The Freedom of Teacher Voice: Why Unbiased Support Matters
Like thousands of folks from across the nation, I spent this past weekend in Washington D.C. The Teach For America 25th Anniversary Summit meant 20+ hours in the air to spend time with an organization that I have admittedly had a tenuous relationship with in recent years.
It was really nice (I am sure I will share later).
That's not what I'm most grateful for, at the moment. Right now, I am thankful that I was able to enter the summit with an open mind and heart, unencumbered by bias, agenda, or fear.
Let me explain: going to the summit, for many alumni, was not free. While Teach For America was able to provide some aid, and I'm grateful, they have folks to support with greater need.
That's when Hope Street Group stepped up to the plate. Hope Street Group works with teachers to provide opportunities to raise their voice through lobbying, publishing opinion pieces, and learning to use social media.
Here's the thing: this is one of the few times I am involved in professional development that, so far, has been unbiased in its politics. No one asked if I agreed with Common Core or not (I've seen two fellows from my cohort publish different opinions). No one asked me my political beliefs when I applied.
Of course, rarely any group is free from politicized funding; in this case, the Gates foundation and Walmart are big ones. These bring understandable pause.
Still, at the educator level, it's refreshing to feel as though I have no party line to toe. There was no political agenda, just a desire to support my activism as an educator. I breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to know I could enter a political space with no compass but my own.
We live in a world where, unfortunately, money and power are intrinsically tied (we could take that a layer deeper: money and power are also often intrinsically tied to race, but that's another post). As an educator who appreciates when a fellowship or internship will pay, this can (and has) put me in uncomfortable positions in the past.
So, here's an important call to action: we need more professional development that doesn't force teachers to toe a party line. We need everyone-- unions, NBCT, teacher preparation programs and national teacher communities-- to understand that the way we improve the profession is to actually provide opportunities for teacher leadership and voice. If "opportunity" is tied to contractual or professional "obligations" that restrict free thinking, it hardly feels opportune.
The teaching profession is best served when we as educators appreciate the nuance about issues that the education system is dealing with. We all are pushed towards more empathy and greater understanding when we're allowed to listen to and discuss with each other without fear of retribution.
We talk a lot about teacher voice and leadership in the education profession. Leadership and advocacy don't come without a healthy dose of questioning, critical feedback, and having an open mind to be pushed. Still, it is too often that I see folks get caught up in the zero-sum game. The "us" and "them." We see people push back on the dominant mindset within a group only to be called "traitors" or "_____ sympathizers" or have their motives questioned.
None of us grow if we're scared we'll get painted over with labels when we raise our heads to speak. No one flies forward if we're concerned the strings that came tied to our funding will pull us back.
So, I'm grateful that in a world that is often mired in controversy and rife with political landmines, I was able to breathe and listen with the voices of my students, community, and beliefs (and willingness to grow) as an educator in my heart. It is, perhaps, the truest compass I can follow.
My favorite moment of the night: students from Hawai'i perform an oli for the group.