Champions aren’t just teachers
One of the most pervasive hashtags I’ve seen of late is #AllKidsNeed. A while ago I heard a moving TED talk from a woman you may or may not have heard of before named Rita Pierson. Mrs. Pierson, who still garners that respect from people she didn’t even teach, said it best – all kids need a champion. Sadly, she passed away the same year she gave her talk. I agree that every child deserves a champion, but I am certain that those champions aren’t just teachers. Unfortunately not everyone involved in the education reform movement agrees. The Franklin Foundation for Innovation is working to be a champion for our public schools – yet some question our ability to do so since our leader (me) is not an educator by profession.
Mrs. Pierson’s quote is a powerful one, and her speech was a powerful dialogue on what it means to teach, what it means to develop citizens, and why it is important to build and maintain relationships. She was an educator and passionate about the idea of spreading knowledge to change communities and build opportunity for brighter futures. I loved her message. I am seeking, through my organization, to spread that message, to fix the issues that exist in our public schools, and shutdown the massive for-profit education machine that I personally believe is choking the success out of our public education infrastructure.
What has me blogging about this was a recent dialogue with a group of people who basically said that they believe an organization trying to improve education or reform education can only be credibly led by an educator. A strange belief really; since the lack of inclusion of “other voices” is a common complaint amongst those who want to see schools improve. This group also stated that schools aren’t broken – and that failure statement, they feel, is perpetuated by people who just want charter schools and for-profit education. These folks, all of whom were educators, actually said that they’re weary of people stressing the importance of collaboration. Seriously? Any effort to reform, fix, improve, change (or whatever other verb you want to use) anything requires collaboration, demands partnership, and ultimately thrives on teamwork. Anyone who believes otherwise is either in this for the wrong reasons, or simply part of the problem.
So, is the only shot we have at REAL education reform dictated by whether or not an organization leading the charge is led by an educator? If Michelle Rhee (Students First) and Vicki Philips (Gates Education) are any indication, I certainly hope not. Those two “former educators” represent organizations that are completely derailing education reform – pushing malformed constructs like “school choice” and anti-union messages that do little more than mask the institutional and policy issues that got us to where we are today.
I think Mrs. Pierson, a consummate educator, would disagree with the idea that reform efforts are best led by educators. Diverse thinking brings the kind of disruption and creativity that leads to breakthrough outcomes. Mrs. Pierson understood the importance of relationships and bringing all voices to the table, and used her platform at TED to collaborate and share with everyone who would listen, not just other educators. This organization is focused on innovating solutions for education, and likewise want all voices heard, whether we agree with them or not.
In case you aren’t already aware, our organization has a single agenda: make our public schools the center of our communities, ensuring that every American child has access to a quality education where their learning outcomes are individualized and their educators are supported and encouraged to innovate. We believe that education should be free, parents should be connected, educators should be encouraged, and administrators should be efficient. We are against common core, and strongly support the opt-out movement. We are solutions-oriented and innovation focused.
But the more I thought about it I realized that the fact is, I am an educator. I’m in charge of the classrooms in my home, where I teach science, math, language arts, civics, and culture. I maintain relationships with my daughter’s teachers to ensure that I can extend learning from their classroom to my own. Transformation can only take place in an environment that embraces partnerships, diversity, and relationships. So to the folks who believe that only teachers are relevant to the education reform discussion let’s cut the crap, work together, get rid of the silos and fiefdoms, and be the champions all children deserve, together.