06 Oct A Teacher’s Perspective: Education Nation 2011
I was both grateful and honored to have the opportunity to participate in NBC’s 2011 Education Nation Teacher Town Hall and Summit. I cannot possibly summarize all the topics covered during the event, nor do I find the value of such an exercise in this forum. During the Summit and since, there were several overarching themes that stood out across the different events and keep returning to me. I will present my thoughts here in the hopes that we can continue the conversations and find a way to broaden their scope and impact.
First, as Education Nation transitioned from the Teacher Town Hall to the Summit, I was intrigued to discover that I represented a minority participant: current classroom teacher. Through conversations with state and district level policymakers, executives from major corporations, and leaders from various non-profit education advocacy groups, the power behind the untapped, undirected interest in education struck me full force. I also learned that many people’s interest is under-informed, if not downright misinformed. How do we prepare ourselves as educators to have powerful conversations with influential (and interested) individuals? The first step is to ensure teachers have the skill set necessary seek out and lead conversations in ways that both inspire and inform. Other industries, especially the business world, can be our allies by providing teachers with training (formal and informal) on how to expand our networks and mobilize our connections in concrete ways.
Second, we need to discover ways to share our mistakes and lessons with each other. State governors spoke of their individual state’s accomplishments in education reform. I posed a question to them on how, or if, they will use each other as resources. Several responded that they are already sharing specific practices but I believe there is an even greater potential for collaboration, which will counter the redundancy found in our current reform arena. During the summit I learned of 4 different states (and I am sure there are more) that are designing their own assessment item banks for un-tested subjects. While states and districts are enacting reform on their own, collaboration and the sharing of lessons learned would provide for a more efficient reform effort. As Bill Clinton said at the Summit, every problem has been solved somewhere, by someone. I believe that Hope Street Group is beginning to play a leading role in opening up the channels of collaboration.
At the risk of sounding cliché, my experiences at Education Nation emphasized that we as teachers need to take ownership of our profession and be the driving force in professionalizing teaching. Through knowledge and action, teachers can shape the agendas of educational organizations, drive the direction of unions, and lead the conversations about what needs to change in our schools, districts, states, and nation. Groups like Hope Street Group provide teachers with the information they need to be strong advocates for their profession and avenues for further discussion.
As a final thought, I would like to share a question John Schnur posed to a group of teachers toward the end of the event. Mr. Schnur asked each of us to decide what we need to do for ourselves in order to be able to stay in this demanding profession, both as classroom educators and change agents. Teachers sacrifice so much and I feel this is an unwritten (but clearly communicated) expectation of the profession. I have spent time thinking about how I can sustain my energy and level of optimism. Certainly my involvement with Hope Street Group helps me maintain my hope for the future and events like Education Nation give me new perspectives, new ideas, and a renewed sense of purpose.