Happy New Year! Add this resolution to your list

Happy New Year! Though many of you have already made your resolutions for the new year, I am going to ask you to make just one more. Resolve to make 2015 the Year of Accountability.

Okay, I could feel you cringe as you read that. I can imagine what you might be muttering under your breath right now. Year of Accountability? Haven’t we been living in that age for several years now? Have we not for quite some time been held hostage to high-stakes testing, convoluted value-added ratings, unproductive busywork, comparisons to other countries, unfair media attacks, and both the threatened and actual privatization of all of the wonderful, varied and necessary work our members do for children, their families and communities? Where have you been, Melissa? We are being held accountable for everything imaginable, and even more egregiously for those myriad things that are out of our control.

I hear you, and you are absolutely right. Accountability in recent years has become a dirty, ugly, emotionally-charged word that makes even the best educators and public employees cringe, not because of any desire to escape accountability, but rather because the focus is all wrong and the measures and methods being used do not give accurate representations of what our members are doing and accomplishing. In fact, the current education system is forcing good educators to waste valuable instructional time on activities they know add no value at the expense of quality instructional practices.

So why do I call on you to make this the Year of Accountability?

Because the time has come, in fact has long been here, for us to hold legislators accountable for the decisions they make that impact education and the future of our children and our communities.

We are the professionals in the field. We are the experts in the classrooms working directly with the children. We live the impact of the decisions that are being made by policymakers and lawmakers. We see the consequences that bad laws have on children. When we raise our voices together though and take collective action, we get results.

Just look at what our members were able to accomplish this past year. In the spring, more than 7,000 members engaged in a postcard campaign urging legislators to reject harmful changes the House was attempting to make to the evaluation process. Those postcards worked. In the fall, members testified against a bill that would have required three different sets of standards in four years. Those voices stopped the crazy legislation. In December, members met with State Superintendent Richard Ross to give input on the report he will give to the legislature about reducing testing in Ohio. That input makes a difference. Although many members have voiced concerns to their legislators though, the number of members who remain silent still far outnumber those who are actively engaged in having a positive impact on education policy.

Imagine what we could do if we all resolved to be activists – if each and every one of us committed to reclaiming the promise of public education by pushing back on bad reforms and advocating for what we know our children need in order to succeed.

We know the challenges our students are facing. We see the struggles they bring to the classroom. We understand that our children need more from us now than they ever have before. As educators, we have a strong desire to bring out the best in each and every child. We want them to learn how to think critically, work collaboratively, and grow in knowledge and skills. We want them to have exposure to the arts, physical education, libraries, and a wide variety of elective classes that will help them discover who they are and how they can build a life that will not only make them financially stable but happy. We want them to be healthy – physically and mentally. We want to be the best educators we can be so that our students can become whatever they want to be. We know, from experience, what works and doesn’t work. We know what we need to help us do our work and to help children reach success. We have a vision for what a high quality education system looks like. We need to share that vision with the governor, state senators and representatives, the state superintendent, and members of the state board of education, and hold them accountable for building an education system that respects us as professionals and includes us in making sound decisions about education.

But we can’t wait for those decision-makers to ask us for our input. We must push our way in the door and demand that our voices be heard, our experience be respected, and our expertise be honored.

Our legislators are reconvening now to set their agendas on critical issues they will deal with over the next few months – testing, charter school reform, school funding, standards, working conditions, collective bargaining, just to name a few. Are you willing to let them make decisions about these issues based on their own experiences and biases? Do you want them to listen to reformers who are not in the classrooms dealing with the realities?
If not, then you need to make a commitment to tell your story this year. Talk about what is happening in your classroom. Discuss the impact of past decisions. Share your ideas on reaching our common goal of giving children the best education possible. Talk with them about what you know children need in order to be able to learn and thrive.

I know you are busy, but I promise you, this will not take a lot of your time. In fact, you might even find it cathartic. Instead of internalizing the stress, mumbling under your breath, and venting your frustration on social media, commit to having a constructive conversation with a legislator.

You don’t have to travel to Columbus. There are lots of other ways to share your experiences. Invite a legislator to visit your classroom. Set up a local meeting with your legislator in your town. Send an email. Write a letter. Make a phone call.

Even more powerful, invite parents and other community members into the conversation. Share with them what is happening in your classroom. Let them know what is in your control and what is being controlled at a higher level outside of your reach as well as theirs. Invite them to join you in conversations with legislators about what we want and need for children.

Refuse to let anyone else control the education conversation. Write to your local newspaper. Respond to news stories you see. Share positive stories through social media. Correct posts that tell the wrong story.

