Lessons In Educational Leadership

By Bridget Varner

Do you have a favorite leader at your school? I have one, it’s the librarian at my school! We lovingly call her Mrs. T because her last name is a tongue twister. Her leadership makes my school a better place. As teachers, we are leaders! First and foremost to our students but also to many colleagues and community members around us.

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Leadership is such a large part of our job that I was excited to learn more about it. I’m a Utah Teacher Fellow and the Fellows meet once a month. We frequently learn from guest speakers. This year Rob Smith, Assistant Superintendent of Alpine School District, spoke to us. Rob shared what he believes makes impactful educational leaders.

First, Educational Leaders have confident humility. They are all about helping other people. Second, they will take every opportunity to improve. These types of teachers and leaders are always learning and growing. Seeing the importance in continually becoming better. Third, Educational Leaders have to be vulnerable. Fourth, showing gratitude is apart of their character. Rob expressed that gratitude is a state of mind. He shared that writing thank you cards and using #grateful in his posts are some ways he stays grateful. Along with staying grateful educational leaders give away credit to others and sometimes have to be willing to take fire and blame. Fifth, it’s important to look for the good in people. Rob shared that he carries around a coin to remind him that just like a coin people have two sides. The coin is a constant reminder to him to look for the good in people.

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What he shared helped me understand what made Mrs. T an effective leader and ways I can improve my leadership. Mrs. T shares her vision with staff every year which is to make her library a happy place and it is! She’s always improving it and making it exciting for students. She shares gratitude consistently in emails, guava cupcake treats, and spontaneous hot chocolate days when spring just won’t warm up. She is vulnerable with teachers and lets the library be a place to cry when you need to, laugh about the crazy days, and just talk when needed. She is humble and is kind to everyone.

These types of educational leaders are inspiring and needed! I’m grateful for these two examples. We can use these ideas more in our classrooms and spheres of influence. I believe teachers using these leadership ideas will positively impact their classrooms, schools, and communities.

Chopped or Not?

By Machelle Rogers

I must admit that one of my guilty pleasures is really liking food competitions-particularly Chopped, Iron Chef, and any one-on-one competitions, such as- Beat Bobby Flay, on the Food Network. I have watched these shows so much that I can tell you prior to judging, with a high percentage of accuracy, who will win based on the chef’s ingredient use.

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One of the pieces that I rail against the most is competitors who don’t know their competition (“…they don’t know the territory.” Music Man).  Many do not know enough about the strengths and weaknesses of the person they will compete against.

In other words, if someone is competing against Bobby Flay, they should know that he has a strong southwest background, likes sauces, and knows quite a bit about other cultures. They should also know that he is not a strong baker or dessert chef, and that he does not lose very often.

Another thing I often notice is that  competitors often don’t use the secret ingredient in a way that makes it shine.  In this type of competition, one should know that it is important to make that secret ingredient be the focus and center of whatever is presented.

Often, I tend to be idealistic; this idealism affects my thoughts about teaching, as well. Though I realize that I am nowhere near the perfect teacher I would like to be, I have pondered many times about how to make my teaching practice more perfection-oriented, intentional and focused. And it has occurred to me that teaching is much like food competitions.

If, like the competing chefs, we do not know our students, how can we meet the challenge?  Like these chefs, we need to be diligent and learn the strengths and weaknesses of our students; we do this by collecting data, listening and building relationships.  

When we know where students are strong, we can help them build those areas in a deeper and more meaningful direction.  We can look at the areas of weakness and build assignments, activities and learning experiences that allow that student to find success in ways never before achieved.  

While the challenging chefs may use their knowledge of strengths and weaknesses as a way to gain an advantage for themselves, and even win a competition: our focus as teachers is on using the weakness as a way to gain an advantage for the student, not ourselves.  However, recognizing that that weakness needs support and continued monitoring in order to reach the level of success appropriate for each student, means that we must do something different than just showing up.

The second part of this, of course, is to make the chosen ingredient shine.  What might this look like in education and in our own classroom? In cooking competitions, the winning chefs design dishes that enhance the flavors, create new combinations, and acknowledge the inherent limitations of the component in order to bring out the best in that element. In this way, chefs stretch their skills and the paradigm of the judges.

We, as educators, must make our essential standard and/or goal known continuously.  It must be shared in the beginning, throughout the lesson as connectors, and at the end to wrap everything up. Our essentials are the secret ingredient and it is up to us to make it shine.

