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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
List Archives

Opportunities for Teachers as Policy Makers

Good Morning, fellow Fellows!

I can tell some people have had difficulty getting to the readings. With an optimistic approach, I'll assume you'll all be able to access the reading.

November's article for group discussion is "Opportunities for Teachers as Policy Makers". I've thought of a lot of points of discussion but would like to begin with you.

What questions came to mind as you read the article? For example, the second paragraph indicates how seldom teachers are consulted as policies are made. As I looked at those examples, I wondered....How many teachers wait to be asked to participate....versus....How many teachers ask to be a participant? Please join us and share your ideas.

Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
November 5, 2002
Good point, we need to be more proactive and stop complaining about how the policy makers never consult the teachers. I am nervously awaiting the results of our Florida election as I type. If we are going to have four more years of Jeb Bush, I am going to make a real effort to contact him and our FL policy makers and strongly offer my ideas. We need to step up to the plate and start batting!!

Barbara Hampton
Miami, FL
November 5, 2002
Thank you. I agree. Often, teachers can be there own worst enemies. I'm obviously preaching to the choir as involvement in organizations such as TNPI recognizes a commitment to getting the teachers' voice out there. At my school, I see water cooler conversations and teacher lounge complaints that don't elevate our profession but instead bring it down. I believe that if you don't have a solution or at least a commitment to working on the problem, than perhaps you should abstain from sharing your complaint.

All the best,

Trish Meegan
Chicago, IL
November 6, 2002
 
Good questions, Marilyn. I believe Action Research and Reflective Inquiry projects are important, but I also know we need to be constantly involved in policy decisions at all levels. A couple of examples: Last spring, we (educators, some of whom were Wyoming Teacher Policy Institute fellows) were able to successfully lobby the state legislature for a two year continuance of the three Professional Development Schools at Wind River, Cheyenne, and Rawlins. (I understand last minute emails to some 60 state legislators the night before the vote on the Senate floor made the difference). At the local level in our building this fall, we were able to significantly influence district decisions on the Body of Evidence (for graduation) procedures. (There had been-and still is-some confusion about what NCLB's interpretation of AYP required.) On another positive note, at Wyoming Indian Schools, our district professional development is organized and planned mainly by classroom teachers--with the superintendent's encouragement.
I think teachers' idea of reclaiming their classrooms should be at the forefront of policy focus and discussions. I recall a discussion with a former district superintendent--the point was made that teacher reactions and input into policy decisions are not just a right, but each teacher's professional responsibility. With civil discourse, of course.

Gary Miller
Wyoming
November 7, 2002
I appreciated the choice and content of this month's article. The Chicago School Reform, initiated in1989, has put two teachers on a Local School Council, which makes budgetary, principal selection, and school policy, for all 600+ schools in the Chicago Public Schools. Every two years, teachers elect their two representatives to the council, and they join two elected community representatives, six elected parent representatives, and the principal (and a student at the high school level) on the LSC. Originally, the teachers union wanted more teachers on the council but settled for a faculty advisory group. Most schools seem to have dormant faculty advisory groups and instead work through their LSC representatives. There have been numerous studies (e.g., Tony Bryk of U of Chicago, Fred Hess of Northwestern U) of the impact of LSC’s on the CPS, but I don't know much about the teacher representation's impact on local school policy. Catalyst Magazine, a local independent watchdog, can be located online for its relentless tracking of Chicago School Reform and LSC’s impact of the CPS (http://www.catalyst-chicago.org/). There have been some recent district efforts to move teachers onto advisory panels and working committees to impact district-wide policy, but that has been limited.

Erin Roche
Chicago
November 7, 2002
I really like what Erin had to say in regard to the November article, found many of the things mentioned reminiscent of the plan for SLT to be formed.
As a member of the School Leadership Team at Baruch College Campus High School I have noticed that we work on a lot of key issues concerning public education. We work on the budget for our school, the mission statement, school safety plan, and other things but have yet to find that any of our work gets taken seriously by the District. Indeed the budget is something that the District office has no problem looking over with a fine-tooth comb, but we wrote pages and pages about our school and our aims and have received no feedback. Our SLT has existed since the founding of the school in 1997 and no feedback at all. Why can't SLT’s be taken seriously and be more connected to policy initiatives? This body, in ideal form, represents the voices of teachers, parents, students, and the administration, I think our constituents would become more active in voicing their concerns if we had more real power.
What do other people think about the idea that an SLT could impact policy decisions school-wide and district-wide if given the chance?

