New Idea Exchange on Teacher Licensure in Colorado

logo_join_bannerWhen the Colorado General Assembly convenes in the new year, it will be considering legislation governing educator licensure. The Colorado Education Association (CEA) strongly believes the experience and insights of educators are critical to shaping any changes to Colorado’s licensing system. For that reason, last week, CEA launched a VIVA Idea Exchange to seek member input on creating the most effective state licensure and renewal system. The resulting recommendations will help to shape CEA’s positions on our state’s licensure standards.

If you are a CEA member, please join the VIVA CEA Idea Exchange: Teacher Licensure to share your ideas for re-envisioning Colorado’s licensure system. If you know a CEA member, help us spread the word. The Idea Exchange will be open until Oct. 25th.

Eduwonk: Guest blog series by VIVA Teachers and staff

For the week of Sept. 27, 2013, New Voice Strategies staff and VIVA Teachers from around the country submitted posts for a guest series on the prominent Eduwonk blog. Read excerpts below and click the links to read the entire posts.

My Transition from the Classroom to Amplifying Teacher Voice by Xian Barrett, New Voice Strategies national program director and former Chicago Public Schools teacher

As you read the series, I want you to keep in mind these guiding principles of our work. First, we believe that full engagement from all professionals in a public service is the only way to solve the most complex of our societal problems. We’ve all been in rooms where decision makers have bemoaned how challenging it is to get parents, teachers and students to “buy-in,” and then strategized how to secure that buy-in. Let’s be blunt. That doesn’t work. Our nation has been at its greatest when tyranny has been overcome by democratic action; it has failed disastrously when those in power have been left to decide what’s best for everyone else.

Holding the Keys to the Education Kingdom by Jim Szewc (VIVA MET), full-time mentor to beginning teachers in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools.

Ranging from reforming teacher evaluation systems to redesigning professional development systems to be more like social networks that provide educators with ongoing, instant support and feedback, our initiatives spoke to the issues and needs each of us have faced. Although we had deadlines and an assignment to complete, we all felt the giddiness of being offered the keys to the education kingdom. Few of us had ever before been given a platform to speak our minds so freely and bounce ideas off some of the most influential game-changers in the education world.

Cultural Competency Amongst Teachers by Pia P. Payne-Shannon (VIVA Minneapolis), who teaches sixth and seventh grade Language Arts classes at Nellie Stone Johnson Community School.

District professional development needs to bridge the cultural gap that exists between teachers and students, and among diverse students. As teachers, we know structural changes need to be implemented in order for our academic environments to be more conducive to scholarly achievement … We need to demonstrate to our families that we are serious about valuing the diversity of our students by ensuring that all staff working with students become culturally self-aware, knowledgeable about the dynamics of cultural interactions, and select relevant curricula to acknowledge the cultural diversity in our schools.

School Safety, Part 1: Children Deserve Action by Kori Milroy (VIVA Chicago), who teaches grammar school science.

While teachers and school administrators have been busy conducting drills and comforting anxious children, our national lawmakers have been busy doing absolutely nothing about this problem. This past spring, the United States Congress absurdly voted down a perfectly reasonable (and popular) background check proposal that also included the establishment of a commission to study school safety. The legislation would have improved mental health reporting to the background check system, which everyone agrees needs to happen. That Congress couldn’t get enough votes for these simple safety measures is beyond disgraceful. Their actions told American students, teachers and parents, “You are on your own. Good luck.”

School Safety, Part 2: Bridging the Gun Divide by Dean Raizman (VIVA NEA), teacher-librarian for Jefferson County Public Schools in Lakewood, Colo.

E pluribus unum. This Latin quote is on all our currency and loosely translated means “out of many, one.”  With this saying, the founding fathers seem to have identified the biggest difficulty of a democracy: the process of finding consensus from diverse viewpoints. This process can be our strength, as we unite, or immobilize us, and be our weakness. Are we up to the challenge?  I believe that if all parties are willing to sit down with one another, and assume positive intent underlying opposing viewpoints, then we can identify our shared beliefs and find a non contentious starting place to discuss and act on public gun policy and law.

