how to redirect Mike, tell Josie to “sit like a scholar” and ask Gabe a question that prompts his reasoning. An outside perspective, shared through an #ObserveMe reflection form gives me a new point of view.

One of my goals this year states, “Consistently incorporates and values diverse multiple perspectives in the lesson and classroom discussions.” As I track who has/hasn’t spoken during a class period, I’m critically aware that Jonah has spoken 3x times already while Miriam hasn’t said a word. I sometimes finish a class period feeling guilty because although I told myself to bring in Marcus, I forgot to use cold calling—or any other tool in my tool bag—to bring him into the discussion. The feedback offered by outside observers provides snapshots of whether or not I’m actually meeting my professional goals. Here are the comments I received from four different observations of this particular goal.

  • Different ideas related to similar pieces of evidence.
  • Absolutely. Students were highly engaged in a discussion guided by the teacher regarding rhetoric. Students were able to provide varying perspectives that were acknowledged and validated.
  • Political cartoons relating to racial justice in the US. And political climate.
  • invites multiple students to contribute. Amplifies a comment from a para that provides insight into cultural traditions/insight.

The first comment tells me that I’m encouraging students to rationalize and explain their reasoning based on evidence. It also tells me that I’m trying to encourage students to see how the same piece of evidence can be used to support varying points of view. The second comment shows me that all the effort I’m making to help students feel safe to share opposing views is actually working. The third comment adds a new layer. It tells me that the observer noticed that I was including multiple perspectives in the texts we analyzed. Although I chose the cartoons intentionally, I hadn’t really thought about how choosing a text was helping me meet my #ObserveMe goal! The fourth piece of feedback reminded me that I am working to intentionally include my para educators (I have two) in the classroom as sources of knowledge and experience. Again, something I just do because it’s just what I do, right and natural to me but I’m learning–from conversations with my paraeducators– it is actually not that common. I know that I can be more intentional about using these women as resources to improves student learning. Are these reflections life changing? No. Do they help me see my practice in a new light and challenge me to be more intentional? Heck yes.

Early on I received feedback that I should use an online form in addition to my paper system. So I converted my observation chart into a MS form and added a QR code. Now half my data is in an easy-to-digest format online. If you are adept at using technology or want to grow in this way, I highly recommend providing an online survey option.

I personally feel that one of the greatest strength of this process is the openness and low-stakes nature of it. Since it’s non-evaluative I don’t care about how much feedback I get, how often I get it, or how it’s phrased. I’m not stressing about a pre/post observation conversations. I am not up late trying to craft a perfect lesson on my Graduate school lesson plan template that highlights my teaching strengths in 30 minutes. I can take or leave the advice I receive. Nobody cares–including me! For someone like me who struggles with a type-A personality and anxiety about living up to my students expectations, using #ObserveMe to improve my practice is perfect. And so far it’s a reminder that all the effort I’m putting into lesson design and instruction is working.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this kind of feedback loop works for everyone. When I asked my peers about their own results here are some of the replies:

  • Few people have given me feedback, but I’m still going to keep my sign up and see what happens the rest of the year.
  • I realize I need more consistent, on-going feedback from our instructional coach rather than drop-in feedback.
  • I love it. I hand a reflection sheet to anyone who walks in.

As you consider what to change or modify for second semester, I urge you to set up an #ObserveMe sign and recruit a couple other friends to try it with you. Not convinced yet?  Read Sherry Nesbitt’s impression or Nate Bowling’s experience and share your goals online with the #ObserveMe hashtag.

Inslee’s Budget: Making an Investment

I was at a meeting when news started to spread that Governor Jay Inslee had released his budget plan. Of course, the thing that grabbed most people’s attention was the significant bump in pay for teachers. I noted, however, the difficult reality of his budget that our state has not yet come to terms with: In order to achieve the services we expect from public schools, we need to secure new revenue either through additional taxes or closing of loopholes. Inslee’s proposal includes four billion new dollars to be invested in public schools. Simply put, Inslee realizes that fixing our system means we can’t just shuffle line items within the current revenue structure.

