By Lynn Otaguro
Have you ever been in a room full of people when an idea starts to grow like an avalanche, moving in one direction, with everyone being pulled along? But you’re the one who has to take responsibility for the decisions made in the room, so you ask a question. People rethink their positions and suddenly the answer is very different, because the information considered is more complete.
This is the value of giving people a voice and listening to diverse points of view. I have been in that room and I have been that person, but in a former life, not as a teacher.
This fall, teachers came together in the VIVA Idea Exchange to talk about accountability in public education. Over 900 teachers responded with ideas, sharing comments with one another. Seventeen teachers then worked collaboratively to create a report reflecting those ideas and made recommendations for transforming the present systems of accountability and responsibility in public education. I was fortunate to be one of the seventeen teachers in the Writing Collaborative.
The report we wrote, “Changing the Story: Transformation Toward Fair Accountability and Responsibility in Public Education”, takes a broader view of accountability in education. It asks that we treat our children as individuals and teach them so that they can be successful in all aspects of their lives. It asks that schools be funded equitably so all children have the best chance at success. It asks that schools be structured more collaboratively so that they are more supportive of parents, students, and teachers. It asks that teachers be allowed to use specific knowledge of their own classrooms, students, and themselves, to choose the steps that will best help them improve and serve their students.
Sometimes, as a teacher, it feels as if we are in those rooms where decisions are being made about education, but unlike my own former experience, we have no voice and are unable to provide input. The national conversation about accountability and responsibility in education tends to be very narrow: teacher evaluations, high-stakes testing, and who is responsible (or to blame) for public education. I first approached the issue in that way, but then, for me, the teachers in the Idea Exchange and the Writing Collaborative served as the person in the room raising a question, and I began to think more deeply about the issues.
When we talk about our responsibility in education, shouldn’t we be thinking about how our current policies and decisions affect the next generation? Are we giving our children what they need to lead a full, well-rounded life? Are our schools structured in a way that gives our children what they need or that allows teachers to provide these things?
These questions need to be raised, but they will only be raised and considered when we give our teachers a voice. Our educational decisions will only be complete when we listen to those who must implement our policies. The report written by the Writing Collaborative is a step toward giving teachers the kind of voice that can make a difference.
You can read the “Changing the Story” report online. Please read it. Talk about it. Agree or disagree with it, but let it be the beginning of a conversation that includes teachers in the decisions that affect our schools and classrooms. Teachers care deeply about their students. Let teachers help find solutions to the issues surrounding public education.
Lynn Otaguro is a first grade teacher in Honolulu, Hawaii. Previously she was an attorney who represented the State of Hawaii Department of Education. She participated in the NEA 360 Idea Exchange; “Changing the Story”