Policy and Practice: Why Teacher Voice Matters by New Voice Strategies Founding CEO Elizabeth Evans

If policy makers and politicians approach conversation with teachers as a public relations stunt, another opportunity to spin their message, or a tactic in negotiations, all the teacher talk in the world will add up to not much. It’s going to take listening by leaders to put teachers in the center of the policy making process. At New Voice Strategies, we don’t choose sides, we choose listeners. We’ve had the good fortune to work with, among others, the statewide union leaders in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Iowa, charter advocates in Arizona and New Jersey, and superintendents in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis. They sometimes differ dramatically on fundamental issues of how to make public schools work for students. What they all do agree on: there’s great power and promise in finding new ways to bring classroom teachers into policy making, that re-shaping the role of teachers in policy making will strengthen their classroom practices, and they are willing to gamble on an unconventional approach because they feel the urgency to improve opportunities for learning for more students.



New York Times: Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?

NYTcoverIn Sunday’s New York Times, Jennifer Kahn, who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, asks “Can Emotional Intelligence Be Taught?”  Her provocative piece examines different approaches to Social Emotion Learning (SEL) that are playing out at schools across the country and offers insights from academics, psychologists, administrators and teachers.

She writes, “Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”

We want to know what you think. Should schools be focusing on SEL? Has your school adopted an SEL curriculum? How is it working for you, in your classroom?

The Way We Live in Newtown: Letting Love Win

by Katherine Doerr Morosky

When I went for a run this morning, I forgot to lock my front door. About two miles away from home, a sign in someone’s front yard jostled my memory: “Grant them peace.” The wind rustled the late summer leaves; the only other sounds were birds singing and insects buzzing. My town is rural, beautiful, bucolic, idyllic. It’s Newtown, which the world now associates with gun violence and senseless murder. Yet, I still forgot to lock my door, because our tragedy caused transformed Newtown by love.

Like every other teacher I know, the final days of summer vacation are a mixture of anticipation about new classes, new curricula, new colleagues. This summer was dominated by a new anxiety: school safety. How were my district’s safety protocols going to change, if at all? The high school where I teach, in a neighboring district, shares a school resource officer (SRO) with the middle school. The school’s front door remained unlocked all last winter and spring, even though the most shocking mass shooting in U.S. history happened only 30 minutes away. At this year’s opening faculty meeting on emergency procedures, I learned they were keeping that practice. In fact, nothing about security was significantly altered from last school year, apart from placing alarms on more exterior doors. Several of my colleagues expressed concern at the slow pace of action. A representative from the community safety committee assured us that the plan was still being updated and we would hear more in the winter. In the meantime, our old lockdown plan was in place, with one new twist. If the situation called for us to do something outside the confines of lockdown, we should use our best judgment. I immediately thought of a recurring dream from last year: leading my students in tying a rope ladder from jackets and everyone climbing out the window to safety.

How can anyone know how he or she will respond in a crisis? We can only speculate based upon personal experience or what we learn from others. Some of what I know comes from a child: my daughter’s friend was in Vicki Soto’s class at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14. She survived the massacre because she ran behind Adam Lanza when he put his gun down, ran down the hall to the driveway to the firehouse. It was her best judgment at that time, in that unfathomable situation, and it saved her life. An adult instinct would be the leave a secured area to confront a threat. Our best knowledge of the Sandy Hook massacre is that by putting themselves in Adam Lanza’s way, the adults he killed saved some children’s lives. Reflecting this, the Obama administration’s school safety guidelines, released in June, suggested that in the worst case it might be a viable option for staff to confront an assailant. I wonder if my moral compass will allow me to know when that worst-case is.

For hours on December 14, my daughters Pearl and Marie-Therese sat on the floor in their darkened fourth and first-grade classrooms at Hawley Elementary. Marie-Therese told me that she and her friend hugged each other and prayed to Jesus to keep them safe from the robber. Before that day, the scariest thing she could imagine was a robber. Metaphorically, Adam Lanza and the weapons he used were robbers: He robbed Newtown of its innocence and naïveté, especially its teachers. Teachers like my daughters’, who, crushed with the knowledge their students’ innocence was forever changed, still held it together for the whole school day on December 14. Heroes, they kept their faces calm and their voices upbeat, soldiering on until the normal dismissal time. It wasn’t professionalism or being on the clock that enabled this courage. It was their love for their vocation and the children who needed them.