Just a few thoughts,

Kiara M. Vigil
New York City
November 8, 2002
I am going to make a real effort to contact him and our FL policy makers and strongly offer my ideas.

You go Barbara! You will never know how much of an impact you can make if you don't try. Teachers do have to step up to the plate, but it's not always an easy road. Good luck with Jeb and let us all know how it goes!

Marilyn wonders if teachers wait to be asked to participate or ask to participate. In my experience, at the school site level, many of the same teachers are asking to participate in School-Based Management and other leadership opportunities, while others don't volunteer unless they are asked or requested by the administration. Is that happening in your schools? In my own school, the union rep had to beg teachers (those that usually don't get involved) to participate in decision-making councils at school. I do think that all teachers have the ability to become policy makers (at all levels), but I don't believe that all teachers necessarily want to get involved. It may not be for everyone.

In the second paragraph under Curriculum Planning and Implementation Klein is quoted as saying, "Teachers have the real power to make or break decisions advocated at any level." This statement rings so true for me. Many curricular mandates are passed on to teachers without any input from teachers themselves, but yet when it is time to implement these mandates in the classroom, who really has the ultimate control? Recognizing the value of teacher experience, and involving them in the process would greatly increase the chance of implementation in the classroom. Having worked with policy makers in the past few years, I have found that they do "recognize" what teachers do in the classroom, but they tend to listen more closely when you can cite your own action research. I cannot tell you how many times I have used my own classroom research to back up opinions on specific instructional practices or professional development. Having artifacts and data from real students and situations is a powerful tool when faced with someone who does not have all the true facts.

I think teachers may want to become involved in policy making, but may not know how, or are aware of what opportunities are out there. Kumar states, policy making is often considered a privilege and jealously guarded by those in authority. Does this ring true for us as teacher leaders as well? I never heard of TNPI or The California Teacher Leadership Forum, until I was invited to join. I feel really lucky that I was asked to participate. My question is do all teachers really have the same opportunities to be involved? Many of us on this listserv have or are currently involved in policy making; my question is how did you get to that level? Just wondering.

Take Care,
Jane Fung
Los Angeles
November 9, 2002
Gary,

Well written response. I must continue to be proactive rather than reactive.

Corny Dereemer
Wyoming
November 9, 2002
In my experience, many teachers do not realize that there is more than teaching in the classroom. They do not see the big picture of teaching and the responsibilities of forming or following policy. Somehow we need to educate our fellow teachers in the "big picture." Do colleges need to discuss this topic to make students aware of how education works and how to become involved? Maybe principals and organizations need to be asking teachers to become involved. Whatever the method, all teachers need to come out of their classrooms and help to make education better on the other levels, as some have said.

Jill Fellbeck
Wyoming
November 10, 2002
As an instructor at the college level (as well as the K-1 level), I can tell you that the colleges DO inform teachers about the "big picture" and encourage them to get involved in decision-making at the policy level. Unfortunately, many teachers don't get this message because they aren't continuing their education via college coursework. Another avenue for getting the message out is inservice/workshop presenters. Most teachers DO attend those, since often those are required.

Gail V. Ritchie, MEd, NBCT
Fairfax County, VA
November 11, 2002
I would like to weigh in on the issue of how to get teachers more involved in policy-making. It seems to me that our own group could make a significant contribution in the effort to provide avenues for teachers who are inclined to be active but don't know where to start. As we become more visible ourselves, I think we need to make teacher involvement a central piece of our message. Policy makers need to be trained to seek teacher input at the same time that teachers need to be made aware of these opportunities. I know tons of teachers who know that our input is critical, but our local schools and organizations (plus occasional regional or national conferences, which tend to be a one-shot affair) are their only vehicles. Just like Jane, I was delighted to find TNPI so that I could have this opportunity. Maybe TNPI could focus on developing those opportunities.

Lois LaGalle
Chicago
November 11, 2002
Most students of school reform know that real reform doesn't take place at the Superintendent's office or the School Board Meeting. Real reform takes place in the classroom between the teacher and the learner. Teachers need to be involved in any serious attempt at school reform. When so called reforms are promulgated from the top down they will not work, teachers have to buy into any reform movement for it to work. If there is no buy-in, the teachers' attitude is usually "this too shall pass" and they're right.

