What We do Matters

I am currently working on a post that traces the history of funding public education in Iowa. I am curious just how the funding formula has changed since the 1950s. This is taking a lot of research and as a “break” (HA!), I thought I would respond to a post my friend and colleague, Pat Kearney, wrote last week entitled A Community of Educators. Pat wrote an outstanding post about his thinking around the challenges facing educators today. I can’t encourage you enough to go and check out his writing. Let me share a few great nuggets:

We need to make clear that our agenda is making schools better.  Our agenda is changing the face of learning in Iowa.  We need to make those in power uncomfortable when they realize that community of well educated and passionate educators aren’t going to rest until we stop TALKING about making Iowa’s schools “World Class,” and we begin MAKING Iowa’s school “World Class.”

Our community of educators needs to be politically active.  We need to make clear to our legislators that we aren’t going to be silenced by lack of action, lack of a two-way dialogue, or by lack of funding.  We are the state’s educational leaders and we are going to be heard.  We will speak truth to our leaders and even if they enact inadequate funding and legislation that we know will not have a positive impact on education in Iowa, at least they can’t say that no one spoke up.  We are speaking up and the educational experts of our state are ready to make learning in Iowa special.  We are going to speak up for our schools, for our communities, and for our students.  Iowa’s community of educators has to be ready to lead Iowa’s schools into the future.

The community of Iowa’s educators is not going to change our priorities just because our legislators won’t engage us in a real conversation and the community of Iowa’s educators is not going submit to the narrative that Iowa’s schools are bloated and filled with superfluous staff and programs.   Iowa’s community of educators is going to reform education in Iowa, because we can and because we know it is what is right.

Seriously, go read the post.

But I want to talk about what we are doing in Ankeny that is special. Why we are having a positive impact on our students learning. Why what we are doing, even with the threat of lack of funding, is World Class.

Four Fundamental Questions
My colleagues in my district are committed to being able to answer four fundamental questions for every student in our building:

  1. What do we want students to know, understand, and be able to do? (Curriculum)
  2. How will we know what they have learned; what we intended them to learn? (Assessment)
  3. How will we respond if they have/have not learned? (Instruction)
  4. How do we communicate student learning? (Grading and Reporting)

Curriculum comes from the Iowa Core and decisions made by professional learning communities around standards for every class. Our PLCs work to frequently formatively assess students on their progress to mastering these standards, providing descriptive feedback throughout the process. Teachers are constantly working to enrich or intervene in the learning process to help every student make a year’s worth of growth in every content area. Our staff communicates this learning using standards-based principles so students’ grades clearly show what they know, understand, and are able to do.

This isn’t just lip service and drinking the Kool-Aid. I know because I work in a team of five outstanding band directors across six grades and three buildings. They aren’t in it for the money. (Sidebar: do not compare the number of hours you work to your salary. Or do if you want to see we aren’t in it for the money!) They are passionate about making sure students are progressing towards independent musicianship. They stand in front of multiple ensembles every day and work independently and small groups with more than 100 students every week. They give up plan time and lunch time to be able to reach more students.

And I know the same thing is happening in the classrooms at the three buildings I visit. Every Wednesday morning, the PLCs of our schools are meeting to continue to answer those four fundamental questions. They are working to make themselves better teachers for their students, exploring new practices and studying new educational research. I work with outstanding people!

I realize that I am very lucky. I grew up in and teach in an affluent suburb. Most of the students coming to our school come to us well-fed, well-clothed, and well-equipped for a day of learning. But I have also taught in schools where students are not so lucky. Those students and families need teachers more than ever. They don’t care that our legislature passed expensive property tax cuts and can’t afford to provide them with an adequate education. They care that the teacher they get up to see every day won’t be in that classroom for them next year. They care that the after school program they are a part of can no longer be offered. They care that their aging school building can’t be upgraded, but instead will force them to sit in a room with 30 of their peers when it was only designed for 20.

I can tell you that I care a great deal about the students of Iowa. I can also tell you that even my five limited years of teaching experience means I know a lot more about what the students of Iowa need than a governor who finds a butter cow more important than the future of his state.

It is time to speak up. Teachers, what are you doing in your classroom? Share what makes you exceptional. Tell your students, your parents, your community, your legislators. What we do matters, and they all need to know.

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