12 Nov Making a Grande Difference in Education
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, once said that in order for the company to be successful, customers were going to have to have an “experience” with the product. It was going to have to be about more than just a cup of coffee. Their restaurants would provide an experience customers would want to be a part of. Being an employee in the field of education can be somewhat the same way. If we as teachers are going to be successful in all aspects of the field—and not just the one within the four walls of our classroom—we need to have some real “experiences” with the profession. Hope Street Group (HSG) and the Kentucky State Teacher Fellowship have provided a plethora of those exact types of experiences and enabled me to use those experiences for the good of the children we serve. My experiences range from those with PGES to those with policy, people, and even professional publication.
Having had experience developing the new Professional Growth and Effectiveness System, I was drawn to the application process for HSG when I first caught wind of it from our commissioner. I felt like I knew enough about what had been done to create the system up to that point that I could be successful in sharing that knowledge with others in my area of the state and getting feedback from them as I did so. Hope Street Group has provided a wonderful platform for teachers to share the good, the bad, and the ugly, while constantly remaining solutions-oriented and future-focused.
In my mind, participating in policy meant grabbing a picket sign and plastering a look of disgust on my face as I fought against someone for what would be best for teachers. Because of that idea, I was a little nervous and a little apprehensive about getting started! I could not have been more wrong about the way that Hope Street Group would go about implementing participation of teachers into the policy that affects their daily work.
There are endless possibilities for passionate teachers to develop positive relationships with policymakers so that they might work together to make the best decisions for our students and our schools. One of my favorite experiences of the fellowship thus far was an assignment we were asked to write for policymakers about how we would spend money if our classroom budget increased. Instead of focusing on my own classroom, I instead wrote about an elementary school in western Kentucky that desperately needed to be replaced. I focused on the lack of funds that many of our small rural districts face, and the lack of opportunities that the students in attendance receive as a result. Because of the reputation that Hope Street Group and I had established in that district prior to the assignment, other teachers jumped on board to write letters on behalf of their students and the work they were doing for them as well. The day I got a call from the superintendent telling me that policymakers were on their way to check the place out was a really awesome day! In the end, the district was granted $7.2 million to create a new school to best meet the needs of students, and I believe it was due in part to the positive relationships that were built among the policymakers and the teachers who were willing to share their voices for their profession.
This fellowship has provided the opportunity for me to network with people across the state and even beyond to see how other teachers are doing things in their classrooms, their schools, and their daily professional learning networks. I have been introduced to other partner organizations and have learned ways that teachers can constantly be connected to all aspects of the profession. My “coworkers” and “colleagues” are no longer just in my building; I have even teamed with groups of people abroad who I know are helping to make each other better!
An aspect of the fellowship that I have appreciated from day one is the fact that Hope Street Group has enabled me to use my individual talent in the collective work that we have done as a group. The organization really utilizes the individuality of its fellows! If I didn’t teach writing, I often tell my students that I would want to be a writer. HSG has provided the opportunity for me to do just that! From the very beginning, I was given the chance to launch my voice and personality as we began our work with op-eds. From there, I had more opportunities to write about topics that were important to me, in styles that were true to my character. Some of those pieces have even made it out to state and national platforms, and state leaders have contacted me with comments on the work. Our words are being read/heard, and they are making a difference! Most recently, I have had the unique opportunity to serve on an editorial board that has provided the opportunity to edit pieces written by teacher fellows as far away as Hawaii, leading my view of the world to get smaller and my view of education to broaden as a result.
Like that small coffee shop idea that has become a national icon, Hope Street Group has given me numerous “experiences” with this profession we call education. My opportunity to serve as a Kentucky State Teacher Fellow, and the impact it has had on the students about whom I care so deeply, is something for which I am truly grateful, and the invaluable experience of influencing policy from the classroom outward is one in which I hope many more educators can take part.