It is no secret that being an educator is an incredibly complex profession. It is also a rewarding profession. Yet to someone who does not teach, that has only the perspective of being a student or a parent, the profession can seem simple at best and “less than” or hopeless at worst. You take children, talk to them about a subject, give them an activity, and they should produce results, right? The reality could not be further from this analogy. In Michigan’s polarized political climate, it can be hard for teachers to talk about what they do both in the classroom and outside of it, and demoralizing when others speak on behalf of this profession we so deeply love. We know that teachers have a feeling of pride when they look at their students and their work, but this pride should not just be a feeling–it should translate into a call to action . We need to share what we do and the results we produce; not just the raw numbers of test scores, but the intangibles of culture, climate, and community. We need to share how we can make this profession even better. In the spirit of starting off the new year, 2017, here is what makes me proud to be an educator in this state.
- Grassroots Digital PLNs in Michigan
When I first moved back to Michigan after teaching in Chicago Public Schools for six years, I missed the tight-knit bond of Chicago educators I had at the teacher-powered school I came from along with the teacher leadership opportunities I was a part of. Even though I had immediate family members who were also educators, I needed to find networks of educators to grow with and wrestle with the particular challenges I was facing along with hearing from outside perspectives. It was then that I discovered the power of digital professional learning networks (PLNs). In Michigan alone there are robust online communities on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Voxer where hundreds of educators talk about policy and practice. I have fostered deep connections with my PLN from the #miched Twitter group, the MI Ed Voice Fellows, and the MI NBCTs that have turned into professional learning and growth opportunities. When I needed a mentor to help me guide my school through assessment and feedback, I reached out to my digital PLN for help. When a teacher across the state asked for help on assessment, I could share resources and ideas and direct them right to the thought leaders from my Michigan PLN. I am proud to be a member of such powerful PLNs.
- Public School Innovations
I work for a truly unique public school partnership in the state of Michigan, called the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium (WEOC). Through the work of all the public school superintendents in the county, we jointly offer educational options to high school students that need an alternative to traditional high school school structures including a blended school model for high-risk, high-needs students, an international baccalaureate program, and an early college program. This innovation is something that is not unique to Michigan or my county, but the level of cooperation among public schools seems to be. Instead of fighting over students, we banded together to offer these options across the county and the data shows the success of our work. Our schools are built with teacher leadership opportunities that are exciting to take on and new directions to explore with our students. Our truly talented teachers trade fancy new gadgets and gizmos for more autonomy, flexibility, and voice in our schools. These efforts retain quality personnel in key roles. I am proud every day to work for WEOC in Washtenaw County.
- Teacher Voice
One of the reasons cited for teacher turnover continues to be the lack of teacher voice from classroom decisions all the way up to national policy. With the Every Student Succeeds Act, we have a real opportunity in 2017 to engage Michigan educators, parents, students, and policymakers in dialogue around continued voices in policies that affect us. I have had the opportunity to work with policymakers and found that all they need is an invitation to visit with our school and students. Our area representatives have not only visited, but I have developed real professional relationships with them. But the vision for attracting teachers to Michigan and real opportunities for student growth here will collapse without teachers providing input on a clear vision for education and opportunities for teachers and students to grow and advance. I continue to advocate for educators to have autonomy, flexibility, and trusted to make student-centered decisions. If we don’t speak up for ourselves, someone will do it for us. I am proud to support the inclusion of teacher voice in education policy at the state and federal levels.
There are many more reasons why I am emphatically a proud Michigan Educator. Through the support of my PLN, the innovations of public school districts, and the opportunities for teacher voice, I feel a true sense of community. My call to action is for educators to expand beyond our educator community and share how and why our profession should be inspiring awe. I invite all parents, community leaders, and policymakers to come and not just visit, but shadow myself and other educators to see why.
Sarah Giddings, M.Ed NBCT – Follow me! @sarahyogidds
Sarah Giddings is a National Board Certified teacher in social studies and history. She is currently an advisor, multi-subject instructor in Big History, social studies, and ELA, and curriculum coordinator for the WAVE Program with the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium high school programs in Ypsilanti, MI. She is a National Hope Street Group fellow, a Teacher Champion with the Collaborative for Student Success, and a Teacher-Powered Ambassador with the Center for Teaching Quality. She is also a post-residential America Achieves MI Fellow. Sarah has a B.A. from James Madison College at Michigan State University in Social Relations with a minor in English. She has a Master’s in K-12 Education Administration and a professional certificate in Educational Technology, also from Michigan State University.