“Tea with Teachers” at the US Department of Education

February 25, 2015

(Photo: CycleTours)

This piece was written by Stephanie Bunton. Stephanie is a 2014 BLISS Teacher Leader and a DC Public Schools social studies teacher at Columbia Heights Educational Campus. On February 5, Stephanie was invited to participate in a conversation at the US Department of Education that brought together teachers, Department of Education leaders, and Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellows to discuss the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and its reauthorization.

Expanding teacher voice in federal decision making was central to this event, organized by the Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellows to open conversation between senior members of the US Department of Education (DoE) and teacher leaders from around the region about the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

As we began the session, teachers were asked to share their impressions of the reauthorization, which opened the table for a candid discussion of the real impact that teachers see in our daily experience. We spoke about the need for ESEA to stay a bill aimed to create equity in education throughout the nation. We spoke about the need to reduce the number of tests and to make the tests more authentic and aligned to the careers our students will have access to in the future. During testing windows, our students often lose interest in class time and speak about being too stressed to be motivated to learn anything new. Testing should measure learning in a fair way that keeps teachers, schools, and kids accountable and engaged rather than burning them out.

In our conversation, teachers advocated for meaningful assessments that would drive instruction and growth for the whole student, citing empathy, the arts, and creative design as central features. Some solutions that teachers suggested were expanding early childhood education, improving teacher performance through quality preparation and employee matching, improving teacher access to resources, and increasing evidence based innovation.

We also discussed the importance of increasing evidence based innovation to create teacher training programs. As a Teacher Leader for BLISS: Building Literacy in the Social Studies, I benefit from this support and strongly feel that advocating for this type of effort is crucial to bringing equity to students nationwide. My school also implements a wide range of initiatives that qualify as evidence based innovation, including “Teacher Leadership Innovation.” This school initiative supports teachers across content areas and creates opportunities for students to engage in current issues through literacy instruction and strategies. By have the training, skill, and autonomy to affect change in education, teachers’ innovation is expanded exponentially.

Another critical issue is pushing for improved opportunities for early learning, including Pre-K expansion to be mandatory for all. I have seen students struggling to read in my high school classrooms in DC, New York, and Pittsburgh and feel that expanding early learning opportunities would help decrease the disparity in students’ skill levels, providing a more equitable starting point for our students. Students would struggle less in school and engage more readily with the types of complex texts, content, and questions that motivate deeper thinking and learning experiences and prepare our students for their lives, civic involvement, and successful careers in fields they choose.

Participation with BLISS gave me this opportunity to really have my voice heard in the debate on the federal role in education. As a BLISS Teacher Leader, I have been able to practice many of the suggestions we made to the DoE to close gaps in education, specifically through teacher preparation and evidence based innovation. At this meeting with the DoE, I was able to advocate for these solutions and for continued collaboration among teachers based on my experience in the Inspired Teaching Institute and my role in the creation and implementation of professional development for our district.

BLISS has provided our cohort of Teacher Leaders with a microphone at the national level. Being afforded the opportunity to be on forefront of education in our nation is empowering, and I look forward to continuing to be a voice advocating equity in education.

DC teachers: the application to join the 2015 cohort of BLISS Teacher Leaders is now open. Learn more about BLISS and apply before the March 27 general deadline.

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Teachers can’t control what happens between the time students wake up and when they arrive at school but they have a lot of control over what happens when students cross the classroom threshold. Participants in this fast-paced, idea-rich Institute will learn 20 different strategies for starting the school day!