We, as teachers, take the essential and find ways to enhance its parts, create new pathways of thinking, and acknowledge the inherent limitations in order to share with students the best of learning.  In that way, we stretch and enlarge not only our own paradigms, but the students’, as well.

Our goal is to be the winning “chef” by making our students the main ingredient of our teaching; by learning how to use their strengths and inherent weaknesses to enhance the learning and individuality of the ingredient, we can successfully design lessons that allow students to shine.  In this way, everyone can win and no one ends up getting “Chopped” or lost.

Together for each other, every time.

By Machelle Rogers

Something came undone in me one night while I was watching the news and the weight of my chosen career came crashing down with a sudden clarity. I was watching a report of the Florida students and their planned re-arrival at their school the next day following a school shooting that took 17 of their community; the teachers were standing in front of the school with signs to welcome them back, offer care, and promise hope.  And I fell apart.

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The report was covering all the ways students would be and are supported in their return following a traumatic and tragic event and I wondered who would be there for the teachers? What about their trauma, sleepless nights worrying about their students and how they, as the teacher, could face going back themselves?

Some of my own stressful events with students came flooding back into memory and for a bit, I experienced my own little post-trauma stress.  I relived the body check and being told by my principal to not press charges or rock the boat; I relived the screaming, yelling, desk throwing child placed in my room for cooling down; the child brought for Think Time who ended up throwing chairs at me and destroying my room and computer- all while my students watched in horror.  I relived my student melting down and threatening suicide while destroying anything in his path. I suppose that is why I fell apart.

I am not alone.  I know this. Many, if not all, teachers have experiences like this that give sleepless nights and moments or hours of anxiety.

What does this mean for students and teachers?

It means that for some teachers, this will be too much and the system loses another hero. It means that teachers cry many tears. It means that teachers can’t focus and resort to “punting with purpose” for their lessons.  In a report out of Pennsylvania State University, it was reported that, when teachers are highly stressed, students show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.  It means that teachers and students lose out on relationships and academia at a level necessary for learning. It means that teachers need support and help.

It means for students who have experienced trauma, in any form, that academia takes a vacation.  It means that allowances must be made in behavior and expectation. It means that structure must remain for normalcy, but fluidity of learning has to be allowed.  It means that students cry many tears. It means students can’t focus on heavy academic information. It means that relationships are crucial. It means that students need support and help.

This means that a new style of discipline, responsiveness, and learning must be adapted by everyone.  This is not an advocating of new curriculum or new standards, but an advocating of a new united front.  Building relationships sometimes isn’t enough and we need to acknowledge that and move forward to something beyond saying we build relationships. What is the new step? I don’t know, but I do know that we need to change the isolation that is part of education.

Professional Learning Communities (PLC) are a start in this process, but it needs more than that.  I am very lucky to be in a school where we like each other, truly care for each other, and support each other.  This has not been an overnight endeavor, but one forged from shared tragedies and trauma- as well as one forged from PLC work and celebrations.  Over the years, our work to support all student success has helped direct our processes.

However, when recent student behaviors created traumatic events, we were at a loss as how to help- except to say we stood with each teacher.  As a teacher in this event, it is easy to feel isolated and alone. It is overwhelming and all-consuming in its emotionality and energy. Listening and offering support is empowering and helps lift the load- even when nothing else is done. As a song from The High School Musical movie says: We’re all in this together. We’re there together for each other every time.  That’s what we need to believe: we’re there together for each other every time.

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Is Your Teaching Intentional?

By Machelle Rogers

I always thought I understood what intentional teaching was, though I knew I wasn’t very good at being consistent.  I guess that as I continued on in my teaching, trying to be consistent and keep a routine, I was becoming less and less intentional.

Having said that, I have attended conferences, read current research and attended professional development of all sorts trying to do what I could to improve my teaching to update the skills “learned” from each of those areas.  Some of this learning has become part of my repertoire, but now I understand that even this has not really been intentional teaching.

Several incidents at school and home made me reflect more deeply on how I do things.  Within two days, we had a kindergarten child “disappear” at the end of day (an ex-husband not communicating), a front sign pole knocked askew by a distracted parent and a backpack caught in a door dragging a second grader more than 300 feet- unbeknownst to her mother. In addition, while dressing my elderly father, I put his shoes on the wrong feet (he didn’t even notice until late in the evening).

