Why We Connect
Brad Clark is Lead Gifted Teacher for Woodford County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky. Brad serves as a Kentucky Hope Street Group Fellow for the 2013-2014.
Connected Educator Month drew to a close on November 1st; and after every witching hour (or month), there must be an accompanying period of self-reflection. For the month of October, educators across our state considered how we use the tools of the Information Age to decrease the negative impact of geographic distance on meaningful educational dialogue. Whether it was via the Fund for Transforming Education in KY's daily Blog entries or Thursday night's weekly #kyedchat or the rare opportunity for KY's education leaders to convene at UK's Innovate to Learn event, we were able to examine ways to reduce the pervading feeling of isolation that plagues educators throughout our state.
As October 31st became November 1st, I spent the school day considering the questions: Why do we connect? What purpose does connecting serve? The only answer I could observe is that the momentum of this October has to be used to change this November and this December. If we go back to our daily routine without somehow changing how we approach our daily routine, then it is all for not. We might as well wait until next October when Connected Educator month rolls back around and simply becomes yet another hollow trend in our profession. We cannot afford to waste this moment.
How do we connect more educators? Why is it essential that we remove the culture of isolation from our profession? How do we increase teacher voice?
Teacher voice will grow as teachers become more informed about policies that affect their profession. I truly believe that well-informed teachers have the ability to either completely redesign or at the very least completely refine our educational policies to truly meet the needs of the students we serve. I do not waiver in that belief, but I am also realistic. Teachers will never change anything in their classroom practice or anything in the system as a whole if they are not well-informed. If we expect our students to embrace the growth mindset, then we must model the growth mindset for them. If we are not life-long learners, our students will never be. If we do not truly understand the explicit and implicit requirements of the Common Core Standards, neither will our students.
Everyday a teacher steps into a classroom, they are mentoring students. They are modeling ways of thinking, ways of solving problems, ways of interpreting the world around them. That may sound heavy. Good. It is. Teachers have to be more aware of the power they have to change the entire trajectory of a young person's life.
So if we, as educators, wield this much power to shape individual lives and future society, why do we feel powerless in our classrooms? How is that even possible? What is the barrier that we have to name and conquer before we can truly have meaningful teacher voice? I believe the root cause of these ills is uninformed isolation.
We all know the effects of isolation. We have all experienced it. It is cancerous. Last summer, I had an amazing opportunity to work in Dallas for the National Math + Science Initiative. Since then I have been interacting regularly with some very amazing educators from around the nation on the Center for Teaching Quality's Collaboratory. I am also a KY State Fellow for the Hope Street Group, which gives me the opportunity to engage teachers from across the state in meaningful dialogue about the role of Student Voice, Peer Reviews among teachers and accountability in Non-Tested Areas under the umbrella of the new Teacher Professional Growth & Effectiveness System. This whirlwind of interconnected activity outside of the classroom offers a more realistic perspective on the power of teacher voice:
- KY is the acknowledged national leader on both implementing and understanding the explicit and implicit skills, content, concepts and thinking required by the Common Core Standards...and honestly folks this should be reason enough for each and every teacher to walk with their head held a little higher in the hallways. The nation is looking to us.
- In this era of assessment, it is essential that we, as educators, are able to parcel through the copious amounts of data in our hands to both diagnose the individual strengths and deficiencies of our students and design differentiated instruction based on multiple adaptive, formative and summative measures. We have to use the data instead of letting the data use us. We have to be able to diagnose the needs of our students and prescribe accordingly.
- Teacher Preparatory programs need wholesale redesign in order to reflect the true needs of our field. The paradigm has shifted. We can no longer use the language of the former paradigm to frame our understanding of the current one.
- KY is the staging ground for the new paradigm in education. America's education policy makers are looking to KY for insights into how Common Core should be implemented. They specifically look to the expertise of Kentucky teachers to inform our national peers of the many trials and triumphs of our own personal experience in designing instruction in this new era.
Kentucky Educators are poised to lead national education policy. Decisions that will shape the direction of learning for the next decade are being decided upon right now. The time for a clear teacher voice is now. We have to be as well informed as possible as we embark upon this leadership role. We have to carve out a credible voice based on authentic experiences leading our classrooms, schools and districts in this new era in public education. If we can establish a credible voice, we can shape the next decade of education policy. If we do not seize this opportunity, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
October showed us how to connect. Here is to hoping that November and December show us why we connect.