Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Courage To Speak Up-Part 2

Some people will never understand inequality & injustice until it touches them in a very deeply personal and individualized way. That's sad.  When we fail to see our own humanity in the humanity and mistreatment of others, we enter a dangerous place. One that separates us in multiple ways, not just by race, by gender, class, or socioeconomics. We become separate in our ideas of humanity, separate in what is right & and just for the human being because we have bones, skin, a brain, & most of all, a heart. When we begin to be blind to our commonalities, we unconsciously normalize the mistreatment of our neighbors, our friends, our brothers and sisters in Christ. That which likens us, all one to another, cannot be separated. When we begin to see rights garaunteed to all of us as conditional, as partial, as circumstantially applicable, we enter into a dangerous place. One where justice becomes a privilege and not a right. Where freedom becomes conditional, only available to some and not all. We defy the inherent nature of democracy: of the people, for the people, by the people. We teach our children that rights we are all garaunteed are of some people, for some people, and by some people, not for all people. We mustn't take this lightly. To do so is to normalize something this country prides itself on, and that is the guaranteed rights and freedoms for all. This is my country. This is our democracy where these words: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life,liberty, & the pursuit of happiness" guide our lives. Whenever I see these rights being compromised for any person, any human being, I will speak out. I will not be silent.  My courage is not of any good purpose if I do not exercise it. For I recognize that the denial of the rights of any any human being is also the denial of my own. When we leave it to others to guess where we stand on issues of injustice, we perpetuate the practice of being silent for fear of retaliation, consequences, personal and/or professional, and acceptance among those we may call friends but know better. I refuse to be held hostage by fear & I refuse to not utilize the freedom granted to me by the same Constitution that makes it a right for others to express an opinion different than my own. This is what makes America great. This is what makes America, America. As an educator, I recognize that our children are watching. I will not make it unclear to them as to where I stood in times like these. They will always know unequivocally where Dr. Dixon stood and will eternally stand, and that is, "with liberty and justice for ALL". Peace, Love, Blessings to all who took a moment to read this. Xoxo

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Courage To Speak Up

I wish I could string together the right words in a precise fashion that would express how elated I am to have found my voice. I have been a writer my entire life. At the age of seven I fell in love with writing. Now at 40, I've determined that we are at perhaps one of the most critical moments in our love affair. I with it, and it with me. It's hard to explain but the growth that's occurred in me as a writer is really fascinating to me. It's taken me some time to find my voice, to discover the right way to mix facts and research with my thoughts and ideas. In my last few blog posts, I've seen a maturation, a critical turning point in my written work. I have found my voice.

While I would not say that my previous writing was not good, I would be remiss if I didn't say my more recent pieces and the book I am writing have a different style. It's authentic and genuine, yet bold and courageous. It incorporates research, yet connects to the practical realities of leading, teaching, and learning.

I believe what helped me find my voice, is that I have been writing with a new found courage. I've given myself the freedom to write the things that I've wanted to share, but had not found the courage to do so. Figuring out how to share what matters most to me in a way that inspires and moves others has been a journey. So often my passion laden writing can come across as a lack of openness, a reluctance to listen to others, or be misinterpreted as something other than I intended. My writing voice has matured. It has not been silenced or muffled by fear. Instead, I believe that I've been made free by my courage to write from the inside.

I want to inspire educators everywhere to exercise courage in your advocacy for our profession. Extend your conversation beyond your inner circle. For it is not our colleagues who need to hear our voices, but those who are making decisions that impact our daily practice. I've found the courage to speak up about the things that matter most to me. I've found my voice.  Find yours and join me.

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!

Saturday, September 2, 2017

If You Want to Solve A Problem, Go To The Source: Ask Teachers How to Solve The Teacher Shortage Crisis!

I'm always quite baffled by the relative distance between those who provide commentary on viable solutions to the teacher shortage crisis and their proximity to the actual problem. I don't mean that they ought to go visit a school before they share their opinion or that their opinion should be given while physically standing in a school building. It's really simple to me. Well, the issues surrounding teacher shortages aren't simple, but if we want to know why teachers and or principals are leaving the profession or reluctant to sign on at our most challenging schools, ASK EDUCATORS! Who better knows why teachers leave the classroom or don't want to teach in our most challenging schools than those who are making such choices. If we want to know why students aren't choosing to major in education, we ought to ask the students! Without ever fully investigating the reasons and rationale at the core level, we are bound to come up with pseudo assumptions and solutions. Those things that sound good and seem rational, but aren't the actual answers to the questions we must explore before we can ever come up with solutions to solve the looming and present teacher shortage crisis. Those three questions are:
1. Why is enrollment in educator preparation programs down?
2. Why is it difficult to recruit and retain teachers at our most challenging schools?
3. Why do teachers leave the profession and are doing so at an increased rate?