In the resulting conversations, many wondered how these kinds of things could happen or how easy it is to become distracted or fall into routines (dressing my dad) that we forget to pay attention to what we are doing. I have thought about how many times I would drive to or from someplace, arrive at my destination, surprised that I was already there, and wonder how I had arrived there.  

My thoughts turned to the mom who didn’t realize that her daughter’s coat had gotten caught in the door and drove through the parking lot dragging that daughter.  A pregnant teacher, on duty, was finally able to catch her attention and then everyone fell apart with the emotion of it all. The mom was totally distraught, as was the teacher who knew the mom and daughter.

A light dawned and I began to think about how many places I am less than intentional (not always, but enough to cause a deeper reflection of practice) -in relationships, in care of self, in care of others, in so many areas,and then I thought about teaching. I realized that perhaps the careful design and purpose of my lessons had become lost in my routine.

I thought about how I felt when I arrived someplace without knowing how I got there and wondered where that feeling was in my teaching.  I thought about how it feels when I intentionally plan a lesson and activity- and more importantly, how the students react to that intentionality.  I wondered how to bring that back.

And I wondered if I felt as distraught about that loss of focus as much as the mother and teacher did. I worried about how that loss affected the learning in my classroom and whether I had the ability to be on target and intentional all the time or not.

I will admit that sometimes it is much easier to “punt with a purpose,” as our Gifted Talented specialist used to tell us, than to think through every lesson carefully and with purpose. However, maybe that is exactly what I need to bring a stronger sense of passion and accomplishment to the classroom-maybe that is what the students need today.

Maybe there is a way to keep the routine of a day and still think and teach intentionally. Can intentional teaching be routine?  Or is it, by design, something that is more…. intentional? Is it possible? I don’t know if it can happen every day or every lesson, but I know that by designing a lesson with greater purpose and intentionally teaching, I will be happier and feel more rejuvenated.  I need to think more carefully on this and move forward with intentional purpose.

Legislation: How Regular Utah Teachers Can Get the Ball Rolling

By: Deborah Gatrell

If you’ve learned anything about the Legislative process since the late 1970s, you’re probably familiar with I’m Just a Bill from the first season of Schoolhouse Rock. It’s a great little segment and explains the legislative process quite well, for both the State and Federal levels. What’s missing is this key ingredient: relationships. I learned that from experience over the past two years as I got to know my state legislators. When I asked them to run bills for the 2019 Legislative session both were happy to oblige. One bill even passed. Here’s how it all happened.2018_UTTFs_2.jpg

As a member of the first Utah Teacher Fellows cohort (2017-2019), I was asked to join the education policy conversation. In some ways this was terrifying – I did not want to join Twitter and was reluctant to submit my writing for publication. The Fellowship provided intensive training in network mapping, effective advocacy, the power of telling our stories, and encouragement to take risks. With a network of support to rely on, I jumped in with both feet. I started tweeting and writing, putting my name out there. We can’t shape policy if people don’t listen to us and they won’t listen if they don’t know we exist. So that was my first step – speaking: online through social media and on paper through the local newspaper.

Equally important was establishing personal connections. In one case, this was fairly easy. I already knew Representative Weight through my participation at neighborhood caucuses and as a county and state delegate. Full disclosure: I’m politically independent and unaffiliated with any party, but in Utah the Democrats are an open party and welcome all comers. Still, we hadn’t ever discussed policy in depth, so when I found out about the Democratic Representatives’ Hive Day (an open door opportunity to discuss anything you’d like with Democratic representatives) I jumped at the chance to visit with her. We had a great wide-ranging conversation and she was delighted to learn about my work with the Teacher Fellows and our #UTEdchat Twitter conversations.

Connecting with my state senator was a little more challenging. When the Legislative session starts, everyone is busy all the time. The Teacher Fellows participated in an Educator Day on the Hill in February 2018, sponsored by the Utah Education Association (and held each Friday throughout the Legislative session). This was my first time at the state capitol during the session since it happens during the school year. I definitely learned by experiencing the process, starting with a committee meeting where Rep. Weight was a committee member. However, I wasn’t able to meet with Senator Mayne – senators have to be present for votes and she was presenting one of her bills on the Senate floor when I asked to meet with her, so it simply didn’t happen. She did have some weekend Town Hall events during the session, so I tracked her down there and introduced myself as a Utah Teacher Fellow and Board Certified teacher, offering my insight should she ever need it for education related bills. It was a start.

