Guestblogger Jim Szewc is currently a full-time mentor to beginning teachers in Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools. He participated in New Voice Strategies’ VIVA MET Idea Exchange.
Last December, a group of 10 educators from school districts across our country were given an opportunity to lend their professional voice, insight, and experience to the national conversation about what path the education world of our future will take. This once-in-a-lifetime gift, to have our thinking shared in a forum where no ideas were too big, was made possible by the efforts of New Voice Strategies and its partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study. What started with an open invitation to 2,000 teachers who participated in the original MET research spawned into an active, rich, and passionate conversation through a VIVA Idea Exchange. This tool connected us in an interactive conversation web strengthened by our shared ideals and desire to be change agents making even the most pie-in-the-sky idea an attainable piece of cake.
We narrowed our thinking to eight initiatives the Gates Foundation should examine following the MET study and delivered them through a formal report. Ranging from reforming teacher evaluation systems to redesigning professional development systems to be more like social networks that provide educators with ongoing, instant support and feedback, our initiatives spoke to the issues and needs each of us have faced. Although we had deadlines and an assignment to complete, we all felt the giddiness of being offered the keys to the education kingdom. Few of us had ever before been given a platform to speak our minds so freely and bounce ideas off some of the most influential game-changers in the education world.
Following our in-person presentation at the Gates Foundation’s office in Seattle, our report generated enough buzz to get the attention of the U.S. Department of Education, elevating our voices from the pinnacle of the non-profit reform leaders to the open-eared policy makers in Washington. In a few short months, we went from the hallways of our schools to the Secretary’s boardroom, as educators with a vision to authentic participants in a realistic policy discussion.
As I write this, the conversation between teachers and educators across the MET school districts has escalated to a consortium of hundreds convening in Chicago later this fall. This symposium will give others the chance to dig deeper into those initiatives, amplifying our voices for a whole new audience. The validation and recognition gained from these experiences, and the knowledge that my collaborators and I sparked a national dialogue that has affected so many additional thought leaders, speaks volumes about how colossal a privilege this experience has been.
Knowing this “original 10,” their appetite for change, and our shared desire to think differently and spur others to do the same, continues to excite me as it did when I first received the invite to be a part of this elite group. We will continue leading this charge far beyond the walls of our classroom, and will influence others to do the same or even more. After having our voices not only heard, but seeing how others genuinely listened and have begun to take action because of it, why would we ever stop being the spark for the conversation?