By Glenn Morehouse Olson
As a journalism teacher, I read a number of newspapers every day and I admit, it is disheartening to see what I perceive as a feeding frenzy on the teaching profession.
This often involves people with little or no experience in public education mandating fixes to a system of which they’ve never been a part. As a second career teacher, I came to the profession for just that reason. The reality of working with students on a daily basis goes far beyond anything I could have imagined.
As a journalism teacher, I can also be skeptical. I teach my students the old saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” So, when I got an e-mail from VIVA proclaiming there was an organization that wanted teachers to have a voice in educational policy in Minnesota, particularly the new legislation about principal evaluations, I had to check it out.
“The VIVA Project (Voices Ideas Vision Action) is designed to ensure that classroom professionals have a voice in shaping education policy,” stated the website. Along with the VIVA project logo, the top of the page featured the logos of Education Minnesota and The Minnesota Department of Education. This was a good sign.
I also found vigorous and thoughtful discussions taking place about the most important ways a principal should support both students and teachers and how those could be measured. Teaching professionals from all over the state took part. I joined the conversation, not knowing if it would go any further, but hoping it would.
The VIVA project has lived up to its name. Over 500 initial voices joined in the conversation to generate ideas for a state-wide principal evaluation system. Out of that, 12 teachers came together to create a document that would embody the vision of those voices. Today, those teachers take action and have the opportunity to meet with Governor Dayton and Education Commissioner Cassellius to discuss a proposal that, at its core, encourages “all stakeholders—parents, students, staff, community—should be involved in a principal’s evaluation to ensure a well-founded evaluation of principals.”
VIVA has empowered teaching professionals to become a voice in the discussion. Something I could not have fathomed a month ago when, on a journalistic bent of curiosity, I clicked on the VIVA website.
I am no longer a skeptic. Oh, and I checked – my mother does love me.