How Can a Teacher Make a Difference in Education Policy?

by Sara Arnold

Seems a bit ironic, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t changes in education be made by well-trained educators?

Shutting our doors and teaching is no longer an option.

I used to believe that all I needed to do was be the best teacher I could be for my students. I had control of what happened in my classroom, but I had no idea how many decisions were being made about my profession by non-educators.

Many decisions that drive education are made in the state house, not the school house. Two years ago, I realized I could no longer sit idly by and allow policy to be made for me. Many people don’t know where to begin when it comes to education policy, so here are three things you can do to make a difference for your students.

Tell Classroom Stories to Your Legislators

It seems scary and intimidating, but your legislators want to hear from you. I made my first trip to the state house this January to be a voice for adequate funding for our schools. I was able to tell my story and offer my input back to my legislators.

You can talk about increasing class sizes, reductions in programming, increased testing….but also share your heartfelt stories. Stories of a student who learned how to read or a class that organized a food drive for a local food pantry. These stories are the reasons we became educators: to make a difference in the lives of others.

Just Say ‘Yes’

Whether it’s a state or local committee, say “yes” when you’re asked to serve. I said yes to a few local and state committees and I’ve learned so much through the process and had the opportunity to share my voice. Decisions are no longer being made for me, they’re being made with me at the table.

Always Do What’s Best for Your Students

You are the expert in your field. You know and understand your students, so do what’s best for them. As a teacher, I would never try and tell a neurosurgeon how to perform brain surgery, just as legislators shouldn’t be telling us how to do things in our classrooms. Sometimes we must stand up for what’s right and make decisions based on what’s best for our students.

Sara Arnold teaches elementary gifted and talented students in Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Public Schools. She participated in the VIVA ISEA Teachers Idea Exchange.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

✧ Presidential Candidates on Education:

Here’s a round-up of the major 2016 presidential candidates’ positions on education:

✧ CPS Distress

On Tuesday, the Chicago Teachers Union announced that the school district is asking teachers to take a 7% pay cut in their upcoming contract. [NEEDS LINK]

✧ Ed Pays Off

According to a new study, “Americans with an advanced degree are 50 times more likely to become millionaires than those without a high school diploma.” Other findings link wealth and income with education.

✧ MT Opt-Out

It looks unlikely that Montana will meet the minimum testing participation requirements for the Common Core state standards. “The challenge is that all of these things are outside our control.”

✧ Teacher / Healer

In an era of conflict, this MindShift article explains how teachers have the power to heal their classrooms and the world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

✧ EdTech Gap

New research indicates that up to 58% of high school students (grades 9-12) are using their own tech devices for school.

✧ Grade Skipping

NPR follows up with students who skipped grades and dives into the good, the bad, and the surprising.

✧ Nashville Ed Agreement

The Nashville Public Education Foundation launched Project Reset to bring the community together to discuss what could work for local schools, instead of a heated debate.

✧ CCSS Debate

The New York Times debate, “Is Testing Students the Answer to America’s Education Woes?“ has us wondering where the expert educators are to weigh in on this issue, considering they’re the ones who see it in action, and will have to implement it.

✧ Teacher Appreciation Deals

Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week by taking advantage of some wonderful deals and discounts from local stores for their local teachers! Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Monday, May 4, 2015



✧ Ed Hashtag

The trending hashtag #TeachingIs from @teachingquality asks teachers to share what teaching is to them. Share your story on Twitter.


New polls from Children Now and Public Policy Institute of California show that Californians continue to support the Common Core standards. According to EdWeek, true success lies in the proper implementation and proper funding of programs that help facilitate the transition.

✧ Teacher Discusses CCSS

In The Washington Post, a teacher discusses her implementation concerns with CCSS, such as security, outsources scoring, and the use of “intellectual relativism.”

✧ NY Opt-Out

According to WaPo, opting out is a much bigger issue than just “not participating” in a single test, but rather a complete refusal of education reform. “If this [opt-out] thing goes national, the whole education reform movement is in serious trouble.” –Michael Petrelli.