Then the Parkland Massacre happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida. This spurred me to write on matters of school safety. As a military veteran and a teacher, I had an important perspective to share. So I did, confidently. I wrote, tweeted my published pieces and tagged legislators. I wrote more about changes to Utah’s Teacher Licensing structure and Teacher Leadership and tagged policy makers in the Legislature and State Board of Education. I sent emails and made phone calls and got replies and radio interview requests – not something I ever expected. Through writing and social media, I became a known quantity and then a trusted individual through personal interactions.

The 2018 Legislative session wrapped up with a School Safety Commission to study options. I watched closely as ideas were discussed in town halls and did my own extensive research as well. I found compelling evidence that Child Access Prevention (CAP) laws limiting youth access to weapons (a prerequisite for schools shootings) make a positive impact on youth suicide where these laws are in place. I shared my findings with Rep. Weight and she agreed to run a bill. As a retired teacher not long out of the classroom, she was uniquely positioned to take on this controversial topic. I was happy to support the process with research as well as insight from diverse perspectives during drafting, and then spoke in support of the concept when she presented it in committee over the summer.

Meanwhile, I participated in an intensive week of training as a facilitator for National Board Candidate support in August 2018. I was amazed by the state level support for the Board certification process in Washington, both by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and the Washington Education Association (WEA). This experience opened my eyes to what might be possible in Utah and I came home very excited to share what I had learned.

There are a lot of differences between education in Washington and Utah and plenty of room to improve here. I started asking questions and making recommendations. It’s a heavy lift to take on the level of support provided in Washington without clear demand from Utah teachers working towards National Board Certification, so that’s something we’ll build towards over time through a variety of networks. One first step was improving financial support and incentives, so I reached out to Senator Mayne and asked her to run a bill. We’d had some good phone conversations after the 2018 session where we chatted about my school, Hunter High, where she has strong connections and has given scholarships. She had attended some #UTEdchat Twitter conversations at my invitation. I’d had a good visit with her in person at the West Valley City WestFest where I’d gone to help Rep. Weight with some signs – they were sharing the booth. I emailed Sen. Mayne before I left Washington and asked her to increase the state stipend for National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs), previously $750 each year, and to make adjustments to the state program reimbursing teachers for their certification costs after the fact so costs would be paid up front instead. She immediately agreed to start the ball rolling.

Senator Mayne wholeheartedly took on the task of improving incentives and support for teachers pursuing National Board certification. She worked to understand costs and develop an improved process, collaborating with Diana Suddreth, a Board Certified teacher and Curriculum Director at the Utah State Board of Education who provided the information and expertise Sen. Mayne needed. I bumped into Senator Mayne at a local school board meeting just before the 2019 session started where we discussed the bill again and she invited me to contact the drafting attorney to provide input. Although the bill wasn’t public or numbered yet, she assured me it had a good chance at passage. At the 2019 Educator Day on the Hill Utah Teacher Fellows attended, I connected with the drafting attorney and raised concerns about re-certification costs. I chatted with Sen. Mayne again on a Saturday in late February where she shared a worry about a recommendation she’d received to bundle the bill with a larger bill sponsored by another senator. She asked for my preference. I deferred to her judgement, preferring results rather than credit.

Sen. Mayne’s bill, SB 208, was finally published and introduced two days later, just three weeks before the session ended. Sent to the Senate Education committee, it was heard a week later with two weeks left in the session. Travis Rawlings, at the State Board of Education, reached out to me about certification patterns under the new flexible process at the end of February for input on the Fiscal Note, and Diana Suddreth explained the bill to the Senate Education committee with Sen. Mayne. It passed favorably out of committee without opposition and out of the Senate two days later. Then it was off to the House of Representatives, where it goes through the same process – just like Schoolhouse Rock explains.

By this time, the Utah National Board Coalition (UNBC) was fielding questions from National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) across the state. I explained the bill in an email that was shared through the UNBC network and invited NBCTs to contact representatives to support the bill. Ellen Sheratt, Vice President of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) for Policy and Research, reached out to understand the bill and offer national level support, but we were too far into the process to capitalize on outside help by then.

At this point, we had less than a week left in the legislative session. Things can get really crazy then – all the normal rules and procedures get suspended. Controversial bills can consume everyone’s time and energy. Heard favorably in the House Education committee, it was returned to the House Rules committee over concerns about fiscal impact and it appeared the bill was dead for a terrifying moment. Thankfully, the Rules committee decided to proceed and sent the bill back to the House floor for a vote the next day. Rep. Carol Moss, another retired Utah teacher, spoke in favor of the legislation as the House floor sponsor, and it passed unopposed after a third reading on March 13th, one day before the 2019 Utah legislative session ended.

