Teacher leaders tackle work with renewed vigor
Teams of K-12 educators from locals around the nation gathered with AFT President Randi Weingarten on Dec. 10 for an online meeting about the school-related topics they'll tackle in 2016-17 as part of the AFT Teacher Leaders Program. Thirteen participating sites (representing more than 17 locals) took part in this month's webinar, and the meeting was salted with an even greater sense of urgency, thanks to a just-completed election cycle that often devolved into trust-eroding messages about public education and other vital institutions.
Restoring that trust is the union's first order of business and the work done by teacher leaders is central to that mission, Weingarten told the cohort. Started in 2011, the Teacher Leaders Program is jointly supported by the national AFT and participating locals as a vehicle for individual classroom educators to identify, research, and chart actions tied to the challenges and opportunities that unfold in schools and communities every day.
The AFT is a crossroads of labor and education, and "Donald Trump used language of frustration and grievance" to connect to voters and "undermined every institution in America" in the process, Weingarten said. But efforts like the Teacher Leaders Program give cause for hope, she added. "It shows that when we actually engage our members, we get connected in broader and broader concentric circles. We build trust and agency" in core social institutions.
Over the years, teacher leaders have looked at everything from federal law to school discipline policies and use of data through the lens of the frontline. Through self-designed action projects, they have crafted and disseminated research and practices that have found their way into real policy—new approaches aimed at strong, safe and outstanding schools in thriving neighborhoods and communities. Joining the December call were affiliates in Albuquerque, N.M.; Baltimore; Boston; Corpus Christi, Texas; Houston; Jefferson Parish, La.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; New York City; North Syracuse, N.Y.; Pittsburgh; Toledo, Ohio; Volusia, Fla; and Washington, D.C.
The topics they've selected for work cover the spectrum of school life: how music education supports social and emotional learning; the effect of recess on student behavior and academic achievement; mental health and discipline; professional development for cultural competencies; minority boys and suspension data; Latino students and testing; teacher retention policies; community schools; early childhood services; and alternative assessments.
Participants in the program have committed to spend one Saturday each month during the school year networking and collaborating with colleagues in their union on these action research projects, as well as brainstorming plans to build community support for their schools around the ideas and information they've unearthed. It's work that typically attracts wide public recognition—and has led to locally and regionally sanctioned changes in practice.
For the profession to be at the front of this curve is the very definition of trust-building work, Weingarten stressed. And that's the climate our union has pledged to instill—the environment that actually produced victories this year for schools, students, families and educators in a host of down-ballot elections from Massachusetts to California. "What we have to focus on now is 'what next,'" the AFT president reminded the cohort. The Teacher Leaders Program can provide many of those answers.
[Mike Rose]- See more at: http://www.aft.org/news/teacher-leaders-tackle-work-renewed-vigor#sthash.4nkVs7dR.dpuf