As your statewide union, OFT is here to help. We can help set up meetings. We can help get your letters to the editor published. We can provide you with research on current topics, or any other way that you want help. We speak for you and work for you every day, but your voices are the voices that are respected in your communities, and to the legislators in your area, your voices represent votes. Our collective voices across the state can make a difference. We can reclaim the promise of public education instead of allowing others to take our children down the wrong path.

Resolve today to be an activist. Click here to see all the ways that you can be involved. Start small if you wish, but pledge to hold our legislators accountable in some way today. Join us in making a difference.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

To all teachers,

Today is your day.  If I had the power to do so, I would grant you the day off.  You have certainly earned it.  But I also know you, and I know that you would not really take the day off.  You would grade papers or prepare a lesson or analyze data or develop an assessment or think of an intervention for a struggling student or worry about a disadvantaged child.  So maybe it is only appropriate that Teacher Appreciation Day happens on a school day when you can spend time with those who need you and appreciate you the most.  I know that there are many days when you do not feel appreciated, and I could write on and on about the reasons you would be justified in feeling that way. Today should be a positive day though so I will simply share with you some quotes that I think explain why you continue to do this job day in and day out.

A good teacher is like a candle:  it consumes itself to light the way for others. (Anonymous)

Teachers teach because they care.  Teaching young people is what they do best.  It requires long hours, patience, and care. (Horace Mann)

The mediocre teacher tells.  The good teacher explains.  The superior teacher demonstrates.  The great teacher inspires. (William Ward)

Every child should have a caring adult in their lives.  And that’s not always a biological parent or family member.  It may be a friend or neighbor.  Oftentimes it is a teacher. (Sen. Joe Manchin)

You teach because you care.  You teach because you want to inspire.  You teach because you want to light the way for others.  You teach because children need you to care for them.  

We can never thank you enough or show enough appreciation for all that you do – both seen and unseen.  While you may not hear it often enough, you make a difference every day.

So on this Teacher Appreciation Day, I will leave you with a quote from Andy Rooney.

Most of us end up with no more than five or six people who remember us.  Teachers have thousands of people who remember them for the rest of their lives.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Day!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What we want to hear in Governor Kasich’s State of the State address

This week leaders from all areas of the state will convene for the 76th Ohio Federation of Teachers State Convention. We have a long and proud history of being a solution-driven union that represents the professional voice of people working in the field to educate our children and provide other services that prepare our children to learn. We know that the strength of Ohio lies in having strong communities and that the promise of strong communities is found in our neighborhood schools. More and more though, this promise is being stolen from the families who live in these neighborhoods and from the professionals who have dedicated their lives to giving children paths to success. This promise is being stolen by those who wish to privatize education, building a competitive system that dilutes resources and creates winners and losers instead of focusing resources on meeting the needs of every child even in our most troubled neighborhoods. Even more problematic is the overemphasis on testing as a reliable measure of accountability and the continued narrative that tears down and wears down educators instead of respecting their voices and using their expertise to shape a system that meets the changing needs of our students. With the creation of policy that focuses on rankings and ratings instead of on listening, learning and growing, Ohio is losing the promise of what an education system can be – a path for every learner to meet his or her potential. We, at the Ohio Federation of Teachers, are determined to Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by working with students, parents, community groups, organizations and policymakers in reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood care and education, higher education, and quality public services.

On Monday Feb. 24, Gov. Kasich will give his State of the State address. In this speech, he will have the opportunity to share his vision for children in Ohio, their opportunities for education and assistance that will help them thrive and grow. Will he allow Ohio to continue to go down the road of corporate reform policies that lead to the privatization of education or will he make a commitment to work with us on Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education by making sure that every child has a safe neighborhood public school with well-prepared and supported teachers, a full engaging curriculum, and access to wraparound services?

He will have an opportunity to tell us on Monday.  Here are some thoughts we would like to see  him express as well as some actions we want to hear him say he will do:

  • Education is a public good not a competition. All children deserve to have neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Competition dilutes resources and creates winners and losers. Instead, Ohio should be ensuring that schools are responsive to the needs of their neighborhoods and are including teacher, parent, student and community voices in providing a quality education system for all learners.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do: 

Stop the expansion of vouchers programs in Ohio. For schools that must choose a turnaround model, require a model that must include parents, teachers, students and community members in the design of the school.

  • All schools should be expected to provide a quality education for all learners and should be held to the same standards of academic accountability, fiscal accountability, and transparency. Education should be about helping children learn, not about making a profit. 

