Where Will We Find the Trust Our Students Deserve?

Today’s blog topic: Trust.

It’s a tall order in short supply, particularly at this point in our political calendar. The presidential candidates spend far too much of their time attempting to undermine our trust in their opponent and not nearly enough time shoring up our trust in them.

Likewise, when teachers’ unions and school districts play their respective roles in the important work of running our nation’s public schools, they display precious little trust in the public. Worse, when the two sides head to the negotiating table to figure out how to work together in the interests of our children, they display even less trust in one another.

If we are going to achieve our national goals of ensuring that every student has a real opportunity to succeed, we have to be able to trust one another enough to speak the truth. About money. About what we need our children to know and how we can tell if they get it. About the definition of a great teacher. About how to get rid of the not-so-great teachers.

These aren’t easy conversations. But they are issues that great teachers–the teachers who have participated in our VIVA Teachers online conversations in Chicago, Arizona, Massachusetts, New York and Minnesota–have talked about openly and honestly.

VIVA Teachers exists to give teachers a place to talk amongst themselves and build the trust to speak the truth. To collaborate with peers and bring their experience to bear on the administration of public education, not just the delivery of material in the classroom. To grapple with the hard issues and come up with pragmatic, workable solutions. Maybe not the ideal for them, maybe not the ideal for their students, but solid, defensible actions that will deliver on our promise to children and not undermine their profession.

And, VIVA Teachers has caught the ear of some important listeners, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton. Even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel–not generally the Jeopardy answer to “The best listener among America’s politicians”- -was willing to listen deeply to what teachers had to say.

I’ve seen the results of those conversations in policy steps each of these public officials has taken. It’s electrifying to know that a bunch of hardworking classroom teachers have spoken truth to power and been heard.

But, we’ve only just now celebrated our first year (happy birthday to us) and those conversations between teachers and leaders are still far too few. The depressing fact is the vast majority of what passes for dialogue in the public sphere still consists of shouting past each other, sometimes literally!

So let’s stop arguing about personal values and personality issues and start talking, respectfully, about how we deliver on our promise of a great education for every American child who wants it, regardless of their household income, their ZIP code or their roots.

All it takes is a little trust.

What would make you give an extra dose of trust to a public official or leader?

Glimmers of Hope for Teachers

By Jesse Bacon
Social Media Consultant to VIVA

Karaoke night at Netroots Nation, the nation’s largest gathering of online activists. This crowd knows how to get down, sometimes drowning out the singer! Elana from Brooklyn, her bright orange hear shining like the sun, sings “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. When she gets to “Teachers..keep on teaching” she gets the largest cheer of the night!

Netroots Nation was not a teachers convention. Education occupied maybe the second tier of panels, the subject of four panels, a caucus and a movie. There was some division about what to do about it among the attendees, and a general despair at tackling such a difficult issue in the wake of Wisconsin. But, more importantly, love of teachers came out in the most spontaneous and beautiful moments.

It’s out there…plenty of evidence that tide of anti-teacher sentiment may be turning.

Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood was walking the floor of the exhibition hall at Netroots Nation 2012. She was one the most popular figures at the 2700 person progressive conference because of her  status as a right-wing bete noire. She cut a striking figure, as she passed a teachers’ union booth, she said “It’s nice to see someone standing up teachers!” She was one of the many who took a photo to thank their favorite teacher.

Van Jones, former Obama advisor and dreamer-in-chief at Rebuild the Dream, was delivering the keynote speech of the conference about the conference’s central dilemma of how to simultaneously disagree with Obama on some issues and ensure his reelection. He used the word quandary, then said off-handedly “Thank you public school education. Thank you teachers.”

So from all of us at VIVA Teachers, whether you are liberal or conservative, whether you teach in a public school or some other kind, we want to echo those leaders: Thank you. You are not alone.”

What do you think, teachers? Is the tide turning?