Monday, April 25, 2016

Working together for the benefit of students

Another session of the Kentucky General Assembly has come to an end. This is my first one and I look forward to many more in the future. There was a lot of discussion, argument, debate and in the end compromise. After seeing our lawmakers in action, I believe that our elected leaders are committed to Kentucky and to what they believe is the best for the Commonwealth. I appreciate their work and commitment.

As we move into analyzing the bills that were passed including the budget, I would like to say thank you to our P-12 education partners. In particular, it was great to see our teachers taking a leadership role in education policy. The work of governing is hard. There are often decisions that have to be made that many do not understand. There is also an incredible amount of information that has to be digested by our policy makers. As such, hearing the voices of those in the trenches is always important. 

Throughout the session, I saw teachers, administrators, and local school board members at the legislative hearings and I would learn about contacts made by those in each group when I travelled around the state. It is important that educators take up that mantle of leadership to aid in the explanation of the issues they face each day. However, it is equally important that we as educators know the issues that are debated. I only say this because to be effective in using our “teacher voice,” it must come from a place of authority. 

I am so proud of the work that all of the education stakeholders did this session. I heard thoughtful discussions with meaningful points given by education shareholders throughout this session. As a result, many policymakers – including me – have learned so much about the work of our educators in Kentucky. 

At the end of the day, we must work together to ensure our students are the center of all of our decisions. Whether it be the legislative session or our new accountability system, we must remind ourselves that successfully moving education forward only can be achieved by being informed and working together for our students. It is very easy for us to slip and focus a too much on the adults; after all self-preservation is a basic human trait. But, we must remember that our work, must be for our students. It takes a village to raise a child, but a Commonwealth to educate one.

Remember it’s all about Our Students, Our Commonwealth. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

Challenging ourselves to move beyond our comfort zones

I have said many times that our teachers have the greatest job on Earth. Not a day goes by that I do not miss being in the classroom. In fact, I'm pretty sure the Kentucky Department of Education staff wish I would stop explaining the science behind various phenomena that come up around us. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

While teaching is the greatest job, it is also one of the hardest. The realities of the job such as designing and delivering quality instruction, dealing with students with many different needs, feeling pressure over assessment, keeping up with endless changes and filling out form after form bear this out. But, there are some challenges that we don't often acknowledge.

Education has an odd culture. Teachers are constantly surrounded by other humans, yet the job can be very isolating. The realities of the profession do not foster teacher collaboration, review of research or even sharing of best practices. How do teachers break out of this isolation to work more toward what is best for their students? To really serve our students, we must create a culture that not only allows, but encourages all teachers to move outside the four walls of their classrooms to discuss method, technique, knowledge and practice. And in doing so, challenge themselves to move beyond their individual comfort zone.

This past week for the first time in many years, I missed the National Science Teachers Association annual conference. I really struggled with not being there. I realize some people think these types of gatherings are just fun things for teachers to do, yet in my experience they were much more. Yes, I had fun, but I also always left with new ideas and additional resources – including teachers from outside my district.  I also left with a certain level of discomfort. The reason for this was that in listening to others, I sometimes realized that what I was doing in my classroom was not always in the best interest of my students, was not supported by research, or I learned that there was just a better way to do things.

I am not endorsing that all of our teachers go to every conference available, but I am saying that if we do not support our teachers with quality professional learning that pushes them and makes them uncomfortable, we will not see change or improvement in practice in Kentucky. To be clear, I am not saying a "one and done" conference is good professional learning. I am saying it should be part of our offerings to move outside of our comfort zones in order to learn what else is out there.

As commissioner, I am constantly learning. I spend time with all sorts of shareholders in order to push myself to break out of my comfort zone. If I get too comfortable, I am more likely to make decisions for the Commonwealth that are easy, yet not right by students, unsupported by research or shareholders, and most likely better for the adults than our students. Our students cannot afford those kinds of decisions by me or by any adult in their lives. 

So, I am encouraging all of our educators to embrace the idea that we do the best for our students by being willing to grow and challenge ourselves with a certain level of discomfort from time to time. We know learning is a struggle, and we should never stop learning. As we move forward in this new age of shared responsibility and accountability, I implore you to come to our town hall meetings, participate in the discussion, and also be willing to consider new and innovative ideas about how to help our students.

As always, I am proud to serve Our Students, Our Commonwealth.