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This week is Teacher Appreciation Week--a week when teachers are doted upon with tasty treats, mugs, and thoughtful cards. While these tokens of appreciation are lovely, might I suggest a different kind of gift for teachers, one that lasts year round?

Parents and community members: instead of giving us your thanks, make a commitment to advocate for teachers. By publicly supporting teachers and demanding the tools we need to help your children succeed, we can truly make schools better together.  Real change in our schools must come from the inside out--using teachers to shape, lead, and innovate school policy. There are thousands of teachers across this the country who are making a difference in the lives of our children, yet we rarely ask for their input. All too often, education policymakers have spent no professional time in a classroom. (Think about that: the people making decisions affecting your child’s education routinely have zero experience teaching.) Instead of relying on their perspectives to improve our nation’s education system, we must turn to teachers.

We must give teachers tools to lead and create better schools, resources to teach and be heard, and support to develop and refine their practice.

Here are a few ways teachers, parents, and community members can work together to transform our nation’s schools:

Supporting teachers

We have a real problem sustaining good teachers in this country: one in three teachers quits within the first five years of teaching. As a new teacher, I desperately needed the mentorship of my partner teacher, who was a veteran and masterful educator. Even though she was not my formal mentor, she took me under her wing and taught me how to run a successful classroom. However, this was a happy accident--there was no mentoring program at my school. In order to ensure a robust workforce of highly skilled educators, we must create fully funded, meaningful, and well-coordinated mentoring programs that support teachers through the challenging first years of teaching.

Involving parents

You hear people say all the time that parents are children’s first and best teachers. No one knows a child like their parents, and this relationship is critical to the success of the child. We also know that children of parents who are very involved in their education are much more successful in life.

Our schools need to be more parent friendly by providing opportunities for parental feedback, leadership, volunteering, and visits to children’s classes. Parents and teachers should create improvement goals for children and work collaboratively to meet them. It takes a village, and parents and teachers are on the same team--to help children become lifelong learners, successful people, and engaged citizens.

Transforming schools

Our society is changing rapidly, and our schools should be as well. Today, too many students are subject to a one-size-fits-all educational approach that is driven by test scores. Instead, teachers need the tools and freedom to create innovative, personalized learning. This includes providing authentic learning opportunities through leadership and service learning. Our students (and schools) should not be judged on the scores of one test but in multiple and varied ways, over time. This will allow teachers to consider the needs of the whole child and reintroduce humanity into education—through integrated, in-depth, unhurried, guided, and engaging learning.

Teachers aren’t instruments of information. They are facilitators in the development of versatile, creative, and critical thinkers who can one day solve the complex problems of our world. Ultimately, students need to see themselves as leaders of our communities--and that work starts with teachers. Service learning and schoolwide leadership experiences can transform school climates, promote learning between grade levels and ages, increase students’ feelings of community, and engage children in higher-level learning through authentic experiences in their schools and communities. Through these experiences, teachers can also change the way communities see our schools and kids. Communities will become deeply involved in local schools and see children and teenagers as allies--partners and instruments of hope for change to come.

Isn’t this what we need right now, especially in today’s political climate? We need to give teachers the time to develop personalized learning plans with parents’ input and invest in ways for students to become future leaders of our communities. This means creating opportunities for classes with fewer students, more collaborative time for teachers, better connections to communities, and more connected schools.

Let’s have teachers and parents to lead the way in improving our schools—student by student, community by community. It’s the only way to make real and meaningful change and create environments in which students can thrive, connect, learn, and grow.

Now that would be be a way to truly honor teachers and their work.

This post is part of Teacher Appreciation Week and #TeachingIs, a social media movement seeking to elevate public perception of the teaching profession. Click here to learn how you can participate.

image: cybrarian77 on Flicker under CC 


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