In the first weeks after the massacre, I was in shock. The horrific truth was way beyond my comprehension. A weird mantra was running through my head.  “Now I get to live.” But life felt like a sentence, not a blessing. As my fog lifted, a new message began to develop: “We are Sandy Hook, and we choose love.” It was on car magnets and signs, hung in windows all over town. Newtowners, united by the profoundest loss, could only make meaning with love.

That love has pushed me to do things I never considered before. I’m a scientist, a chemistry and physics teacher. I don’t consider writing a core competency of mine. However, I couldn’t resist an invitation through the National Education Association (NEA) to add ideas about improving school safety – something I’m passionate about — to a VIVA Idea Exchange. I worked with over 10 other teachers from across the country to collaboratively write the Sensible Solutions for Safer Schools report, and then travel together to Washington D.C., to present and discuss our recommendations about school climate, character education, safety protocols, and gun control with officials at NEA and the U.S. Department of Education. Back in Wilton, when my department asked if anyone wanted to teach the new special-ed science courses, I volunteered. Again, this is a totally new experience that I never would have considered a year ago. These contributions are tribute to the 20 children and six teachers Newtown lost on December 14. Even though it takes extra effort to push through grief, I encourage myself with Dawn Hochsprung’s simple motto: “Be nice to each other, it’s all that really matters.”

KMoroskyKatherine Doerr Morosky teaches science at Wilton High School in Wilton, Conn. She participated in the VIVA NEA Writing Collaborative on school safety.

A Democracy Needs Authenticity

Where is the authenticity in American government?

As I indulged in my weekly obsession—Sunday morning news talk shows—I was struck by the lack of candor spewing forth. These media-trained, on-message politicians and political commentators told us next to nothing that could be considered authentic information about our country, the campaign or the future. I turned off the television in dismay.

Photo: Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Demanding pre-approval

I shouldn’t have been surprised, really. After all, the New York Times on Monday bared its journalistic soul with a story called “Last Word on the Trail? I Take It Back.” The story, which caused quite an uproar among non-Beltway journalists, revealed that high-level politicians now demand to approve their quotes before they can be used in print.  The writer, Jeremy W. Peters, blamed it on “a millisecond Twitter news cycle and an unforgiving, gaffe-obsessed media culture.”

Whatever the reason, I don’t think this can be good for our society, our government or our future.

Authentic Teacher Voices
That’s why I am so proud of the VIVA Teachers who share their time, their ideas and their authentic voice with us as part of our VIVA Idea Exchanges. And glad that American government still has at least a few public  leaders who believe in leadership that requires them to workable solutions not just shouting louder and more dogmatically.

Being authentic comes with risk. At the top political levels, they risk taking a hit during one ever-shortening news cycle. At the classroom, school and district level, our teachers sometimes risk their very jobs by speaking out.

We do our best to protect them from scrutiny. The VIVA Idea Exchange displays only their first name, last initial and (usually) what they teach. But there’s always the risk of an unusual name combined with a teaching specialty and a motivated person could figure out who is talking.

Worth the risk
At a recent national meeting of nonprofits helping teachers find their own public voice,  some of the bold teachers who have volunteered their time and talent with other organizations shared the risks they take—bloggers who get “flamed” on the Internet, policy agitators who have had their pay docked for attending meetings, teachers who speak out and are spurned by colleagues or punished by public administrators.  Yet, each of those teachers raised their authentic voice because they believed it was in the best interests of their students and their profession.

That’s the kind of passion our country needs. That’s the kind of courage that is required of a leader. That’s the authentic voice that can make a difference.

If a classroom teacher can do it, shouldn’t we expect the same from the people who lead this country?


Common Core State Standards

Our next project, the VIVA Arizona Charter School Teachers Idea Exchange, launches Monday, April 16.