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Reform charter school laws.  Eliminate the statutory exemptions for charter schools in the areas of academic accountability and fiscal accountability. Require transparency in record keeping and public records. Permanently shut down for-profit schools and set stricter requirements for the sponsors of charters.

  • Poverty matters. While it must never be used as an excuse for children not succeeding, it also must never be ignored. Our students living in poverty often have greater needs with fewer resources to meet those needs. Children with greater needs require more supports to meet those needs such as smaller class sizes and targeted intervention help. In addition, all children deserve to have access to a full, engaging curriculum that focuses on teaching and learning , not testing, and one that includes art, music and the sciences. While educators are being held accountable for closing existing achievement gaps, the governor and the legislature must be held responsible for closing existing opportunity gaps.                                                                                                                      What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Work with schools across the state to identify the needs of students in different areas and develop a funding system that allows those needs to be met.  Fully fund traditional public schools and stop diluting resources by funding vouchers and poor-performing charters. 

  • The needs of the child are best met when education is viewed as more than a test score. In order for children to be prepared to learn, they need to have their basic needs met. These needs include social, emotional, physical and mental needs. Ohio must look at ways to efficiently and effectively use public and private resources to meet all these needs of students so they are able to achieve at their highest potential. Student cannot be expected to read at grade level if they are not given all the supports they need to help them learn. This is NOT just a teacher or school responsibility. This is a state responsibility.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Study and replicate effective Community Learning Centers programs such as the Cincinnati Public Schools model.  Keep parents, teachers and students involved in determining the needs of the students and how best to meet those needs.

  • Teachers are professionals. Their voices need and should be heard in shaping policy. Educators should be respected for the work they do. Instead of continuing to focus on an accountability structure that forces teachers to defend their work and hope for perfect testing conditions in order to justify their employment, Ohio should be pouring resources into supporting continued professional growth, creating good teaching and learning environments (including structuring the day so that teachers have time to plan engaging lessons, build relationships with students, and collaborate with peers), and sharing and celebrating best practices.                                                   What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Eliminate requirements that only add work to the day without adding value to the learning experience. Work with teacher unions and other educator groups in setting policy that focuses on developing quality teaching and learning environments that allow for more time for teachers to prepare high-quality, engaging lessons and for students to engage in meaningful learning experiences and less time on testing.

  • Ohio teachers do an extraordinary job of educating our students. Over the years, the state has set higher standards for success. Our educators continue to rise to the challenge. We know that education must constantly evolve to reflect the changing needs of learners and of our society. We are now entering into a new era of the Common Core Standards. These standards allow us to teach content in a much deeper way but require shifts in how teachers teach and learners learn. In order to get the results that are intended by the Common Core, students, educators and schools need time to adjust to new methods of teaching and learning. In addition, schools need time and resources to make sure they have the proper learning tools and technology. Caution and an emphasis on implementation are required so that the desired results can be achieved.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Delay high stakes decisions attached to testing.  Put emphasis on teaching and learning. Make sure teachers have proper professional development and schools have sufficient resources. 

  • Quality early childhood education is critical to getting children started on a successful learning path. All young children should have opportunities to engage in developmentally appropriate programs that foster their social and emotional development. Early childhood care providers and educators should be well-prepared and supported.                                                                                                                           What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Ensure that all preschool age children have access to high-quality early childhood education programs. 

  • Higher education should be affordable and accessible to all. The faculty and staff within these institutions should be professionally supported and have a voice in academic decisions.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Make higher education affordable. Respect the voice of the professionals in setting policy that affects higher education.

  • Our state is only as strong as the sum of our communities. Each community in every corner of Ohio is only as strong and vital as the families and individuals who reside in them. In order to build and foster strong communities, Ohio must preserve state revenue to fund needed services and supports for families. In strengthening our communities, Ohio must maintain and expand high-quality public services that support and keep communities safe, healthy and vibrant. Tax changes since 2005 are already costing Ohio $3.5 billion per year – this is money that should be invested in the programs and services that make our communities stronger. These changes have been made with promises of more jobs and more economic growth that quite simply have not materialized. The governor continues to state his desire to eliminate the income tax entirely, and right now slowly but surely we’re draining the state of needed revenue and making our system more regressive in the process. Policies such as these weaken Ohio.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Preserve state revenue. Focus on job creation. Invest in communities.

  • The voice of Ohio’s workers must be preserved. Collective bargaining states have higher wages which lead to more money to put into the economy – everyone benefits from a strong labor voice in Ohio. On the other hand, six of the 10 states with the highest unemployment rates are right-to-work states, proving that right to work is wrong. States with right-to-work laws also have lower rates of health insurance coverage, higher rates of poverty and infant mortality and lower spending per student on basic education with worse scores on reading and math tests. Right to work is wrong. These laws create problems for states, communities and families.