Arlyne LeSchack
New York City
November 11, 2002
So many thought provoking comments are coming in.....

Many of you have begun addressing my next questions.....are we in the Policy Institute because we are already interested in addressing policy makers or was our interest in policy piqued by someone who pulled us in?
What journey did some of us have to take?
What experiences did we have to have to lead us to want to approach policy makers?
How can we create an experience for others?
What are the components of that journey?

Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
November 11, 2002
I'll jump right back in since this is fresh on my mind.
My experience is that teachers who want to influence policy are the ones who are reflective practitioners and who have been active in their own school, at least, in terms of improving curriculum, professional development, etc. It doesn't take long for these kinds of practitioners to notice that there are huge contradictions between good educational practice and much of "educational policy". This makes us want to participate in policy making. However, it seems to me that the "chicken and the egg" analogy applies because people need to have participated somewhat in making decisions before it occurs to them to seek it out. For example, my school is very much teacher-run, so we tend to breed a lot of activist teachers. Teachers who come to us from other schools don't often have that disposition at first. This phenomenon is universal, I think. So, I think that the kind of environment we have to create is... to encourage school bureaucracies to loosen up and allow teacher-initiated professional development, etc. And at the same time we need to get the word out to teachers about action research and other forms of really effective professional development that address their real concerns about their own teaching. As if that weren't enough, I think we also need to get attention in the general media and legislative arena to bring about awareness that teachers SHOULD be involved. That way, policy makers and educators might seek out each other mutually.

Lois LaGalle
Chicago
November 11, 2002
 
On Thursday, Nov.7 I had the opportunity to participate on a panel on school governance sponsored by the Citizen's Comm. for Children. I was there to represent the teacher's voice on the panel. Sitting at the table of presenters, I felt a bit overshadowed by the others' experience and titles. However, once the discussion started, I felt I had a lot to say and more importantly was given the opportunity to say it. I was surprised by the respect I was given and felt energized to continue to participate in education policy discussions. I just want to thank TNPI folk for showing up at the panel and lending their support - it was terrific to see your faces in the crowd - thanks Ellen, Frances, Joe, Jen, and Lisa.

Carol Tureski
New York City
November 12, 2002
I love your experience on that panel. The opportunity gave you the experience of feeling the value of your expertise. That's the type of experience we need to encourage for all teachers...or at least more teachers.

Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
November 12, 2002
Clearly, it seems that with their intimate knowledge of working in schools, teachers should be called upon as decision makers. Unfortunately they are not often invited and are kept outside of the process. More teachers need to be informed of how policy is decided and with this knowledge, perhaps they can feel more empowered to participate in policy-making decisions. When/how can this happen (beyond TNPI)? Perhaps with our strong ties to the union, our chapter leaders can become better informed and, in turn, inform their chapters of upcoming meetings and decision-making arenas for teachers to get involved in. Furthermore, there needs to be an arena for the public that listens to how teachers set policy in the classroom, especially when often there are different policies classroom to classroom (i.e. teacher’s policies on lateness, grading, gum-chewing, talking, participation, etc.) which I imagine must be very, very confusing for students who travel across a broad array of classrooms with a broad array of policies set by individual teachers. Or do some schools have strictly enforced codes that all teachers have to follow?

Anne Kornfeld
New York City
November 12, 2002
Just want to strongly second Arlyne's sentiments!!! She hit the nail on the head (unfortunately & fortunately!)

David Silberberg
New York City
November 12, 2002
There is an interesting chapter on this very subject in Richard Allington's new book Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum. The chapter deals with the "disconnect in discourse" between teachers and policymakers. In other words, we're not using the same language (lack a common vocabulary and perspective) and we need to develop a common language for discussing and deciding upon education policy.

Gail V. Ritchie, MEd, NBCT
Fairfax County, VA
November 13, 2002
Interesting point....can you share a little more about that common language?

Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
November 14, 2002

Dear TNPIers--I'm chiming in on this discussion because I want to tie the present reading discussion and Carol Tureski's presentation together and talk about how we most effectively influence policy. Over the years since we began this work (eight years ago) we realized that it was not only important for teachers to be at the table with policymakers but we better be well prepared to get our message across when we get there. That's when we began action research studies. These studies give us data, findings, powerful anecdotes about student learning--the evidence to make our case for policy recommendations. They also provide solutions to problems--what might be helpful to policymakers. Carol was so effective on the panel because she made the case that no matter what the governance structure is for a school system, teachers need decision making power. Her research was about the impossibility of ordering books through the present system and how getting the books of choice into the hands of adolescent readers resulted in an enormous difference in the number of books read, the quantity of time spent reading, and the time lapse between books read--all documented. Carol became the central player in the q and a because she had identified a really big problem and researched it as if affected her students--she had substance to offer. The more action research we have at our fingertips, the more we can take advantage of these opportunities.
Ellen Meyers
Teachers Network Headquarters
November 14, 2002
In response to the request for more info about the chapter "Can Teachers and
Policy Makers Learn to Talk to One Another?" (Cathy A. Toll) in Big Brother and the National Reading Curriculum (Richard Allington, author/editor), this is what Toll says: "The manner in which change is talked about reflects more than just a choice of words, an opinion, or even a cultural effect. It reflects a discourse, meaning that it reflects a way of thinking, talking, and acting that signals who is in and who is out, who is in the know and who isn't, what knowledge matters and what doesn't. In other words, these discourses of change are connected to power." Toll believes that the language of the National Reading Panel (example of policymakers viewpoint) is rooted in a belief in objective knowledge, "best science," existing outside the local context, while the language of the National Education Association (example of teachers' viewpoint) and individual teachers is that individual children's needs in particular situations must be considered. Toll recommends that teachers participate in the discourse of policymakers by speaking of scientific, objective evidence while still valuing their own decision-making related to individual students. This sounds to me exactly what Carol just did.

Gail V. Ritchie, MEd, NBCT
Fairfax County, VA
November 15, 2002

I agree with you....but I also think that it goes the other way, too: Legislators/policymakers need to spend some time in the classroom so they understand what they are actually legislating!!!! (My father-in-law learned this the hard way—he always thought that teaching was no big deal and was not impressed with his two teacher daughter-in-laws until he retired and decided to teach a computer class for something to do. He taught for two hours one night a week. The next time we had dinner, there was a very tired man sitting at the head of the table, looking over his spectacles at us with new respect. He said that he had no idea how much preparation was involved, how tiring it was to put out energy for two hours for unappreciative people who didn't pay attention. He hadn't a clue how to engage and entertain his audience of adults. Smirk)

Anne Buchanan
Fayette County, KY
November 21, 2002
Sometimes, a little experience goes a long way when it comes to policy. This goes for teachers as well as legislators. Some of the issues that were discussed in my college ed classes were not nearly as "in touch" as we thought at the time. With a little experience, I have changed some of my views about teaching and education as a whole. Also, different districts have different issues, and different states have different issues. In conclusion, the information gained by participating in groups such as our teacher policy institute has been very helpful in formulating my opinions on the latest stuff.

Susan Pannell
Wyoming
November 21, 2002
That last comment about experience really hit home.
I have learned so much from this process of learning how to address/influence policy makers. I've learned from seeing myself change, but I've also learned as I watch teachers. I encourage them to take part in policy discussions in a number of ways. Yesterday one teacher received a positive response from a policy maker.......it turned a small e-mail into a powerful experience.
Experience.....we have to provide many opportunities in order for people to have an experience.

Who is it in your professional life that provides you will opportunities?


Marilyn Vercimak
Wyoming
November 21, 2002
11/22/02

Responding to Marilyn's question about who provides you with opportunities:

I feel that to a certain extent we make our own opportunities. We can choose to be reactive and negative and approach things with a downtrodden attitude "It won't make any difference anyway," or with a proactive more positive attitude. I am working in a building this year in which the former is the norm.

We have many teachers who have been in the district for many, many years and have adopted the notion that "this too shall pass." Overwhelmed with paperwork, a new working environment which is sorely lacking in storage space and resources, training in new philosophies of learning in which they have no buy in, making the adjustment from either a full time aide or no aide, to part time aide, learning about targeted-assisted Title I and its strings, having to teach a new health curriculum, living the effects of a salary freeze and insurance increase, and all the other things teachers everywhere have to deal with, they have no energy left to make their own opportunities.

The whole reason I became part of this group is that I feel I have no room to complain if I don't try to do something about it. Granted, there is a long way to go, but through the WTPI, I have high hopes for being able to affect change in our state. If we allow ourselves to be defeated, nothing will ever change.

Debra Meredith
Wyoming
November 22, 2002

 

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