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Making the Short Throws—Pragmatic Solutions in a Policy-Driven Conversation

Note: The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) will be blogging this week. Today Josh Parker, a 2013 Pearson Global Fellow and the 2012 Maryland State Teacher of the Year, joins us.

The modern NFL quarterback is the most complex position in sports. A starting signal-caller on any one of the 32 NFL football teams has to remember hundreds of plays. Within just one of those plays, there are multiple possibilities and usually at least three other players, moving at different directions and speeds. After memorizing each play, the quarterback must continually practice the proper footwork and throwing motions necessary for a completed pass. He does this for every play.

Teachers are not unlike quarterbacks. Instead of plays, there are lessons. Instead of receivers, there are students. Instead of repetitions, teachers have to go through their 'reps' as well. Each teacher attempts to pass the knowledge of the curriculum on to students, so they can pass the class.

One of the ways to separate a good quarterback from a great one is the consistency with which top-tier quarterbacks complete routine passes. The longer throws count too, but the completion rate on those attempts for even elite quarterbacks is 50/50. A signal-caller's ability to consistently make the short throws is central to their proficiency.

Amidst this debate about the future of education, we have missed focusing on the 'short throws.' Pressure from high-stakes tests, corporate interests and political posturing has made us think that the highest-percentage solutions are 80-yard long pass attempts (over several defenders, while being tackled and without a helmet on). Our system needs ambitious vision, but it also needs the focus to be able to consistently complete the eight-yard pass. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY) is an organization that deeply embeds these common sense solutions in their mission statement and seeks to advance the teacher voice in this conversation. Teachers need to be at the heart of this change and their inclusion is just one of the short throws we must complete. Here are some others:

 1. Trust and support teachers. Teachers are the field generals in the classroom and need to be supported and trusted to do their jobs. When teachers are empowered to lead and instruct, lasting educational change can happen.

 2. Empower communities to support the local school system. Define educational language in ways that can mobilize parents and community members to make productive contributions. Make the case for support by establishing common language about the needs of students and teachers.

 3.  Hold teachers accountable for tests that match what they are teaching. Assessments that are not rooted in the curriculum and standards of teachers' daily lessons cannot determine teaching ability. This is akin to labeling a quarterback a failure because they don't complete passes to players they never played with from a playbook they have never seen.

 4. Expect the school system to educate students. Our only task is to educate. Teaching well requires us to juggle many roles and as a result of a good education, we will be contributing to the solution of many social maladies. But to be clear—our job is not to cure society's ills. It is to educate children well.

One of NNSTOY's core beliefs is that partnerships are the bedrock of any successful endeavor. There is no partnership more vital to our success than the one between logical answers and teachers who are ready to lead. As we build on our past educational success as a nation, our focus on the practical will ensure we achieve the possible. 

--Josh Parker

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