You don't have to search far and wise to find the answers on this. I mean, for example take this article published on August 21, 2017: Schools throughout the country are grappling with teacher shortage, data shows  Read this research brief published by Learning Forward last September: A Coming Crisis In Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the US 
Don't have time to read the entire paper, just review this snapshot from the brief:

From: Sutcher, L., Darling-Hammond, L., & Carver-Thomas, D. (2016). A coming crisis in teaching? Teacher
supply, demand, and shortages in the U.S.. Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute.
This issue didn't just show up and it's not going away anytime soon. We'd prove ourselves wise to take action now, but of course we're still talking about what to do and how to fix this because we've yet to solve this problem. I could be wrong about this, but I have a theory on why we're struggling to find solutions to this issue. Here goes nothing:

1. Are we asking the right educators?
 Are we asking those who leave why the leave? Are we asking those who had a desire to teach but didn't major in education why they did that? Are we asking those who chose not to go teach and work in our toughest schools why that is? We must make sure we are asking those who leave, not those of us who have stayed and continued along the path in spite of it all.

2. Are educators being honest? 
I tend to think HR exit interviews aren't the exact place you share the real reasons you're leaving the profession. I mean who hasn't heard all the common rationales: work-life balance, family reasons, exploring other options, taking time to figure out what and where I should go with my career, etc. I am in serious doubt that people tell the truth on surveys (especially those that already have the multiple choice options for you). Some answers are too raw and too real and too traumatic to share in a formal exit interview. Sometimes teachers don't feel safe in sharing why they are leaving as they fear retaliation. Sometimes educators fear others will judge them as not being genuine in their intention and effort all because they say they can't feed their family.

3. How far are policy makers willing to go to change this trajectory?
I won't deny that lots of things have been tried to address this issue, but as we know all solutions have their limits. By that I mean, depending on how far the solution goes, it can only address the issues but so much. What if policy makers were willing to make some serious changes to address this? No temporary bonus or incentives, but a real change that elevates the profession in a way that attracts the best and brightest to our field, and compensates them well to stay there. Could policy makers consider how the policies created around education have perpetuated the teacher shortage crisis? Unless you're one who'd rather believe it all happened by chance. I think not. Compensation issues can no longer be avoided either. While our work is missionary in nature, no educator ought to have to take a vow of poverty because they choose to stay in the classroom where the real differences are made for children.

Speaking of compensation, I must share this article I read: U.S. Teacher Pipeline Has Burst: But Not in Finland or Singapore It seems national comparisons are good for evaluating teachers and their performance as well as how the U.S. fares in comparison to other countries in terms of student achievement. The one place we rarely see such a hyper focus on how we compare nationally is in how we recruit, retain, compensate, and treat the teaching profession. If we're going to be compared to other nations, let's not leave the aforementioned items out of the analysis. While I haven't verified some of the information in the article, it was a little astounding to read this statement:

"In 30 states, a teacher with a family of four,who is living on an average teaching salary, qualifies for government assistance."

I was somewhat shocked, but I can't say it truly surprised me.  How unfortunate is this? How does this perpetuate the growing decline of those students who choose not to enroll in educator preparation programs? Ever think about how choices we made yesterday contribute to the problems we face today?

With the continuous assault on the narrative of public education and educators over the last few years, one can't help but think, perhaps this teacher shortage crisis is a result of such. Educators have fought some battles with NCLB, pay for performance, value added evaluation, school choice, the resegregation of our schools, etc. We've won a few, but lost too many. Real solutions mean making real changes to the way our profession is respected, viewed, honored, and celebrated. As Sutcher, et al. (2016) note:

"The teacher shortage provides an opportunity for the United States to take a long-term approach to a comprehensive and systematic set of solutions to build a strong teaching profession. Although these proposals have a price tag, they could ultimately save far more than they would cost. The savings would include more than $8 billion now wasted annually on replacement costs because of high teacher turnover, plus much of the expense of grade retention, summer schools, and remedial programs required because too many children are poorly taught. In the competition for educational investment, the evidence points strongly to the importance of a strong, stable teaching force. Preventing and eliminating teacher shortages so that all children receive competent, continuous instruction in every community every year is, in a 21st century economy, essential for the success of individuals as well as for our society as a whole."

So if no one else will ask the right folks and beg of those who provide a response to be truly honest, I'll do it. I believe we are either held hostage by our fear or made few by our courage. Today I choose courage. You can join me by following the #imagesofed on Twitter. Tweet me your answers to the big three or share them here on our Flipgrid page.

It's time for educators to speak up and the time is NOW. Join me.

Until next time-be you, be true, be a hope builder!