Charter school teachers from across Arizona will have the chance to share their ideas about the state’s implementation of Common Core standards. Do you know any charter teachers in Arizona? Tell them about VIVA. They can log on to to share their voice.  Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal and State Board of Education President Jaime Molera are anxious to hear what the charter teachers have to say. See the VIVA Teachers flier for more information about how to get involved.

VIVA Appreciates

Glenn Morehouse Olson for writing a commentary for the Minnesota Educator in which she says she has “never felt so empowered in (her) life.”   Hers was one of two articles in the union newspaper. The other offers details of the VIVA Minnesota teachers’ recommendations for principal evaluations.

ABC Newspapers for interviewing VIVA Minnesota teachers about their report: “360 Degree Leadership: Evaluating Minnesota Principals.”

Education Next for featuring our video on the front page of their website which generated some interesting comments.

Teach Plus for writing a blog on VIVA’s website about its Assessment Advisor, which is a great tool to encourage the use of multiple measures for teacher and student evaluations.

Education Karma for keeping us out of harm’s way on Friday the 13th (today!)

VISION: How VIVA Teachers are Shaping Education Policy

VIVA was featured on Education Next’s “What We’re Watching” section.

Allan Fluharty was quoted in a NY Times article: YouTube Subtracts Racy and Raucous to Add a Teaching Tool.

Watch a video of Chicago VIVA Teacher, Xian Barrett, speaking on February 22, 2012 at Chicago BOE Meeting where VIVA teachers were recognized for their work on the VIVA report: “Time, Teachers and Tomorrow’s Schools.”

VIVA Minnesota teachers were interviewed by ABC Newspapers about their report on principal evaluations.

Read VIVA NY teacher Mark Anderson’s latest blog: “Quote of the Day: Hold Schools Accountable for Contexts and Content.

VIVA Chicago Teacher, Jeanne Walker, will be holding a silent auction during the Arts Festival on April 27 from 5-8pm in the Boys Gym at Orr Academy High School. Students have been asked to create furniture inspired by a local hero or organization and to use painted furniture designs inspired by outsider or visionary artists. The proceeds from the furniture sold at the silent auction will be split: half will go to the students and half will go to student-led initiatives that support the school’s mission such as girls and boys groups, Parent University, and yoga for stress and confidence. If you’d like to know more, you can email Jeanne at

VIVA Chicago teacher, Kori Milroy, is creating a podcast of teachers talking about education policy issues. More details coming soon!

IDEAS: What VIVA Teachers Have to Say about Current Topics in Education

A People-(Em)Powered Evaluation System (Huffington Post)
A former teacher’s view about how teacher evaluations should be structured. Her ideas are very similar to what New York VIVA teachers wrote in the policy report: Opening Doors to Professional Communication and Collaboration.

Bayan Cadotte: Have Teachers Share the ‘Wows and Wonders’ (The New York Times)
This principal discusses how she has helped teachers share best practices to successfully implement the Common Core Standards in her school . Minnesota VIVA teachers recently wrote 10 recommendations on how to evaluate principals; this principal would receive high marks for recommendation 7: Principals need to be able to create a positive school climate to establish a thriving learning culture.

We are the 69%: Sharing the Best Assessments with More than the Lucky Few (VIVA Teachers Website)
Teach Plus created an amazing tool for educators called the Assessment Advisor Tool. VIVA New York teachers would agree that this is a great way to encourage multiple measures of teacher evaluations, especially in currently non-tested subjects. VIVA teachers’ recommendation was that “Multiple measures must be used to evaluate a teacher’s performance in a manner that is adjusted for the particular context in which the teacher works.

Apply to the Leading Educators Fellowship (Leading Educators’ Website)
The deadline is April 2 to apply for this great opportunity to become a teacher leader.

VOICE: Tales from the Classroom

Karon Stewart was one of the writers of the VIVA Chicago policy report: “Time, Teachers, and Tomorrow’s Schools.”






1.  Where do you teach?

I teach at Carrie Jacob Bond Elementary School. It is located in the Englewood community in Chicago.

2.  What do you teach?

I teach middle-school mathematics, 6th – 8th grade.