What we want Governor Kasich to say he will do:

Declare opposition to these laws (or any other efforts to diminish labor voice) because right to work is wrong. 

The Ohio Federation of Teachers will continue to be a solution-driven union that champions the social and economic well-being of our members, children, families, and communities. We welcome your voice in calling upon the governor to help us Reclaim the Promise of Ohio by reclaiming the promise of public education, early childhood education, higher education, and quality public services for strong communities. These are just some of our many ideas for strengthening Ohio. We welcome your input to this conversation.  Comment below, visit our Facebook page at Facebook.com/OhioFedofTeachers and Tweet with the hashtag #RealOhio.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

And now a few words from our members…

I wanted to write a blog this week about what has gone wrong with OTES (the
Ohio Teacher Evaluation System).  I’ve read hundreds of comments that OFT
leaders have received from members and realized that there is nothing I can
say that speaks more powerfully than the voices of those who are
experiencing it.  So I’m sharing comments from members so that you can see
our education system through the eyes of these professionals.  Although this
list is long, it’s just a sampling of what members have to say on the
subject.  See the consistent themes.  Feel the anguish these teachers are
feeling.  Then ask yourself, “Is this really what we want for our children?”

“I have a strong work ethic and take pride in my job and care a lot about my students.  However, I feel more and more that my job is more about testing and compliance paperwork than actual teaching. I am so overwhelmed with completing all the “extra” that I no longer have the time or desire to create engaging and enriching lessons for my students.  Despite my best efforts, I increasingly feel like a mediocre teacher.  I’m working harder than ever before and seeing less results…it’s a defeating feeling.”

“We spend more time as teachers making sure our lesson plans follow a certain format that we no longer have the time to design creative lessons.  We are becoming the kind of teacher no one wants to be!  Someone who teaches from prewritten lessons from a textbook and only what is on the test.  No time for anything else!”

“I feel I do what I do, so I don’t mind being observed anytime.  I simply don’t like the extra paperwork/evidence that is being required for me to create and try to “defend” myself.  I much rather would spend all that time bettering the students and creating more individualized, fun, meaningful lessons to engage students rather than spending so much time on doing paperwork to defend myself and my work.”

“It is unfortunate that teachers are spending more time worrying about the appropriate way to write an SLO or having evidence of what and why something is being taught in the classroom than actually spending all that time on what is important – developing lessons and content to teach the students appropriately.  We have now been bombarded with other things we need to worry about.  If the focus of education is teaching our students effectively, why can’t we be given more time to plan for our classes and work with our students rather than jumping through the required hoops for this evaluation system?”

“I think that making teacher evaluations better is a great thought but this system is very flawed and turns teachers into secretaries.  I am spending a great deal of time collecting data and not building rapport and relationships with my students which is what makes me an effective teacher.”

“The current OTES system is taking away from my time to teach my students.  The time spent preparing for evaluations, preparing for, administering, and grading pre-assessments and eventually post-assessments has taken and will take a significant amount of time away from actually interacting with and teaching my students. Significant changes need to be made to the system for the benefit of our students.”

“It is a distraction from learning and implementing the Common Core.  I am very discouraged by the amount of work we are expected to do which takes away from other important obligations.”

“We are all just playing this “game” called education.  All it is doing is taking time away from the teacher to be doing what he/she got into this profession to do in the first place – help with ways/ideas to motivate kids to want to learn things they don’t care about.”

“This new system adds more to those already loaded with work and extra tests students don’t need.  They are so tested out, it’s not funny.  And we are losing valuable time to teach real life applications that matter.”

“I feel like with so many new mandates, I’m not getting anything done completely.  Also that my time to develop quality, appropriate and responsive lessons and interventions has disappeared.”

“Thinking of a career change…the amount of paperwork by both state and district combined has little to do with helping children succeed in the classroom.  This is not why I became a teacher.”

“The morale of our building is extremely low and thus the stress level is overly high across the board.”

“I do not know how teachers who have children at home can do their jobs with all the demands this year and be a good parent.  I am taking much more home this year, and I can’t seem to keep my head above water.  Teacher’s comments are that they need to find another profession.  It is not about the students anymore.”

“Teaching has become one of the most stressful jobs in the nation.”

“I feel as though I am playing catch up every day.”

“The expectations at this time are totally unreasonable.”

