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Lead from the Start: waiting for an invitation?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

waiting for an invitation?

"Even though teachers are not often invited to the policy table, they are frequently labeled as obstructionists when they decline to endorse “bold new plans” or point out flaws in policies that they know from experience will not yield the intended outcomes. Keep your eyes and ears peeled."
This quote from Barnett Berry's of the Center for Teaching Quality got me thinking.

Why are we waiting for an invitation. I doggedly sought out an appointment to Gov. of Virginia's Start Strong Preschool Council, and I got it. Though I didn't get to have a voting voice I did get invited to the table. I just had to ask for the invite.

Think about this excerpt from an essay I wrote:

Imagine two parents talking in a hallway about the sad state of their child’s messy room. The parents’ discussion is heated. The mother thinks that the child is not wise enough to make good decisions about how to keep his room clean. The father thinks the child can handle the decisions but is just not committed to the effort. Billy sits in his room listening. He knows that his parents are about to enter his room and tell him exactly how to clean it, where to put the toys, books, and socks. They will also tell him he needs to do it quickly because his mother’s boss is coming for dinner and they don’t want the boss to see Billy’s messy room. Billy knows how he would solve the problem of his messy room. He would get some stacking buckets for his toys, more shelves for his books (they won’t fit on the one he has), and a laundry hamper with a basketball hoop so he can practice his free throws with his socks. If his parents would only ask him, “What could we do to help you keep your room clean?” Billy has a lot of ideas, if only his parents would listen.
Policymakers often treat teachers the way Billy is treated by his parents. Educators’ sometimes adversarial relationships with policymakers have contributed to a disconnection between the classroom and public policy. Increased pressure on teachers and administrators to meet local, state, and federal standards has led to the disempowerment of teachers. Policymakers and administrators have seen the stakes as too high to trust teachers with the decisions to be made in their classrooms. There are many issues facing public schools today: closing the achievement gap, inequality of education from district to district, school choice and vouchers, inadequate funding, poor working and learning conditions, institutionalized racism, deteriorating school infrastructure, and a changing global economy that requires different skills than American children are learning in school. Teachers have opinions about all of these issues, but our voice is not being heard.
Teacher leadership is an emerging trend in public education that addresses teachers’ lack of voice in the decisions that affect their profession. To have our voice heard we must create a proactively self defining professional culture instead of one that reacts to each new reform as it is delivered to classrooms. Teacher leaders must work to empower teachers to be self determining in their schools, districts, and beyond because teachers are, by nature, the lock and the key to school reform. We are the lock because no matter what reform is brought forward and pushed into classrooms, it will never be successful without teachers making it so. We are the key because if decision makers were to recognize the inclusion of teachers’ perspectives as necessary to effective school reform then the need for school reforms would begin to decrease. Teaching would transform from a system that needs to be managed from the outside to a true profession guided by its own principles, research, and experience, and lead by its own practitioners.


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