The high volume “debate” over extending the school day for Chicago Public Schools students has left Chicago taxpayers, parents and many teachers wondering what we’re actually fighting about. A longer school day? A better school day? Whatever you call it, we want to know how exactly it will help Chicago’s 400,000+ public school students.
There is a better way to ensure that decisions made in the offices of government leaders, legislatures, and boardrooms ultimately play out in the best interests of students: Ask the classroom teachers.
Legislation has ruled that Chicago Public Schools will lengthen the day by 90 minutes beginning next fall. There are legitimate questions about that which will be settled at the bargaining table. But there also are big questions about how to use that additional time to improve student learning. That’s why we are launching The VIVA Chicago Teachers Project.
The VIVA (Voices Ideas Vision Action) Project is a new way to connect big systems to the experts who work in them. Using cutting edge technology, we conduct online collaborations that give any teacher a chance to share ideas with each other and create solutions together that will improve the chances that the policies made at the highest levels actually work inside classrooms.
Too often in the heated debate over education reform, whether at the state, national or local level, we forget who the real experts are.
The teachers who spend their days teaching, cajoling, entertaining, nurturing and engaging students in the classroom and then spend more hours of their day consulting with colleagues, planning tomorrow’s lessons, grading papers, keeping parents up to date, and looking for great resources to hone their own skills are the people who know best what students need to excel.
We spend so much time deriding the “bad” teachers that we forget most teachers are good. They want to be treated like the professionals they are. They want to be consulted before policy is written. They want someone to listen when they talk about how that policy plays out in their classrooms and affects their students.
Too often the conflicts over contracts get all the press while teachers in classrooms across the city are focused on figuring out how to reach the kid who still hasn’t learned to read or the one who has trouble sitting at a desk or the one who falls asleep 10 minutes after school starts.
There are studies and professors and administrators and consultants who have ideas about the best way to use time in class to ensure students learn. We want to know what the real experts—CPS classroom teachers—believe will help their students learn. It’s time we bring those two perspectives together.
The VIVA Chicago Teachers Project, which launches Oct. 13, will give all Chicago Public School teachers a chance to do what they so rarely get to do: exchange ideas with one another and take a step back from their daily work to connect the dots to education policy. With a little time, and their own professional space, we know that they will share their ideas for making school work for their students and their peers. They will issue a summary of their best ideas in the coming weeks.
After all the debate, isn’t time we all listened more closely to what teachers are saying?