“There is extreme high stress in our jobs and it is not improving.  There is not enough time in our day to complete everything and do it well.  I don’t know about other people, but I’m tired of working through lunch and at home!!!  Stop the madness!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“I no longer have a social life, and I am seriously considering a career change.”

“I haven’t felt prepared to teach a day yet.”

“We are stressed because gone are the days when we actually build relationships and get to know each child as a learner and human being since we feel compelled to meet so many deadlines and close achievement although we have too many initiatives in order to do anything successfully.”

“While I have spent huge amounts of time preparing, this preparation is in no way enhancing my teaching.  In fact, the preparation, designed to show the principal the minutia of my thought process as I present a lesson, detracts from the time I can spend planning presentations/discovery that should haapen while students are learning.”

“So much time is spent on district and state mandated assessments and data collection that really has very little to do with instructing students.  I feel cheated out of valuable time to plan effective lessons that have real impact on student progress.”

“What ultimately happens is that papers get graded and more time is spent on items that are not directly related to the ongoing achievement of my students.”

“The stress is having complete accountability without any authority.  I am concerned with the loss of instructional time and planning time.  If I am to be held solely accountable for student growth, then I need to be able to teach and plan for teaching.  Our instructional time with students is shrinking and yet our accountability grows.  With the decrease in planning time and increase of workload done at home, most teachers are working through every evening and weekend…I know I am. I don’t know of one single teacher who is not trying to get out of teaching.”

“I find myself planning, creating, and buying more than in other years.  I spend about eight hours on Saturday and Sunday preparing for the week.”

“Need more time. Time. Time. Working through lunch every day.”

The amount of assessments combined with the paperwork is significantly impacting time to prepare rigorous, relevant, and creative lesson plans.”

“This year is one of the most stressful work years of my 16-year career.”

“Testing demands are the most stressful and time consuming.  It takes away from real learning.”

“I have been teaching and testing for 13 years and this year is by far the hardest and most stressful.  The amount of paperwork, forms, assessments, and procedures is overwhelming.  Most of the things I am being required to do are not about my students and their education but rather about completing forms for a process for someone to review.”

“I use to love being a teacher!  I don’t feel like I get to do it much anymore.”

“My entire evenings, weekends, and breaks are consumed with work.  There is no end to all the work!”

“Here’s how I feel, ‘Please take something off the plate for every three things that are added!!!’ “

“I feel like I have the paperwork demands of a corporate job on top of being a teacher.  Time to prep the material and supplies is lost to meetings and paperwork.”

“I work a 12-14 hour day Mon-Fri and work 8 hours on Saturday and Sunday.”

“High stress leads to lower productivity and low morale.  Each year, more and more is being asked to accomplish with little to no time provided to complete what is being asked.  It is impossible to keep taking from an individual professionally with an expectation they also sacrifice themselves personally. “

The themes are consistent:

  1. Increased paperwork is taking away from time to plan quality lessons.
  2. Increased testing is taking away from quality instructional time.
  3. Increased mandates are creating stressful working environments that are causing low morale.
  4. Increased workload is preventing teachers from building the types of relationships with students that lead better learning.

This blog does not even address all the other concerns around OTES – too much emphasis on student growth measures, using Value-Added to evaluate teachers rather than to inform instruction, not enough capacity to do the evaluations in a meaningful way, lack of time leading to evaluations being done at compliance level instead of at a level that shapes professional growth, evaluators not being proctored when taking credentialing exam, and the list goes on.

But the most concerning part to me is that I am confident that the teachers who made these comments are the teachers we want and need in the system.  They care.  They want to teach children.  They strive for success.  They do everything they are asked to do at a top-notch level.  But the system is beating them down and keeping them from doing what they do best – teach.  And when we beat these teachers down, when we burden them with so much extraneous work that does nothing to help the students, then it is the students who lose.

Isn’t it time we listen to these professionals?

Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

Welcome to Ms. Popa’s Moodle Page…This is going to be a fun-filled year.



This is the message I saw displayed on the screen as I walked into Ms. Popa’s sixth-grade classroom at Clear Fork Middle School. I made a brief visit to Clear Fork last year and heard that they were just beginning to do blended learning in their middle school grades, but had not been back yet to see how it was going. Ms. Popa graciously allowed me to visit her classroom last week to see blended learning in action.

June Popa is a 20-year veteran teacher. From watching her interaction with the students that day, I suspect that she has always been a top-of-the-line teacher. Her enthusiasm for teaching shines vividly in both the rapport she has with her students and the way she talks about teaching. For 19 years, she very successfully taught her students without the aid of computers. That all started to change about a year ago when Clear Fork got a grant to do blended learning in grades six through eight.

