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Transform our schools by letting teachers and parents lead the way

This guest post by Katy Farber appears in coordination with Teacher Appreciation Week and #TeachingIs, a social media movement seeking to elevate public perception of the teaching profession. Click here to learn how you can participate.

 

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week--a week when teachers are doted upon with tasty treats, mugs, and thoughtful cards. While these tokens of appreciation are lovely, might I suggest a different kind of gift for teachers, one that lasts year round?

Parents and community members: instead of giving us your thanks, make a commitment to advocate for teachers. By publicly supporting teachers and demanding the tools we need to help your children succeed, we can truly make schools better together.  

Real change in our schools must come from the inside out--using teachers to shape, lead, and innovate school policy. There are thousands of teachers across this the country who are making a difference in the lives of our children, yet we rarely ask for their input.

All too often, education policymakers have spent no professional time in a classroom. (Think about that: the people making decisions affecting your child’s education routinely have zero experience teaching.) Instead of relying on their perspectives to improve our nation’s education system, we must turn to teachers.

We must give teachers tools to lead and create better schools, resources to teach and be heard, and support to develop and refine their practice.

Here are a few ways teachers, parents, and community members can work together to transform our nation’s schools:

Supporting teachers

We have a real problem sustaining good teachers in this country: one in three teachers quits within the first five years of teaching. As a new teacher, I desperately needed the mentorship of my partner teacher, who was a veteran and masterful educator. Even though she was not my formal mentor, she took me under her wing and taught me how to run a successful classroom. However, this was a happy accident--there was no mentoring program at my school. In order to ensure a robust workforce of highly skilled educators, we must create fully funded, meaningful, and well-coordinated mentoring programs that support teachers through the challenging first years of teaching.

Involving parents

You hear people say all the time that parents are children’s first and best teachers. No one knows a child like their parents, and this relationship is critical to the success of the child. We also know that children of parents who are very involved in their education are much more successful in life.

Our schools need to be more parent friendly by providing opportunities for parental feedback, leadership, volunteering, and visits to children’s classes. Parents and teachers should create improvement goals for children and work collaboratively to meet them. It takes a village, and parents and teachers are on the same team--to help children become lifelong learners, successful people, and engaged citizens.

Transforming schools

Our society is changing rapidly, and our schools should be as well. Today, too many students are subject to a one-size-fits-all educational approach that is driven by test scores. Instead, teachers need the tools and freedom to create innovative, personalized learning. This includes providing authentic learning opportunities through leadership and service learning. Our students (and schools) should not be judged on the scores of one test but in multiple and varied ways, over time. This will allow teachers to consider the needs of the whole child and reintroduce humanity into education—through integrated, in-depth, unhurried, guided, and engaging learning.

Teachers aren’t instruments of information. They are facilitators in the development of versatile, creative, and critical thinkers who can one day solve the complex problems of our world.

Ultimately, students need to see themselves as leaders of our communities--and that work starts with teachers.

Service learning and schoolwide leadership experiences can transform school climates, promote learning between grade levels and ages, increase students’ feelings of community, and engage children in higher-level learning through authentic experiences in their schools and communities. Through these experiences, teachers can also change the way communities see our schools and kids. Communities will become deeply involved in local schools and see children and teenagers as allies--partners and instruments of hope for change to come.

Isn’t this what we need right now, especially in today’s political climate? We need to give teachers the time to develop personalized learning plans with parents’ input and invest in ways for students to become future leaders of our communities. This means creating opportunities for classes with fewer students, more collaborative time for teachers, better connections to communities, and more connected schools.

Let’s have teachers and parents to lead the way in improving our schools—student by student, community by community. It’s the only way to make real and meaningful change and create environments in which students can thrive, connect, learn, and grow.

Now that would be be a way to truly honor teachers and their work.

 

Katy Farber is a teacher, author, and founder of the blog Non-Toxic Kids. She is also the author of two books about education, Why Great Teachers Quit and How We Might Stop the Exodus and Change the World with Service Learning. Katy has written for various news, parenting, non-profit and educational publications, including MomsRising, Moms Clean Air Force, Educational Leadership, CNN’s School of Thought Blog, Problogger, Fox News opinion, and many others.

3 Comments

Keshi Satterwhite commented on May 7, 2014 at 12:18pm:

Teacher Appreciation: You will not get a pat on the back from me

This post truly resonated with me. Parents and community members should make a commitment to advocate for teachers by publicly supporting and demanding the tools that they need to make our children successful. As a parent, I'm a tool for my children’s teachers by being visible in the classroom and fostering a learning environment at home, but this is not enough.

I will make a commitment to advocate for better-paid teachers, up-to-date technology, and a classroom with adequate supplies. My thank you during Teacher Appreciation Week will not come in the form of a pat on the back for a job well done, but as a challenge to the community to make teachers' voices heard. Stop standardize testing and let teachers teach and individually evaluate our students. While my voice may be small, it will continue to grow stronger-- in support of our teachers and our children. 

Candice commented on May 24, 2014 at 4:23pm:

Parent Involvement

I agree with the need for involving parents.  Unfortunately, as much as we ask for their involvement, it's a struggle. Some of the annual events hosted by various school committees, including the PTO, require many volunteers from the families and even staff.  Pleas are made at numerous faculty meetings and PTO meetings for the needed volunteers to make these events possible.  The complaint remains the same.  There does not seem to ever be enough parent involvement to make such events as successful as they can be.  One change I would like to see in my school is a plan that is made to entice the involvement and volunteer efforts of parents and families. Parent involvement is beneficial for the child, the parent, the faculty, and the school as a whole.  We as educators know that through parent involvement in school activities, events, and meetings there is more likeliness of seeing high rates of success academically and behaviorally, as well as benefits of higher self-esteem. How do we get this happen?

Brendan Breault commented on July 10, 2014 at 12:24am:

A Collaborative Effort

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  As a teacher currently taking teacher leadership classes, your voice echoes the research.  Currently, I am brainstorming ways to build relationships with parents and the community.   The language/culture difference in my district makes this goal challenging, but one I'm willing to accept.  It makes sense that students with engaged parents are experiencing success/achievement in school.   And it makes sense that we (teachers) should target this relationship to improve our educational climate.  

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