By Marla Ucelli-Kashyap, Assistant to the President for Educational Issues at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
Last weekend nearly 3,000 delegates representing AFT's 1.5 million members — school teachers, paraprofessionals, health care providers, higher education faculty, early childhood educators, and government employees — gathered in Detroit for our biennial convention. The still-sorry state of global economic affairs, the lost financial ground of the middle class, and the multi-pronged attacks on unions and collective bargaining were among the challenges on the minds of the assembled. But so, too, was what AFT President Randi Weingarten calls "solution-driven unionism".
In her convention keynote, Randi told delegates "More than ever, we need to act in innovative, creative and new ways — simultaneously refuting our critics, advancing our values, connecting with community and proposing solutions." And she cited examples of work already underway, such as partnerships with districts like New Haven, Connecticut, to revamp teacher development and evaluation and turn around low-performing schools. Or the diverse coalition in McDowell County, West Virginia, featured in an Education Week story, that is working not just on school improvement, but on transportation, technology/infrastructure, affordable housing for teachers, and health care and social services for residents. Or the multi-state, multi-district collaboration between AFT and First Book that engages teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and community in providing children access to the on-ramp to literacy — their own books to take home and keep. The key feature of solution-driven unionism is that it connects those AFT represents with those that we serve, benefitting both in the process.
A new example of solution-driven unionism connecting teachers with the students they serve was officially launched last Saturday in Detroit. It's called Share My Lesson. In a nutshell, Share My Lesson is a free on-line resource bank — a digital filing cabinet — of lesson plans, student activities, teacher strategies, quizzes, handouts, videos and more, organized and searchable by topic, sub-topic, grade, and type of resource. Currently with more than 250,000 resources, it's a place where educators can access their colleagues' expertise and upload their own best lessons. AFT's partner on the project is TSL Education, Inc., a UK-based company that runs TES Connect — the largest on-line community of teachers in the world, with over 2 million members, and 3.5 resources downloaded every second.
So what's new, you might be asking — as you read this blog post on-line and think of websites with features and resources that are just a click or two away? If you're a teacher who has spent a late night or a Sunday evening searching for just the right activity to jumpstart a lesson, for a compelling way to engage a struggling student, or for a new twist on teaching a classic text, you know what happens too often: Your internet search engine turns up 7 million hits...or leads you to a slow and clunky website...or you try to download a supposedly free resource only to find a hidden cost... or you register to upload your own successful lesson and later learn that someone is selling your resource on the very same site, or worse, your registration information. Share My Lesson aims to overcome those frequent drawbacks, but what the teachers who helped build the site like best about it can be summed up in six words: By teachers, for teachers, for free. And AFT and TES Connect offer a pledge that it will stay that way. Beyond the individual teacher-created lessons are collections of resources made available by dozens of content partners — many of them popular and helpful resource sites that are probably already on your go to list. And, with back-to-school already on the horizon, the site has a dedicated section on Common Core State Standards — with background information, news items, full text of the standards, and a starting collection of more than a thousand resources aligned by AFT teachers to Common Core English Language Arts and Mathematics standards.
But the most important thing about Share My Lesson is that its success depends first and foremost on the educators (teachers, teacher aides, media specialists, community based organizations, out of school time programs and others) who use it — of all types, levels, roles, and ranges of experience — and not just AFT members. And that's exactly why we believe it will be successful. Teachers don't just want quick access to something that will make their work lives easier — though at a time when they're being asked to do more with less, test as much as teach, and be accountable for things beyond their control, who would blame them if they did? No, what the vast majority of teachers want is to be part of the solution — the solution to better learning, development, and achievement for their students; the solution to inadequate opportunities for collaboration among colleagues near and far; and the solution to taking ownership of the profession to which they proudly belong. Share My Lesson is an opportunity to do just that.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.