In the real world, fixing things pretty much always costs money. Sometimes it even costs money you don’t yet have.

A couple of years ago on a Sunday afternoon in March, I was sitting in my living room, grading student essays. Suddenly, a sound like a fighter jet landing in my front yard started to shake my house, and then BOOM. This:

A freak spring windstorm leveled a swath of trees and structures in our neighborhood, and took an otherwise healthy (according to the arborist) 50-ft blue spruce and crashed it diagonally across the whole structure of our home. We have homeowners insurance, but between the deductible and some of what insurance didn’t cover, we didn’t have the money to fix it completely. Significant structural damage, eventual water damage from a poor patch job from the lowest-cost emergency board-up contractor, plus our roofing options being limited to the two plastic tarps I already owned and the one that the fire department donated to us to attempt to minimize water damage all made it clear that this fix was going to require something else than just making do with what we had.

Thankfully, we were able to access additional revenue, so to speak. Friends and family chipped in. I took on (yet another) side job to bring in a little cash. We sold some stuff from the garage. In the end, our house was back to normal almost a year later thanks to these additional resources (and a kind hearted roofer and generous arborist who charged us far less than they should have for work insurance couldn’t cover). The reality is that we were doing fine financially before and certainly accept criticism that we “should have” had more cash socked away for this particular breed of rainy day. The reality was that in the face of a clearly broken structure, “doing the best with what we had” wasn’t going to cut it. We will forever appreciate the people who were willing to give services, muscle, or money to help us fix our home.

I for one greatly appreciate Inslee for aiming so high and being realistic about what it will take to make progress toward strengthening public schools. New tests won’t do it. New requirements won’t do it. Furthering our love affair with accountability won’t do it. Simply demanding teachers to “do better with what they have” is not going to do it either. Fixes, in the real world, often require an investment beyond what we think we can absorb, and sometimes that investment requires more resources being added to the system.

And as for that meeting where word of the Governor’s budget was making the rounds? The reaction of teachers was positive and it had far less to do with more pay than it did with what our Governor’s budget was communicating: He was saying, pure and simple, I am willing to invest in you. 

That’s a good feeling.

Advocating for Your Vocation: The Washington Teachers Advisory Council

 

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“I’m not vanilla.  I’m like the weird flavor that no one orders.”  Meet Liz Loftus.  She’s one of the eight 2017 Regional Teachers of the Year (ToY) from Washington.  Liz, Carol, Tim, Kendra, Alisa, Jose, John, and Camille are far from vanilla.  They are spunky, brilliant, and authentic.  And the best news–they elevate teaching and learning for our students in our state.  

These eight teachers are members of the Washington Teacher Advisory Council (WATAC). Along with a few Teacher of the Year Alumni (serving on the leadership team), these eight teachers are tasked with the responsibility of advocating for our students and our colleagues at a state wide level.  WATAC was the brainchild of Lyon Terry, the 2015 Washington State Teacher of the Year.  Lyon subscribes to an idea he heard at the National Teacher of the Year meeting: “Teachers should be at the table. Otherwise we’re just on the menu.”  With financial assistance from the Gates Foundation and administrative support from OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) and CSTP, the goal of WATAC is to build advocacy and in doing so create additional partnerships with pro education organizations and extend opportunities for outreach.  

This work is important, meaningful, and necessary. In my conversations with pro education organizations I routinely hear that teacher voices are missing from education policy.  Lyon, as the  2016 State Teacher of the Year, asserts that this has been his experience, as well.  I don’t like to think of my work as taking place “in the trenches” but what I’ve learned is that those of us who work with kids are oftentimes left out of the policy decisions that impact those kids.  For two days the new Teachers of the Year and the alumni leadership team worked together to discuss messaging, initiatives, and advocacy.  We learned about how to craft a platform and how best to share it.  Jeff Wehr, a fellow WATAC leader, encouraged us to reach out to our legislators via email.  In a moment of inspiration, I emailed my local senator to invite her into my classroom and within minutes she responded.  I look forward to coordinating her visit soon.  Jeff’s presentation on how and when to reach out to legislators empowered me to make that contact.  My hope is that after my senator sees my students in action, she thinks of them and their needs when she’s drafting or passing the legislation that impacts them.