✧ Informing Parents

Research conducted by Public Policy Institute of California found that “62% of California public school parents had received inadequate or no information about the Common Core State Standards.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

✧ Teacher Retention

According to The National Center for Education Statistics, far fewer teachers are leaving the profession after their first year (17%) than originally thought (40-50%).

✧ Mentor Retention

However, a report conducted by The Institute for Education Sciences found that teacher mentorship plays a huge role in retention.


Two local Louisiana administrators answer questions about implementing the Common Core standards. They explain how empowering teachers and providing with the support they need is key. “Through this approach we have found that we learn more about the real needs in schools and create higher quality resources that get broader use and more effective results.”

✧ VA Early Ed Investments

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe explains why he’s set on investing in early childhood education. He cites the benefits of Virginia’s economic future, and institutes a statewide obligation to educate young students.

✧ Homegrown Teachers

Chicago Business Magazine says local teacher recruitment programs like Grow Your Own Teachers in Illinois that recruit diverse and local candidates to teach in public schools are worth investing in. Homegrown teachers “were able to quickly relate to families and enlist them as partners in educating children. They had high expectations and relevant lessons for students. And their students often outperformed others.”

Thursday, April 30, 2015

✧ Not-So-High Stakes Testing

A survey conducted by The Hechinger Report looked at states that have adopted the Common Core and how they plan to use test scores this spring, and found that most states won’t be using the results for major decisions that affect students or teachers, contrary to widespread Common Core myths.

✧ Gifted Learners

Are we overlooking gifted students and failing to provide them with academic opportunities? An article in KQED’s MindShift blog stresses the importance of adopting accelerated learning opportunities and warns what a “huge waste of talent” it would be not to invest in testing them.

✧ Obama E-Book Initiative

Today, President Barack Obama will announce his latest two education initiatives as part of his two-year-old ConnectED program that “aims to improve education through digital connectivity,” stressing that more and more schools are gaining internet access (and thus e-book capabilities).

✧ KinderGap

Researchers at Columbia University’s National Center for Children and Families at Teachers College have found that most pre-school classrooms are economically segregated. The researchers recommend ways to create more balance, including funding, transportation, and location.

✧ Teachers Implement Common Core

“The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to prepare every child for college or a career. Though state leaders developed these standards, many have characterized the reform as ‘top-down’. Our research reveals that regardless of how the standards came to be embraced, a “bottom-up” approach to implementing them can yield significant dividends for students.” – Carmel Martin
Read our own teacher-driven report on the keys to successful Common Core implementation.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

✧ President on Baltimore

In the wake of the Baltimore riots, President Barack Obama urged Americans to refocus on education issues such as breaking the school-to-prison pipeline and investing in initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper.

✧ Support Baltimore’s Teachers

In the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s funeral and the Baltimore riots, it’s important to help support Baltimore’s teachers, “who once again are called upon not only to educate but to counsel and calm.”

✧ Schools Close

Yesterday, Baltimore schools were closed and various field trips were canceled “citing the potential for continued disruption and violence.” Schools were re-opened today.

✧ Access Denied

Yesterday’s citywide closures mean Baltimore families were unable to participate in numerous services, including daycare, and free or reduced-price meals for students. “Tens of thousands of kids may be affected, as 84 percent of students in the city of Baltimore qualify for reduced-price lunches,” the Baltimore Sun reported in 2014.

✧ Promise Zones

The Obama administration announced that six urban areas, including Ferguson, MO, have been designated as “Promise Zones” where the government will work with local leaders to attack poverty, improve education, and build stronger communities.

Monday, April 27, 2015

✧ How Teachers Want to Evaluate

When it comes to evaluating students, teachers want to be consulted to create assessments that “inform instruction AND contribute to teachers’ professional knowledge base.

✧ Core Reading

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham asks if Common Core helps boost reading comprehension, and finds that while standards help track progress, we must ensure that students have broad background knowledge in order to have a general understanding of materials they read and continue building their reading comprehension.

✧ MI Teacher Prep Drop

Across the state of Michigan, the enrollment numbers in teacher prep courses has severely decreased. The drop has been linked to overall lack of job security due to the recent layoffs, budget cuts, and shrunken salaries throughout the state.

