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Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, National Board Certification, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | December 8, 2012

The Right Work


As some of you might have seen on Facebook, this past Thursday, December 6th, I had the privilege and opportunity to offer a short presentation and serve on a discussion panel for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Education Pathways meeting.

IMG_1558In the audience were names attached to some of most important and influential groups in public education in the state of Washington--and beyond, since also present were Ron Thorpe, President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and Washington's own Andy Coons, who serves as the Chief Operating Officer of NBTPS. Walking into a room with leadership from OSPI, the Gates Foundation, the Association of Washington School Principals, CSTP, and numerous other organizations, I was quick to feel intimidated. After all, my main thought during my drive to Seattle was about whether my ninth graders were behaving for the sub--nothing quite so heady as the future of statewide policy.

My comfort zone is much more intimate with much clearer roles: When I walk into my own classroom, I am the expert, I am the authority. It's not that I wield power like a tyrant over my domain, but to those fourteen- and fifteen-year olds, I am the voice they are to listen to, heed, seek for advice, and learn from. I am the teacher: what I have to say matters.

In my eleven years of teaching, as I've ventured little by little into the world of education policy, there are many times when I find myself in a room filled with nicely pressed suits (and me wearing my one pair of decent slacks) feeling just the opposite way as I do in front of my classroom. I think to myself: I am just a teacher. Will what I say matter?

The topic for the day was the teacher evaluation system here in Washington. As a teacher-leader, my role in my building and district is to help spearhead the work in making the shift toward what I believe is the most meaningful education reform to be initiated in a very long time. 

Therefore, I was presenting about work that I and a dozen-or-so other NBCTs, teacher-leaders, and administrators did last summer to build discussion protocols around video of high leverage teaching strategies, with the intent being that these would be a tool to promote meaningful discussions around teaching practice for educators in any number of contexts. This work was a joint endeavor by OSPI and CSTP, and was made possible by support from the Gates Foundation. These protocols are continuing to be developed, and the goal is that these will serve as starting points for professional conversations that foster teacher reflection, learning, and deep analysis of quality practice--all of which are core philosophical tenets to the growth model intended to underpin the new evaluation system.

During my 15-minute presentation, I shared a video of my own colleagues and I using a conversation protocol, and also discussed my perspectives about the potential of our new evaluation system--and the paradigm shifts necessary for that potential to come to fruition. After lunch, I then joined a panel consisting of Jen Rose, principal of Bellevue's International School, Brian Vance, Principal of Roosevelt High School in Seattle, and Phil Brockman, Executive Director of the Seattle School District.

As we answered questions, what constantly ran through my mind was that I needed to bring it back to the teacher, bring it back to the classroom. My fellow panelists, of course, shared my interest in advocating for teachers, but their perspectives were--and I mean nothing beyond the denotation of the word--different. After all, I was the one teacher in the room. Among these influential men and women, aptly hovering high up in the Space Needle, it wasn't until I saw heads nodding emphatically at my most crucial talking points that I realized something:

I am the teacher: what I have to say matters.

During my talk and then after as well, people reinforced this to me. They were refreshed to hear about what is happening in a real school, with real teachers and real kids. They appreciated hearing the anxieties and questions as well as the hopes and optimism that all exist in the classrooms, staff rooms, and hallways. They thanked my for my expert perspective--a comment I didn't expect.

Does everyone who was in that room now have a transformed view of education and teacher evaluation? I'm not that delusional. But I do believe that now when they think about the issue, they can better imagine what it looks like from a teacher's perspective, and perhaps that will hold some influence over how they help chart the future in our state.

I appreciate that OPSI and the Gates Foundation invited me to share. As was echoed again and again by ASWP, OSPI, my fellow panelists and other presenters, this is all very hard work, but it is the right work. To do it well, this is work we have to do together. 

We are teachers: what we have to say matters. If we do it right, we will be the voice they listen to, heed, seek for advice, and learn from.


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Susan Stahl

This is great, but why were you the only teacher there? I'm sure that you were a fine representative, but considering the range of educational contexts in Washington state, I wish they were more committed to teacher input.

This is awesome! I saw the FB post, too. Well done, Mark.

I've noticed the same thing, Mark; people are interested in the voice of the teacher, partly because they aren't used to hearing it, which is mostly because teachers are so busy teaching that they don't have time to talk to the other stakeholders.

Congratulations, by the way. I've heard you speak and I have no doubt that you did us all proud.

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