Collaboration is Critical
(Following is an excerpt from a speech given at a rally for teachers in the Ogden School District in May 2011)
This great country of ours is permeated with a culture of polarization, the likes of which I have not seen in my lifetime. As Utah, its school districts, school boards, principals, teachers, associations, parents and other education stakeholders take on the challenges of this reality, it is critical that we engage in productive dialogue with one another. Education is a collaborative endeavor, not a competitive one. The collaborative culture is what will make a difference for our children.
The Utah Education Association’s mission is to collaboratively create a great public school for every child and strengthen the teaching profession. Unfortunately, across the state of Utah we are finding, in many places, a significant lack of collaboration focused on students. Teachers know that student learning conditions are directly correlated to teacher working conditions. Too often, discussions include vilification of teachers and their association, top down management, legislative attacks, an unwillingness to bargain with teachers, extreme political views, and a lack of respect for one another.
In this atmosphere of hostility to public schools and its teachers, it has become nearly impossible to have a rational discussion among boards of education, educators, parents, advocates, and policy-makers about what should be done. Personal ideology has become the priority and the basis for mistruths and vitriol dialogue.
I have one question, “When did teachers become the enemy?”
Educators across the state of Utah recognize the impact the Great Recession has had on our economy. Repeatedly, Utah teachers have stepped up to the plate and shared the burden of this reality in the form of loss of professional development days, freezing of steps and lanes, and, most disturbing, furlough days which took instructional time away from our students.
Finland, which continually outperforms the United States in education performance measures, is often held as an example for the U.S. to emulate. When you ask the Finns what made them so successful, they will tell you that in order to improve performance you must lead from the classroom. In this environment, teachers are highly trusted and respected and their experience and expertise is valued. Empowering those in the classroom beats punishing them from top. Indeed it is the only way we are going to make a positive difference for our children and public education.
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