✧ NY Eval Delay

The New York Education Department has delayed the implementation of new teacher evaluations from this November to September 2016, citing an “unrealistic deadline.” The Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch says the new evaluation plan will be ready to roll out by June 30th.

✧ Parents & Common Core

Looking at Florida as an example (where no students opted out of standardized testing), it seems that when parents are educated and understand the goals, process, and outcomes of Common Core, they come around and support it.

Things I Never Would Have Guessed About Teaching


by Amanda Morick

When I first entered the field of education, I never would have guessed that the teacher leader role would take on a mind of its own. I looked at administrators and thought, “There is no way I would want that kind of position. Way too much pressure is associated with taking the reins and spearheading change. I just don’t have the wherewithal for that sort of thing.”

I understood that teachers are lifelong learners, but I assumed that meant we needed to stay up-to-date in our content areas. I have found, through my work with Teach to Lead, that lifelong learning means meta-cognition at its finest. We must be constant innovators and introspective nearly to the point of mania in order to do the best for our students, families, and communities.

When I was pursuing my Master’s degree, I never would have guessed how a course entitled “Teachers as Leaders” would eventually relate to my daily practice. I successfully completed the course with an A, but I didn’t comprehend what this would look like or how I could put it into practice for myself.

The theory of how this type of leadership benefits the greater system of education made basic sense, but I didn’t have a vision for how I would fit in on my end. How could I have known I would proudly label myself as a teacher leader just a few years later?

When I received a call from my colleague, Lesley Hagelgans, I never would have guessed how our action research would emerge into a system-changing initiative. We began researching, surveying, and harvesting/analyzing data for our school alone. Before I knew it, we were ready to take on the whole field of education for our proactive efforts.

When I attended the Louisville Teach to Lead summit, I never would have guessed that our project would be encouraged and highlighted in our state and even the nation. Through the time spent seeing what other individuals, schools, districts, and states were doing to develop innovative ideas, I felt propelled in my interest to develop a stronger school community. Hearing success stories encouraged my belief that I really could do more to increase student achievement on a larger scale, even though I’m “only a teacher.”

Only a teacher? What? Is there anyone who knows more about the needs of learners? No way! If this is the case, then we should be the ones figuring out what’s best for our kids.

Even better, we are absolutely in the position to do just that. I learned ways to communicate with administration in a way that aligns their vision with ours. We discovered how others were already pioneering the road to teacher voice. The Teach to Lead initiative also showed me that there were significantly more resources available to me than I could have guessed.

I don’t dare to guess—now that I’ve seen the many surprises that teacher leadership has provided—what the future will hold for me as a teacher leader. As I develop my own ideas about what it means to lead from my role as an educator, doors continue to open, and progress continues to be made.

After we were selected to have a Leadership Lab at our school, our scope of possibility seemed nearly limitless. What we discovered was that because the community as a whole is striving to see successful, healthy humans, we were all invested in the same effort.

Providing a connection and common ground, the Lab put us all at the same table both literally and figuratively. Teach to Lead has pushed me to be a better teacher and a better contributor to society. Encouraging us to challenge the status quo has provided a platform for trying new things.

Self Portrait- Amanda

Amanda Morick teaches six graders at Marshall Middle School—specializing in Language Arts. She contributes to The IF Team’s Action Research Project, is the co-chair of the School Improvement Writing team, and teacher leader within the Language Arts committee. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

✧ Ed Journalism

What exactly do education writers talk about? On Monday, 500 of them attended the  Education Writers Association’s 68th Annual Seminar. Here are the top stories they were talking about.

✧ Early Ed

We all know early childhood education is extremely important. However, investments aren’t focused on where they should be: training teachers.

✧ Global Ed

What will the worldwide education goal of 2015 be? The Huffington Post thinks mobilizing national and international education standards and focusing on building strong communities are key.

✧ #Twitter

Twitter is a valuable resource for teachers. See how it can help you share, connect, and potentially heal.

✧ Game Theory

Could gaming be an effective way to teach students? Developers at DragonBox have created ed-minded games that seamlessly move students from basic level math into complex problems while maintaining the fun and imagination of traditional video games.