Governor Herbert signed Senator Mayne’s SB 208 on March 26th, so the bill is now law. Happy dance!

As for HB 87, Rep. Weight’s safe gun storage or Child Access Prevention bill, it experienced expected opposition from folks concerned that any firearm regulation is an attempt to take away all guns and died in committee. However, the safety of my students is a topic I won’t soon let go of. Young people spend the majority of their time at school or at home. Unsecured weapons, unsupervised by responsible owners in these places are a documented health hazard, to put it nicely. Passing a future version of this bill will just require more relationship building and organization.

Regular Utahns, including busy teachers, can have a voice in education policy and state legislation. Schoolhouse Rock gets the procedure right, but to get the ball rolling you need a positive relationship with your legislators. You don’t have to be a Utah Teacher Fellow to step out of your comfort zone, speak up on issues and offer solutions. Reach out. Get to know your legislators. Provide useful insight, relevant research and your personal stories. Personal stories are what brings the urgency. Get the right people on the same team and you’ll be amazed by what can happen.

Committee What? My Experiences with Educator Day on the Hill

By: Wendy Rush

In February of 2018, I had my first experience at Educator Day on the Hill at the Utah State Capitol.  I am a part of the first cohort of the Utah Teacher Fellows working in conjunction with Hope Street Group. Each year, as fellows, we meet as a group at the State Capitol to attend Utah’s Educator Day on the Hill to speak with our legislators and disseminate our annual data collection and report findings.  I had visited the Capitol many times both as a visitor, and as a teacher leading students on tours throughout the building. But I had never had an experience like this! I had no idea what to expect, and I felt completely overwhelmed and out of my depth.

When I first arrived, I was guided by signs into a room where I was greeted by passionate, informed teachers and members of the UEA.  We were lead through the events of the day, the education bills to pay close attention to, and were briefly trained in ways to effectively and ineffectively interface with legislators.  The members of the UEA were very knowledgeable, answered a few questions, and then set us free to roam the Capitol during the legislative session.

I had NO idea where to go.  Lucky for me, my colleague, Deborah Gatrell was there, and she took me under her wing.  She suggested that we step into a chamber housing a committee meeting. Committee what? I am embarrassed to say that I had no idea what a committee meeting was.  

I entered the room, sat in the chairs at the back, and soaked up as much as I could.  There was a large semi-circle desk at the head of the room. Legislators were all sitting behind the desk with microphones and name plates. A straight table with about 4 chairs and as many microphones faced the legislators. At this table, many different people had the opportunity to sit down, plug in a laptop, and make a presentation to the legislators, for or against the bill being discussed.

The bill that was being discussed that day in committee was a bill related to traffic laws. With the use of PowerPoint, videos, and powerful testimony by law enforcement, lobbyists from the ACLU, and general citizens, the presenters all had the chance to sway the votes of the committee members to get their bill onto the floor.  Bills that make it to the floor to be voted on, have a chance to become legislation. But, over 90% of bills are killed in committee hearings.

I was fascinated as I listened to testimony and watched how each party made their case for why or why not this bill should continue to the floor to be voted on.  I noticed how the committee members were deeply swayed by personal testimony backed up by solid data and effective presentations and visuals. I realized, this is all argumentative writing!!! This is what I, as a High School English teacher, worked tirelessly to teach my students to learn how to do, and HERE IT WAS being used in action!!  I began to see how I could use this information to light a fire under the English students at my school!!

Later that day, as I continued to meet and interact with legislators, I heard a legislator say off hand, that there are so many bills to be voted on that many of the legislators will look to the decision of the committee members to decide how to vote on a bill that has made it to the floor. If the committee voted to put it on the floor, many times, the legislator will vote WITH the committee!  What I realized in that moment was that what happens in committee is maybe the most important part of the legislative process, and up until I stepped into that room, I had no idea committee was even a part of the legislative process!

I was beyond excited as I began to realize how important it was to learn to write argumentatively. I realized that if students could learn to make effective arguments, and present those arguments to a group, they could learn to affect real change in their local and state governments!!

I began a quest to teach the students in my school the importance of argumentative writing. I worked with the English teachers at the High School to teach the importance of argumentative writing in the legislative process. I worked with the history teacher to create and deliver lessons about the role of committees in the legislative process.  Then, in February of this year, the history teacher and I took a group of students to the Capitol, had them sit in a committee hearing, and present information to their legislators.

