Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teachers Need a Seat at the Table

September 16, 2013

If we are going to make progress in improving the state of education, teachers need a seat at the table. We need to be viewed as a critical players in moving the education conversation forward. A few weeks ago, I had a seat at a different table - one that offered a glimpse into just how powerful the voices of educators can be. This table included Bill & Melinda Gates and it offered a space for a discussion about the collaboration amongst teachers, administrators, and community stakeholders that is necessary if we are to truly help and support teachers in this country.

 Teachers can step forward, own their expertise and put it into action. They simply need a seat. And maybe a talking stick.

I will always see this lunch, held at South High school, as a highlight. The lunch for teacher leaders at the Gates Foundation will always be a vital memory of my career as an educator. As we all sat munching on our lunches, I was struck by the surreal nature of this experience. Bill and Melinda Gates actually care what I have to say? They are asking my opinion and truly listening? I felt from them both a genuine quality. Their follow-up questions showed a depth of understanding and true commitment to the cause of improving teachers’ practice and support. This model of collaboration is both empowering and necessary to shift teacher ownership and instruction. 

A colleague’s statement at the luncheon summed up both the reality of education today and the conversation with the Gates.' He spoke about the negative rhetoric around the teaching profession and how it must be changed to a collaborative structure where all stakeholders have a voice and work together. In this way, our luncheon was a microcosm of possibility, the beginning of a different conversation. Questions were asked of us: "What do you need"? "Do you feel your practice is transformed"? For teachers to have the chance to pause, reflect, and be heard, the way we were, was remarkable. This kind of conversation gives teachers power. Most teachers want to be challenged, to be held accountable. They also want to help set some of the standards and push themselves to meet them. The pivotal pieces were the people at the table, literally and figuratively. Teachers were and are players. Teachers implement change, and they can also be the directors of this conversation. Teachers can step forward, own their expertise and put it into action. They simply need a seat. And maybe a talking stick. 

 Most teachers want to be challenged, to be held accountable. They also want to help set some of the standards and push themselves to meet them.

The discussion fueled my commitment to moving forward collaboratively with my colleagues and other stakeholders through conversation, planning and ownership that shift the outcomes for our students. I will cherish that day and look forward to continuing the good work started by this foundation. I feel grateful that the stage has been set and the conversation framed. We - educators - will take our place gladly.

 
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