- With all of the discussion of local control versus federal control as the K-12 education community prepares to move into the ESSA era, there's one group that still feels left out of the important decisions around teaching and learning: teachers.
- In a question raised from the floor during the Education Commission for the States National Forum on Education Policy Thursday, 2017 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year Joni Smith pointed out that teachers, who are responsible for implementing the new policy and who, as the ones interacting directly with students daily, have the best grasp of what's best for kids, are "not welcome at the table" where policy conversations are being had.
- Teresa Lubbers, Commissioner of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, said it is important for state and local policymakers to "work through" how to make those meetings more accessible to teachers, saying "If you hold every meeting at 10:30 in the morning, it is unlikely teachers are going to be available to participate in those conversations."
Lubbers said teachers often don't want to leave their classrooms to have the more administrative conversations, but finding alternative ways to seek teacher feedback is important. Hosting meetings late in the afternoon, for example, could allow them to attend after students have left for the day, but state and local education entities can also offer opportunities for feedback via digital platforms like Google Forms, and should encourage written feedback. Establishing a tone which says everyone's input is welcome and valued is perhaps the best way to encourage comment — it would be a hard sell for teachers to commit to extending their days for late afternoon meetings or taking the time to prepare written comment if they believe no one is listening.
But finding ways to include teachers in the policymaking process can also be critical to teacher retention efforts. If the high turnover among early career teachers can be attributed to a lack of principal support and a lack of professional development, for later and mid-career educators, it is often because no pathways to leadership exist outside of leaving the classroom. For teachers who want to add more value and impact more students, often the only option is to start on an administrative track, but this takes good teachers away from the front lines where, arguably, they are needed most. Instead, district and state leaders should be looking to identify leadership opportunities where teachers can feel they are making a broader difference while still advancing their career profiles. These may include serving on policy committees, but may also include serving as teacher mentors and leading professional development sessions for fellow teachers.