Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Conference Call with Arne Duncan and the DOE: Teachers at the Policy Table

By on May 22, 2010

I’m exhausted. It’s why I’ve been a little quiet as of late on my tweenteacher scene. But I assure you, it isn’t because I’ve been up late watching TV. (Although is anyone else watching Lost? I mean, could it be more exciting?!)Sorry, I digress. The reason for my exhaustion is not because I’m a full time teacher, nor is it because I’m trying to wrap up the rough draft of my first book by my publisher’s deadline. It’s because I’ve been prepping for this Monday’s conference call with Secretary of State Arne Duncan and a small group of teachers selected from Anthony Cody’s Teachers Letters to Obama Facebook campaign.

I wrote a little about this group in a recent Edutopia post of mine. Here’s an excerpt:

As a teacher and a new mom, it didn’t take long for me to find Facebook as a supplement for my stunted social life. And as any FB user knows, once you join, you become inundated with photos of new babies, comments about friends’ recent bodily functions, quiz results, and mysterious requests for farm equipment…

But beyond the posts I saw that made me laugh, cry, and wince, I soon learned that Facebook was also a place of professional learning and development…[and] education advocacy….

Anthony Cody began his Teachers’ Letters to Obama Facebook campaign as a personal outlet, a diary entry that soon grew into a movement. And as a result of that movement, twelve of us have been granted a conference call with Arne Duncan himself to discuss concerns and suggestions for Obama’s blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Teachers’ Letters to Obama campaign. Perhaps you’ve even submitted a letter. If you have, you should know that you’ve become a part of a chain that has led to Arne Duncan’s office itself. For from the time you added your thoughts to the discussion post, your drop in the puddle joined with others to create a pool of possibilities.

What began as a discussion page for teachers to write their experiences, concerns, and suggestions, soon found their way to a congressman and bada-bing, bada-bang, a door opened and a conference call was scheduled between Duncan, Cody, and company — a small panel of teachers representing all walks of education life from all over the country.

The group doesn’t represent a particular political group, union stance, philosophy, or agenda. We come from different educational backgrounds and paths, from all regions and economic brackets. Some are award-winning teachers, some are second-career teachers. Some represent rural districts, others urban, from high performing to “failing” schools. In all, we are a slice of the teaching profession in a snapshot.

But while twelve teachers will be speaking, it is almost 2,000 educators whose voices will be heard. And it’s all due to the use of 21st century tools.

For one thing, our discussion is as much based on the top 5 mentioned topics from the Facebook letters as they are based on the ESEA Blueprint itself. For another, on my recommendation, we sent out a survey via SurveyMonkey asking teachers to help whittle down the list of topics that concerned them the most. Our little group formed a ning to help hone in on issues, to analyze the phrases from the ESEA blueprint together, and discuss the most innovative solutions from teachers in order to suggest to Duncan. We used Skype and Elluminate to meet each other on a virtual platform multiple times throughout the last three weeks, hours at a time, planning this collaborative conversation with the secretary of education, bringing the voices of teachers to the policy table.

I panicked at first when they scheduled the conversation for this Monday night. After all, it’s my middle school’s speech & debate team’s final tournament of the year. And as important as the call is, my students must come first. I admit I was saddened to think that others would represent my work, and I would miss out on experiencing the process first hand. But I solved the problem by paying a fellow teacher to be in the bus with the 70 excited middle schoolers while I caravan behind in my quieter car, participating in the discussion. Whew! Crisis averted.

Look, I guess my point is that we are no longer “just teachers.” And while some have said we never were, the fact is that we have too long functioned in isolation behind closed doors, sharing our concerns and possible solutions with the choir in our faculty lounge. But through using 21st Century skills, our voices can now be heard outside the walls of our own school sites, influencing the very educational system itself.

Our strength, however, lies in moving beyond venting to helping to solve the problems of education. Teachers must have a role in solving the problems we live with day to day. We are the experts who have been underused and who possess many of the answers. But to be asked to participate at the policy table, we must move beyond finger pointing, beyond the smog of ranting, and into the conference room of solution.

It is promising that the Dept of Ed has opened its door to a small group of teachers from a small social networking community. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” go into the conversation well versed in their language of policy, but equally well versed in an everyday teacher’s language of problem solving.

The call is on Monday. I’ll let you all know how it goes.



Share Button