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Real Education Reform Requires Teacher Autonomy

Cheryl Suliteanu

A few months ago, I gave my 5th grade students complete autonomy over their annual school-wide science competition challenge. I gave them the materials and directions that were given to all classes, then told them they were on their own! My students chose who to work with, they chose how much time they spent on their projects in and out of the classroom, and how to document and share their process with their classmates. Their level of commitment, their level of enthusiasm, and their perseverance in creating their product was unparalleled in any other project or assignment I gave them all year.

So what did I learn from my students' work that applies to a teacher-led school?

My students demonstrated that, given authority and independence over how to accomplish a task, teams of individuals can become goal-oriented, solutions-focused groups with intrinsic motivation to reach their goals. In teacher-powered schools, teachers are more passionate about their work and feel a greater ability to make the dramatic changes in schools that are needed to truly improve student learning.

The teacher-powered school where I want to teach is a place where teachers, students, families, and our community join together to make decisions that support the social, emotional, physical, and educational needs of all students.

Unfortunately, the current model of authority for education policy lacks insight and relevance to students' needs. To overcome this challenge, one solution is clear—we need to place decisionmaking responsibility where it belongs: with teachers. According to research from Education Evolving, a majority of teachers in the U.S. are interested in taking ownership over their schools and shifting responsibility for decision-making into their own hands, and transforming the teaching profession in the process.

The environment created by a teacher-powered school would foster a sense of camaraderie and hopetimism that would permeate every classroom. By attending a teacher-led school, students would be immersed in a culture of divergent thinking and respectful, solutions-focused dialogue. Teachers would be modeling collaboration, creative problemsolving, and innovative thinking for their students every day in a teacher-led school, simply by the fact that the school does not fit the current one-size-fits-all school model.

I want to demonstrate my understanding of children's learning needs by redesigning the school day, creating opportunities for authentic learning experiences in our communities, and translating "meeting the standards" into meaningful learning experiences that inspire and engage students. I look forward to the opportunity to collaboratively lead a school and make the decisions that matter most for student success. Now, I need the authority and autonomy to make these school redesign concepts reality.

Cheryl Suliteanu has been teaching elementary school students in Oceanside, Calif., for 17 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher in English as a New Language, an active member of the California Teachers Association, and a virtual community organizer and member of the Thought Leaders Circle for the Center for Teaching Quality. She is currently working with the National Association for Family School and Community Engagement to enhance collaboration among schools and the communities they serve.

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