Ms. Popa will readily admit that she was not thrilled with the idea of changing her teaching methods. She claims that she did not even know how to turn on an iPad a year ago when she was informed that all her students would be receiving iPads, and she would be expected to use them in her instruction.

With some training to help her understand how this particular technology functions and the possibilities for enhancing both teaching and learning she now wholeheartedly embraces blended learning. In fact, if someone were to tell her that the iPads were going away and that she could no longer do blended learning, she would strongly protest.

The class was amazing to watch. On the board were both the learning objectives and the outline of activities for the period. During my visit the class finished a unit on world religions. The objective, as written on the board, was,” I can describe cultural practices and characteristics of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.” The students first did a self-assessment activity. Then they moved on to some review work to help them prepare for a test the following day.

The review was filled with graphics and links to information that kept the students engaged. Instead of writing down factual information to answer questions, students were expected to look for visual clues to distinguish which religion was being represented by a picture. Students were also expected to be able to give reasons or evidence for their answers. Embedded in this review were skills that extended beyond the content knowledge. For example, students downloaded and saved information to an app so that they would be able to access information from home even without Internet access. They were able to flip between visuals and questions which will be a needed test taking skill once all state assessments go online. They were taught study skills such as highlighting answers they were unsure of so they would know which information to review for the test. They were taught self-sufficiency by being directed to use online resources for checking how to spell or define words instead of just expecting the teacher to give them the information.

What was really cool though was when two students showed Ms. Popa a review test that they had designed and developed on their own. Just for fun. Without being assigned to do it. Their test was designed much like a game with hyperlinks connected to each multiple choice answer to indicate if the answers were right or wrong. The computer skills involved in doing this were not ones that Ms. Popa had taught, but she quickly gave the responsibility to those two students to teach the rest of the class how to create such a fun self-assessment.

While the students were doing their review, Ms. Popa quickly reviewed the scores on the self-assessment. Since the online quiz site she uses grades the assessment, she is able to quickly compare this day’s scores to their scores earlier in the week to see how prepared the students are for the test. All but one student had improved from earlier tests, demonstrating that the students had gained knowledge throughout the course of the week and were ready for the final test. Ms. Popa was then able to focus her attention on that one student to target his needs and give the extra support that was needed before the final test.

I asked Ms. Popa how teaching had changed for her since switching to blended learning. Though she mentioned numerous ways, I will highlight four.

  1. She spends much more time planning because she loves how the new technology supports her planning time. Ms. Popa loves her online page to be filled with rich content from the Internet. She constantly scours the Internet, even throughout the evening at home, to find video clips or age appropriate websites that will engage her students in the content. She has even been known to preview video clips while washing dishes. She loves this method of planning because she can see the results instantly in the way the content comes alive for students.
  2. Instead of being a deliverer of content, Ms. Popa now spends more time being a facilitator of learning. She still provides the content through all the planning that she does, but instead of delivering it lecture style, she helps the students navigate through the information and teaches them critical skills such as evaluating sources, paraphrasing for understanding, analyzing content, communicating through presentations, synthesizing information, and a host of other skills in addition to all the study skills and technology skills mentioned previously. The computer is a great tool for finding information and engaging the students, but it takes a skilled teacher to help the students interact with that information in meaningful ways.
  3. She can much more quickly assess student readiness for a test. Though she uses many other forms of formative assessment, the online quizzing site with scoring allows her to quickly see who is still struggling and with which areas. She can pull these students aside for additional instruction, targeting their specific needs.
  4. Students are much more engaged in the work. Not only are they more engaged while in the classroom, but when given a homework assignment on the computer, they are much more likely to complete it electronically than when they were given a standard paper and pencil assignment.

The important takeaway from her answer is that a computer  is simply  a tool, and a tool alone cannot fully teach a child.  That tool in the hands of a skilled teacher though can open exciting new pathways to learning and enrich the teaching and learning experience.

This shift in teaching and learning has been a great success. It was a big step on Ms. Popa’s part to learn about the opportunities that would benefit her students and make every change necessary for success. This was a big leap of faith for Ms. Popa and a step toward reclaiming the promise of public education. She stepped up and outside of the norm to embrace something that has created a cultural shift in the students’ learning and appreciation for school and their own education.

