Whenever we talk about the teaching profession, my first reaction is what’s best for students. As a parent, it’s easy for me to find the answer–I ask my children’s teachers for their assessments of the kids’ growth, strengths, and weaknesses. I put a lot of faith in their judgment and I appreciate the way they compile, summarize, and explain the basis (data) for their conclusions.
In the policy context, it’s a lot harder to make the direct connection from teachers to students. That’s why the Teach Strong Campaign is so important and why we at The VIVA Project are especially excited to bring classroom teachers directly into the development of education policy.
The VIVA Project joined the Teach Strong Campaign in order to work with 40 like-minded organizations to strengthen our work to transform the teaching profession by making the voices of educators central to the process of setting policies that impact their professional life and their students’ success.
All professionals need to own their own technical language, standards, and practices. They also need to be empowered to translate and explain their expertise to us laypeople. In other words, we need to trust and respect their expertise. In order to achieve that important goal in all public schools, we need to start with students. Our education policies, including how we understand, define, support, and invest in the role of professional teachers, has to lead back to a clear picture of how we are doing at providing our students with the knowledge and skills we think they need to have.
In order to achieve the goals of the Teach Strong Campaign, our teachers need to help us understand how their profession actually works and exactly how they know that their students are gaining the skills they need. Instead of letting the policy makers make these connections, we need our teachers to make those connections, and be transparent about what’s happening in their classrooms. Some call this “accountability” and see it as a way to regulate and control teachers. Others call it “top down” policy and see it as an insulting intrusion on local communities and a sign of disrespect for the teaching profession.
But, if you actually ask classroom teachers what they want, the vast majority will ask for data about their students’ growth and their own performance; regular collaboration and conversation with parents and guardians; and transparent, open partnerships with the public. Why? Because they know, as experienced, trained professionals and public servants, that this is what it takes to make a school and a school system succeed at giving all students an opportunity to learn.
The VIVA Project has worked with thousands of teachers across the country, providing them with opportunities to work together to make policy recommendations that will support educators and students. Through the VIVA Project, teachers have wrestled with issues including school safety, testing, and teacher evaluation and made recommendations to policymakers at the local, state, and federal level. Inclusion of teachers’ voices in the development of education policy is essential to improving our public schools and ensuring that all students learn and succeed.
We need to treat teachers like the professionals they are. We need to give teachers respect and a place at the table so they can share their experience and expertise to ensure our public schools do right by all of our kids. That’s what the Teach Strong Campaign is aiming for and that’s why The VIVA Project exists.