3.  How/ why did you become a teacher?

I always wanted to become a teacher, but was convinced as a freshman in college to major in engineering. I dropped out of college and worked briefly as a computer programmer but I had no passion for it.  I didn’t feel like I was making a contribution to society. When my children started pre-school, I returned to college to get my teaching certification. I saw this as an opportunity to pursue my original life’s goal and direct my children’s education.

4.  Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 30 years?

5 years: I’d like to develop another team of students to enter the Future City contest. We had a team last year and we won two special prestigious awards. I also want to spend more time introducing African-American girls to fields in math, specifically engineering. I’d like to get my PH.D. in mathematics education. Lastly, three years ago, I entered one of my students in a competition and she won. She was mentored by Susan Taylor though the White House Project and BarbieÓ. I feel the impact on her world-view and her place in it was enormous. I would like to reconnect with Ms. Taylor and seek out more student mentoring opportunities.

10 years: I would like to work with parental involvement programs and participate in more lesson study projects. I also want to observe schools in other countries.

30 years: Hopefully, alive! I’ll be 90 years old.

5. What’s your favorite teaching quote or advice?

  • If a child is not engaged everywhere, it may be the child, but if a child can be engaged anywhere, it’s the teacher.
  • A child doesn’t care to learn until they learn you care.

6. How do you influence policy at your school?

I’m a currently a member of the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) and I’m working on the middle-school behavior management plan with the middle-school team. I had some input in the planning of our Innovative School Day schedule.  I have also served as upper-department chair and Lead Math Teacher.

7. How are you a VIVA teacher-leader?

I received an e-mail about a site that asked for teacher input on the question of the longer school day. First, I read the comments and posted a few of my own and I continued to return to the site, a lot. The in-depth “cyberspace” discussions and the opportunities for reflections and discourse facilitated by the VIVA site are almost impossible in the “Real World.”

Then, I was asked to participate in the “next step,” which was to draft a position paper based on the comments of the teachers who participated in the online discussions. I was originally going to decline because of the controversial nature of the topic, however, I didn’t want to be one of those people who complain about what they don’t like after someone else does all the hard work. I had no idea, at the time, of the impact VIVA would have.

8. What issue do you think VIVA should do an idea exchange about in your city?

I know this is controversial, but in most low performing schools, student behavior is the real issue. I have been fortunate to meet a few really gifted teachers who are experts in classroom management skills, but only a few. Many teachers are content area experts. They are not fully equipped with all the complex social skills needed to engage the most challenging students. We definitely need more social-emotional learning skills training. I learned this term through Jeanne, a fellow VIVA teacher leader. I think most, if not all, teachers come into the field very idealistic and excited about the profession, but in low-performing schools, teachers become frustrated and burnt out because the obstacles to academic achievement can be overwhelming.

I know somebody has to do something about failing students. Turnarounds and school closings are the district’s way to address the issue of low student achievement but it doesn’t seem to be working very well.

Most of the parents at my school are good parents and partner with the school in their child’s education.  But some of those parents share my frustration with the students whose parents are not effective. It’s the elephant in the room and it has to be addressed if any real progress is going to be made. Behavior management plans, like PBIS need more serious attention and must be a priority.

Next year, my school will be accepting students from a school closed for low performance. A co-worker shared an article citing research that the accepting school usually closes two years after receiving these students so, of course, I am very concerned about the future of my school. Yesterday, students from that school went on a field trip and they were so disruptive the police had to be called.  What are we supposed to do with these children? How are we going to maintain our standards of achievement? The staff at my school has been working overtime to insure that all of our students will be successful, but I think we’re going to need a lot of parental and community involvement.

I think VIVA can provide an opportunity for stakeholders to engage in the level of intense discussion this problem needs.

9. What advice would you give to teachers who want to be involved in education reform, but who don’t think they have the time?

I don’t think I’m the one to give advice on this topic. Before VIVA, I have never felt my opinion mattered beyond the school walls. I will say however, that when there is an opportunity to share your voice, take it. You never know who’s listening.

10. How can VIVA help you be a more active teacher-leader?
VIVA is on the cutting edge of using technology to promote discourse. I think the longer school day project has demonstrated what VIVA can do. I hope VIVA tackles other important issues that effect academic achievement and improve public education. I will definitely continue to be part of the process.