Ms. Popa, her students and parents have seen what an investment in education can do. But since the investment was provided by a grant, Ms. Popa’s greatest fear is that once the grant money runs dry the blended learning will end. This is something we cannot allow to happen. In Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education, we work to ensure that our students have access to a rich full curriculum that engages them in learning. We must, at all levels – local, state and national – push for equitable funding that will both give our students access to technology and our teachers access to quality professional development.  We have to continue to fight for the resources it takes to fulfill the promise of public education.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Of guns and promises…

It is 12:08 am.  I just got off the phone with my eighteen-year-old son who is in his freshman year of college.  I had decided to try to go to bed at a decent hour tonight (11:15 pm?), but at 11:30, I got the following text from my son,

“Two mass shootings in one year with AR-15’s.  It really does just make me sad.”

He’s eighteen, for goodness sake.  He should be texting me about the big test tomorrow, or the concert he wants to go to this weekend, or the girl who just broke his heart.

But he can’t sleep because he is sad.  And he can’t understand.

“I mean this guy even has priors,”  the next text says.

This has been in his head ever since Sandy Hook.  He is frustrated by the unwillingness on the part of so many to do anything about this problem.

“It is so wrong.  I mean the signs were there.”

So I called him.  And we talked.  Not about girlfriends, and parties, and tests, but about the issues that really bother him – like guns and mental illness and a society that refuses to deal with these issues that keep him awake at night.

We joke about moving to Australia ( yes, we got that idea from the Daily Show – thank you John Oliver), but we also talk seriously about his future and his desire to help those who are suffering in some way.  And yes, he listens to my now all too familiar rant about the need for mental health services (as well as other wraparound services) in our schools.

I can’t sleep now.  Thoughts of guns and mental illness and hunger and sickness and how can we make it all stop.  When I first went to bed, before my son’s text, I was thinking about the radio show that I will be doing in the morning.  I am supposed to talk about Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education.  Now those thoughts jumble with the conversation I had with my son. I can’t help but think that part of the promise is that we will take care of our children so that maybe we can prevent these things from happening in the future.

I had an email earlier today asking me for data that shows that wraparound services are related to student growth.  I wanted to scream!  Are you kidding me???  Common sense tells me that if you take care of a child’s basic needs, the child will do better in school.  But let’s say, worst case scenario, that there is no data to support that or that there is even no correlation at all (which we all know is not true).  Should it really freaking matter?!  As a society, shouldn’t we want to take care of our children – to make sure they are fed, healthy, mentally well – even if there is no effect on the student growth measure??  Shouldn’t we want to give them access to counselors who can help them deal with depression, anger, and stress?  Shouldn’t we consider that this might actually help prevent mass shootings and suicides and host of other problems down the road? Shouldn’t we give them easy access to health care professionals who can take care of their toothaches and give them a pair of glasses so they can see the board?  Shouldn’t we do all this just because they are our children?!

Of course, of course, of course we want them to learn.  Our passion is to teach them everything their minds can absorb.  We live to see them advance in their education, and we love when they come back and share their successes with us.  We invest ourselves in that success.

So let’s experiment with this.   Let’s keep all our neighborhood schools.  Let’s put a structure in place that allows the educators, parents, and community members to identify the needs of that school.  Let’s invest in the wraparound services that meet kids’ social, emotional, and health needs so that they can focus on learning.  Let’s provide supports and professional development to our teachers so they can meet the academic needs of our students.  Let’s try all this and see what kind of data we produce.  I am willing to bet everything I own that not only will we see an impact on student growth measures but we will also see happy, healthy students who graduate ready for the next phase of their lives.  Game on!  Let’s go!

In a few short hours, I will be on Workforce Radio talking about Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education and thinking about it in the context of a world where mass shootings occur.  But I struggle to put into words my deep conviction that we must take care of the whole child if we want them to grow to be whole adults.

I can talk in broad generalities about hope and opportunity and fairness and equality but it is all just empty rhetoric without action behind it.

So I will end this blog instead with my personal promises for action:

I promise that I will dedicate a part of each day to advocating for wraparound services in our schools.

I promise that I will work to ensure that children have access to a well- rounded education that includes the arts.

I promise that I will spend time talking with our members each week to get a deeper understanding of their frustrations and their solutions for how we can make the system better.

I promise that I will push for the voices of teachers, students, parents, and community members to be heard in keeping and strengthening local neighborhood schools.

I promise that I will continue to partner with other organizations in fighting for the needs of children, their families, and their communities.

I promise that I will only support politicians who really understand the promise of public education and will fight to provide the resources that will allow schools to fulfill that promise.

I promise that I will provide the supports, services, and professional development needed for our members to be leaders in our schools in designing teaching and learning conditions that lead to results.

I promise to keep children at the center of all our work.

What will you do to help reclaim the promise?  Share your thoughts below.