This is why advocacy matters.  Those in the classroom inherently know the direct impact of policies made by those at the state and federal level.  Yet, because the work is humbling, oftentimes all encompassing and consuming we are likely to rightfully prioritize our time with our kids instead of our legislators.  We must find time to learn the necessary skills and mechanisms so that we can advocate for our kids.  

These teachers are far from vanilla.  They will be advocating for causes that are near and dear to their heart and their work.  They will be lifting up the voices of students in their care and without a doubt their stewardship as a Teacher of the Year will long echo in the halls of the Capitol Building in Olympia. 

Post Election Perspective from the Classroom

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There are days in a teacher’s career where you question your value or whether or not you can continue to do your work. Today was not one of them.

Today reinforced why my work matters. Today reinforced how important my work is.

I teach American Government. Believe me, this work isn’t for the faint-hearted. My goals have always been to create an engaged citizen who values analysis and research and recognizes bias and perspective. In an election cycle, the significance of this work becomes immediately apparently.

So I did my work. We discussed the liberal media, the conservative media, the aggregate polls, the junk polls, PACs, SuperPACs, image and the political process. On Election Night, I was glued to the news and my fingers were attached to my phone, updating my twitter account and asking questions to my students using an advertised hashtag. Finally, the election arrived. For government teachers, the election is the political amalgamation of the Super Bowl and Olympics.

This isn’t my first election as a teacher. In fact, I began my teaching career in the fall of 2000. I vividly remember telling my students on Election Day 2000, “We should know the results late tonight.” Well, we all know how that turned out.

The 2004 election was a bit trickier. We were in a war and Americans were still reeling from the effects of 9/11. The 2008 and 2012 election drew youth to the polls. My students were excited to discuss those elections and the candidates. My students mobilized for these candidates.

This election was different. I know this isn’t news to anyone but as a government teacher, I didn’t find my students incredibly interested. We did begin our discussion a year earlier, tracking the primary candidates on the board. Several of my students attended the caucuses and asked questions. A few even went to local rallies. But when the dust settled after the primaries and convention, students didn’t ask many questions or offer many opinions unless I prompted them. However, when prompted, my students respectfully recognized that they held different opinions from one another. I held a debate viewing party at school and students showed up and engaged in conversation. I knew that my students held diverse perspectives on the candidates so I thought I was prepared for how to discuss the outcome of the election. I realized that I wasn’t.

I threw out my lesson plan as my students rolled into class today. I witnessed pleased students happy with the outcome walk in and sit down next to those who were crestfallen.  Regardless of their division, in front of me, they appeared united.  They wanted to know more and sought first to understand. I began our class with the conclusion of Lincoln’s First inaugural Address. My theme quickly emerged as “the Better Angels of our Nature.” I steered the class into a discussion regarding what we’ve learned about campaigns in the past and how the meshes with what we saw occur. My students shared civil discourse and even as we moved into “What questions do you have for our President-elect” I became acutely aware of how real the outcome felt for them. They asked questions about financial aid funding, free trade agreements, military spending, freedom of worship, and social welfare programs. They sought answers to questions that many adults hadn’t considered. The bell rang and class ended but my work did not. Throughout my day, students came to see me, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, and they sought both dialogue and an ear. I offered both.

As I think back about my day, I realize just how important teaching is. Our job allows us to develop students into adults that can engage in civil discourse. We can role model for our students how to accept diverse opinions without fear of jeopardizing one’s own beliefs. We can exhibit respect, acceptance, tolerance, truth, and compassion. If we can do this, our young adults will learn from us how to act and respond to one another.

Today, my work mattered.