Watching the students engage in the committee process was exhilarating for me as an educator. I see it as a huge accomplishment that I was able to teach and pass on my passion for making an impact in government!  Attending Educator Day on the hill last year set my whole year on a different course. It is an experience I would recommend to every educator!

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School Board Meetings: Why Teachers Should Attend & How to Make an Impact

By Deborah Gatrell

School board meetings. They’re not the most exciting show to watch, but if you care about the district policies impacting your classroom, these meetings are crucial to understand and attend.

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The connections between Boards and classrooms are Board priorities and initiatives. Things like boundary changes get parent attention. New construction and school bonds get media attention and rile the public when eminent domain is used to seize property. Less noticed are subtle shifts in direction that dramatically impact how we do business: Discussions about homework and testing. Technology vendors. Social media. Philosophical conversations about what grades actually mean. School pattern redesigns.  School safety.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  At the direction of the Board, district officials conduct research and present reports. These reports often paint rosy pictures about potential policies. Unfortunately, conclusions drawn and presented in these reports are sometimes faulty. I’ve seen it happen. When policies are supported by flawed analysis, the policies themselves are inherently flawed, but educators are still required to carry them out once the Board approves them. It’s incredibly difficult to change policies once they’re voted on.

Board members are involved community members who care deeply about the education of our children. They serve as part-time supervisors of school districts, but few have background in education. Only rarely do they bring recent experience as a classroom teachers. Unless someone informs them otherwise, Board members assume district-provided information is complete and correct. Without the benefit of classroom perspective, which district officials and administrators have often lost sight of, policies that seem like good ideas on paper are sometimes disasters in practice.

The good news is that Board members, as government officials, are available to the public.  Board members’ email addresses and phone numbers are published and most Board members are very responsive. Some will even monitor email and text messages during meetings for insights the public may have on topics under discussion. This is good, since the public is not invited to comment at board meetings unless scheduled in advance (with rare exceptions, at the discretion of the Board).

Board members are also members of our local communities. They attend town hall meetings and events at local schools when invited. Invite them! They listen to patron concerns with open minds. This includes the teachers in their districts. If you live within your school district’s boundaries, you may have two board members – one for where you live and another for where you teach. By reaching out, especially face-to-face, you develop relationships. Over time, if you stay positive and present concerns in a solutions-oriented way, Board members develop trust in your perspective and ideas.

Time is the key. Showing up to a Board Meeting where an issue of concern is being discussed is good. Filling the auditorium with concerned patrons (teachers and families) has an impact and can cause a Board to change course – I’ve seen it. But attending consistently is better. This ensures recognition and demonstrates commitment, building trust. It also helps you understand the pattern of board actions and the flow of priorities and concerns. If you hear a report of interest, you can contact board members with concerns and suggestions before policies are presented. If you hear policies presented, you can reach out to board members after first readings, before they take final votes.

Once Board decisions are made, they are almost impossible to undo. Bad policies should never get in the way of good teaching and learning, but it happens. Too often. This is damaging to students and educators. Remember the Atlanta racketeering case from 2014 that sent teachers and principals to jail for falsifying test results to meet district-mandated improvement goals? Or the Salt Lake District school where elementary students were publicly shamed by having their school lunches thrown away in 2014, causing a public relations nightmare? Who knows how long withholding lunches had been policy. Proficiency Based Education did not work as advertised after six years in Maine, so the Legislature removed the requirement in 2018. Multiple Utah districts are moving this direction – have we learned Maine’s lessons? Undoing grand initiatives is embarrassing when they fail, so it often takes significant time and public outcry.

Let’s get ahead of the decision-making and ensure we participate so district policies are better informed.

To sum up: You should go to Board Meetings as often as your circumstances will allow so you can develop relationships with Board Members, understand policies under consideration and share the expertise of your classroom experience. Practicing teachers have valuable insight which is often missing at the Superintendency and School Board level. It’s our responsibility to provide this perspective to district-level conversations before we suffer the impacts of bad policies.

Pro Tip: Boards are required by law to publish agendas prior to meetings, so you can easily set up reminders to check online agendas in advance. This is helpful if you can’t make it every month or can’t always stay for the entire meeting. Since meeting materials are published, you can still stay aware of what policies are under consideration.

As an added bonus, everything I just said also applies to the State Board of Education too!

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