And thank you for sharing my late night rant!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Reclaiming the promise of public education – We are the solution

Over the course of the past year, we at the Ohio Federation of Teachers have had numerous discussions about our work, our goals and how we accomplish them. Last fall, we re-wrote our mission statement and put together a guiding framework we call our MVP – mission, vision, purpose.  In the winter, at convention, we talked about writing the next chapter – telling the positive stories about what we do, putting into words what we think public education can and should be, and defining next steps to strengthen our neighborhood schools, our students and the communities in which we work.  We did this knowing that we are the ones who bring ideas to the table and take a lead in carrying them out. We are the solution.

All of this was a prerequisite to Reclaiming the Promise of Public Education.

Our public schools represent our nation’s commitment to helping all children dream their dreams and achieve them. A high-quality public education for all children is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative and a fundamental civil right, without which none of our other rights can be fully realized. Reclaiming the Promise – a campaign launched this summer by AFT and continued in Ohio by OFT – simply means that we are determined to make public schools what we know they need to be. This is a crucial moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education. Not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

Our work over the past year set the stage for action now under the driving force of the Reclaiming the Promise campaign in which educators join with parents and community members to lead the way to stronger schools in every neighborhood where students can achieve and thrive to their greatest potential. Now is the time for real action. Now is the time to do what others only talk about. Now is the time for us to follow through on our solutions and reclaim the promise of public education.

Others talk about putting the child first, yet they ignore the emotional, social and health needs of these children by deferring focus and resources to testing, testing, testing.

We actually put the child first and advocate for wraparound services within our schools. By developing and implementing a plan to address the needs that open the door for greater student achievement, we are the solution.

Others talk about improving the quality of education by expanding choice while funding perpetually low-performing charter schools.

We work on improving the quality of education by collaborating with peers, implementing best practices, daily assessing and delivering to meet the needs of our students, pushing for smaller class sizes so that we can meet individual needs, and constantly reflecting on our own practice and our profession to find ways to do the job even better. By taking these steps, we are the solution.

Others talk about a well-rounded education for children, yet they inadequately fund the system which forces districts to cut programs.

We fight to keep a broad range of programs in our schools so that students have exposure to music, art, physical education, and a variety of electives that help them find their true interests and passions in life. By insisting on diverse and vast opportunities for students, we are the solution.

Others talk about the need for engaging classrooms where children learn real-life skills, yet they focus on testing and accountability measures that are more punitive than productive.

We strive to make our classrooms engaging with authentic learning experiences while working within the constraints of the test-driven policies. By teaching in varied and creative ways, we are the solution.

Others talk about needing more rigorous standards, but they jump to accountability measures without providing time and resources for effective implementation.

We embrace rigorous standards that allow us to go deeper into content and do more project-based learning that will also help develop critical thinking skills, communication skills and more. By focusing on how to most effectively apply rigorous standards, we are the solution.

Others talk about improving teacher quality while in reality they focus on punitive measures.

We improve teacher quality by focusing on a reflective process that identifies ways to “take it to the next level,” by providing peer coaches and other supports for teachers and by examining our teacher prep programs to find ways to better prepare teachers coming into the profession. In many cases, we design these program. We are the solution.

Others talk about the importance of having excellent schools in every neighborhood, but then shut down neighborhood schools instead of putting resources into making them effective.

We demand to keep our neighborhood schools and to involve the students, parents, teachers and community members in creating community learning centers that meet the needs of the students, their families and the surrounding neighborhood community. We are the solution.

We know how to give our students the opportunities they deserve. We work and fight every day for safe and welcoming schools, well-prepared and supported teachers, engaging curriculum and wrap-around services. But our voices have been drowned out by those who talk, talk, talk in ever increasingly louder voices the rhetoric of empty promises and false solutions.

It is time for us to reclaim the true promise of public education – the promise that every child will have the opportunity to discover who he or she is and to grow as individuals who are prepared for success in their adult lives. The promise that no matter what happens outside the school walls, within those walls is a safe haven where hunger, illness and emotional problems are managed so that the child can learn, grow and thrive. The promise that we truly care about each child and that we will not only fight against policies that are harmful to children, but also that we will fight even harder to provide solutions that will elevate our children to the highest possible level. The promise of a better future.

We must stand up, link arms with each other as well as with parents and community members to reclaim the promise. Together, we are the solution that will guide and protect our students and the ideal of great public schools for every child. Join us to reclaim the promise of public education. Collectively, we are the solution.

To learn more about the Ohio Federation of  Teachers, please visit the OFT website.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments