My “It” Moment at VIVA Teachers

By Charlene Mendoza
VIVA Arizona Teachers Idea Exchange

As teachers, we know that moment when “it” happens. That moment when we know the bait was taken, the interest engaged, the inquiry begun or the spark ignited. That moment when the energy begins to flow and the classroom transforms into an active, engaging learning environment. For me, that describes my experience participating in the VIVA Arizona Charter Teachers Idea Exchange.

When I first saw the invitation to participate, I was mildly interested. As a teacher, my inbox is flooded with messages that appear to be similar in nature. Check this out! Buy this resource! Tell us what you think! Stop this! Start that! I am accustomed to being asked for a “teacher’s perspective” which often seems to give credence to another initiative or plan which typically does not really represent what I said, wrote, feel or believe. It is more like a celebrity endorsement…I talked to a “real teacher” and so my (fill in the blank here) is valid. Needless to say, I was skeptical.

Joining the Idea Exchange Conversation

I participated in an Idea Exchange about implementing the Common Core Standards in Arizona. As the topic was relevant to me, I logged on. At first, there were not a ton of responses, so, I decided to make a post that was relatively benign. Then, I began to get notices of responses to my post, questions from other teachers, ideas from other teachers, challenges from other teachers and suggestions of resources from other teachers.

I began to read other posts and respond to them. I was hooked! I had discovered a forum where a group of interested, articulate teaching professionals were engaged in a collaborative, collegial, constructive, critical conversation on my own schedule!

Although I was intrigued, I did not recognize at the time how valuable that experience was and still is. I continue to be enriched by the experience. Too often, talk in education devolves to complaints about what is being forced upon us or why whatever “it” is really is not much different than whatever “it” was before.

Rediscovering My Voice

By participating in the Idea Exchange, I rediscovered my voice and reignited my passion and found a place to use both.

This certainly does not mean that we all agreed about everything or even that we all became lifelong friends or anything like that. What it does mean, though, is that participating in the Idea Exchange connected me to others who were willing to be interested and engaged in real life conversations that pushed my thinking, sparked my interest and helped me to work more effectively with my students and colleagues.

I hope you accept the invitation to participate in the VIVA New Jersey Charter Teachers Idea Exchange! The experience is more than worth it.


The Complex Alchemy of Helping Students Learn

When I first started working on K-12 policy, about 10 years ago in the charter school movement, my favorite activity was visiting schools.  As a non-educator, I found it intimidating yet exhilarating to go into a school building and see what was going on.  Making a school hum is such a complex task and I loved the way the school administrators and teachers would break it down for me.

Empty classroom photo from Wiki CommonsI still don’t pretend to be an expert on the complex alchemy of teaching students. But now when I walk into a school, I pretty quickly get an idea of what I am going to find.

There are schools that have the culture of scholarship lurking in every corner of the building. It’s clear that students “get” the reason they are there.  In other schools, that energy and focus is found inside classrooms but not in the halls, cafeteria or other common spaces.  Same goes for the administrative space—some just give a visitor a 110% vibe of love of learning and clarity of purpose.  Others are well run, efficient but lack that zing.

Rarely have I visited a school in real crisis or chaos (they don’t let outsiders into those buildings, do they?)  so I’m not suggesting that any of the schools I visit are that painful 5% of truly awful schools.  But, what makes the difference between a school that soars and a school that plugs along?

Believing in the Wisdom of Teachers

I launched VIVA Teachers because I know the answer to these questions lies in the wisdom and work of classroom teachers.  It’s the sum of each teacher’s work in each class they teach that adds up to a school.  And somewhere between the syllabus for each class, the mix of classes a student takes, and the instruction that happens in every room every day is the DNA of how that school grabs its students and helps them tackle the work of scholarship.

But, students bring a lot to the table too.  Without a doubt their homes, their neighborhoods and their family resources are a big part of what they bring. There’s something else too—their spirit, their perspective, their yearnings, their ability to see long and short term, to sit down, to wrestle with a problem or an issue until they “get it.”

How do you describe this set of traits in students? How do you measure their use of those skills and “social intelligence” in the work of being in school and learning? It’s a topic that fascinates me and is increasingly grabbing academic attention and the headlines.

VIVA NJ Charter Teachers Idea Exchange

I’m so proud that VIVA Teachers is partnering with The New Jersey Charter Schools Association to give New Jersey charter school teachers a chance to explore these questions and bring their hard-earned experience from their classrooms to the fore via the VIVA NJ Charter Teachers Idea Exchange, which launches Sept. 17.

I can’t wait to hear what these committed teachers say and how they think we can translate those truths into a better understanding of what makes a school succeed.  I’m especially excited that we have the nation’s foremost researchers from The University of Pennsylvania in on the discussion.  Talk about bringing research into your classroom work!

Thank you for taking up the important work of educating New Jersey’s children and thank you for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us so we can make sure every single child in NJ has a truly equal opportunity to learn.

How to Successfully Implement Common Core

Source: AZ Charter Teachers’ Association

In a meeting with Arizona Superintendent John Huppenthal and State Board President Jaime Molera, VIVA Teacher Leaders offered their advice for smoothing the transition to Common Core State Standards for all schools in Arizona.

Two hundred VIVA Teachers who teach in Arizona’s charter schools, where they already are implementing the new, higher Common Core State Standards in their classrooms, participated in the first phase of the VIVA Arizona Charter Teachers Idea Exchange, from April 16-May 13, 2012. They shared 50 ideas for ways to ensure the transition to Common Core. Then, seven of those teachers distilled the ideas into the 36 recommendations they delivered to Huppenthal and Molera on June 13, 2012.

Read an executive summary of the report, or download the full 32-page report, “Arizona Charter Teachers’ Guide to Common Core Implementation: Advice from the Classroom,” here.

Read the press release here.