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Resolve to Get Involved With Policy in 2015

In 2015 I'd like to challenge all of you educators out there to spend some of your extra time working on issues that go far beyond the four walls of your classroom.  I feel like this is the year that we need to come together as professionals like never before to help shape the years ahead. 

The first reason is the ongoing transition to relatively new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), adopted by the majority of states across the country.  This is a huge opportunity to shape policies that will develop following the release of data tied to the new standards.  Some questions that might come up are: What are realistic growth expectations for schools and students? What are the ramifications of CCSS testing for English Language Learners? What other curriculum changes do classroom teachers need to continue to make? Teachers need to lead these conversations, not bureaucrats. 

Another important reason teachers need to join forces in 2015 and speak out has to do with another national matter, is the reauthorization of the Elementary Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which was last reauthorized in 2002 where it became titled No Child Left Behind, and well before we had of CCSS.  Many education policy followers are predicting that 2015 will be the year ESEA gets reauthorized. (I am not going to say why they make this prediction but you can read more about that here.)  If this is the year, and if Race to the Top is a reliable precursor of what the federal governments wants in new ESEA legislation, then we need to make our voices heard about teacher evaluations in the law, the role of testing in teacher evaluation, growth targets for schools and students, and so much more.   We teachers know that not all schools or students were created equal so how do we make sure ESEA sets high expectations for student achievement while also allowing those of us on the front lines to make important decisions for monitoring student growth goals.  

Now is the time to ask yourself: How can you get involved in these discussions?  Look to your unions, your local chapters, state chapters, and national.  Join an education policy group like Educators4Excellence, Center for Teaching Quality, the Association of Curriculum and Development, or Teach Plus.  A strictly on-line community you can join where you read and submit your ideas about teaching policy is Teach to Lead, a joint venture sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and National Board Certified Teachers. 

Whether big or small, national or local, there are steps every teacher can take to get involved with the broader issues of education beyond the four walls of the classroom. Consider the needs of your own school site.  If you have a large group of students whom qualify for free-reduced meals or a large population of English language learners you probably have a school site council.  The school site council meets to decide on how the funds attached to these students should be spent.  This often involves funding positions at the school from teacher's assistants, to school nurses, to school psychologists.  If you don't have a school site council you most likely have a local school leadership council, which may make decisions involving calendars, schedules, curriculum purchases, holiday programs, special events, etc.  Your school board is another good place to get locally involved.  Most school boards have subcommittees chaired by a board member and hopefully teachers and parents as well who meet around certain topics. 

I know you may be thinking, I don't have time to get involved in something else!  But taking the time to get involved in education outside your classroom is a great way to stay connected with the larger issues at your school, in your district, and in your state.  As a twenty-plus-year veteran, I find my work beyond the classroom to be a rewarding way to give my work a boost, and inspiration to keep going.  We all have various priorities, including spending time with our families, but we also need time to recharge those batteries so we are giving the best versions of ourselves to our families and to our students.  Engaging in outside activities that speak to our passions as educators and human beings is time well spent.

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