Engage teachers in the education reform process

Dec 26, 2011 by

By Tom Watkins –

Business owners know you must engage your employees in the change process.

Training our adults to be competitive on the world stage and educating more of our children to world-class standards is the key to the country’s future prosperity.

Education holds the key to our collective futures. The city, state and nation that creates an effective system of learning will thrive. Our goal should be to make Michigan and America the brain bank of the world where everyone wants to come for deposits and withdrawals.

Yet, rather than seeking ways to develop a shared vision and common agenda to make this happen, political and ideological battles sharpen and continue to beat down the vary people we need to build up — our teachers.

Teachers are key

The voice of the classroom teacher must be heard, especially around issues of classroom discipline, instructional design and delivery above the reform chatter.

Our public schools are the true Statue of Liberty in this great country of ours — taking the tired, hungry, poor, kids who speak English as a second language, and children with disabilities to give them hope and opportunity. Our great teachers are the torches lighting the way for us all.

Rhetoric from the state and our nation’s capital have never educated a single child. It is our teachers who know their subject matter, who have a passion for teaching and learning, and who are provided the support and tools from administration, that we must invest our resources and energy moving forward.

As Michigan’s state superintendent of schools (from 2001-2005), I had a simple measuring stick against which ALL decisions made by the Department of Education and State Board of Education were judged: “Show me how this helps our teachers teach and our children learn.”

We need to engage teachers in the process of reform to attract and retain the very best in the classroom.

The State Board of Education, in an overt effort to engage teachers, invited the annually selected Michigan Teacher of the Year to have a seat, but more importantly; a voice at the State Board table. The teachers’ voice is always the last heard prior to policy being enacted.

So as the New Year rings in, rather than hammering our teachers down, let’s snap that symbolic hammer in half and turn it instead into a ladder that helps lift up our schools, teachers, and most importantly, our children.

Do our schools and teachers need to constantly evolve, embrace change and adapt to a disruptive world where ideas and jobs can and do move around the globe effortlessly? Of course.

Yet, without the ability to tap the energy, talents, skills and passions of these great educators that are touching our collective futures every day, we are missing a major ingredient necessary to soar in the 21st century knowledge economy.

Research and common sense reinforce that quality teachers matter. In the education enterprise we must always remember that teachers have the lead role (along with parents and students). The other parts of the educational food chain then sing back up to what happens in the classroom. The teacher is Diana Ross and the rest are sing “doo-opp.”

If you can read this, thank a teacher!

But if you are a policy-maker (governor, legislator, school board member, superintendent, principal), consider re-evaluating how you can harness the talents of the master-link in the learning process — our great teachers.

Tom Watkins, Ednews.org’s 2010 Upton Sinclair Award winner, served as Michigan’s state superintendent of schools from 2001-05. He is a strong advocate for public education and sensible school reforms. He is a U.S./China business and educational consultant. He can be reached at: tdwatkins88@gmail.com.


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