Have you noticed, and has it bothered you, that many of the major discussions about what to do to help education shut out teachers?
This is nothing new. As Director of Information Services at the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement, I occasionally got tagged to go speak to education groups meeting in and around Washington, D.C. One or our projects was a reboot of the Educational Resources Information Centers, or ERIC Library System.
At every public function where I spoke, or where I attended and was identified as an ED employee, teachers would seek me out, and ask how long I spent in the classroom as a teacher. Then they’d tell me teaching college doesn’t count, and they’d complain that education policy makers at all levels ignore teachers. They didn’t appreciate people making policy for them who didn’t know their situation from having been on the ground with them, as one of them, or at least listening to what they had to say.
It’s a key principle of leadership, to understand what the frontline employee faces, to know what the workers on the shop floor see, to feel the heat from the open hearth, to know the discomfort of hitting Omaha Beach and be pinned down by gunfire while wet and sandy and weighed down with 80 pounds. It’s one of the keys to understanding how Harry Truman, who saw action in Belgium at the Western Front and who lived in the trenches, could decide against a land invasion as a first option for forcing Japan to surrender at the end of World War II. It’s why his troops thought so much of Patton, as he stood shoulder to shoulder with them at the front as bullets whizzed by, why Soichiro Honda’s workers listened when he stripped down and stripped an engine to find a problem.
A couple of days ago the president of the Dallas ISD School Board, Lew Blackburn, Tweeted his gratitude for help from Leadership Dallas for a “dine and discuss” session with DISD leaders. It’s good that Blackburn Tweets. He has good intentions, most likely — and he’s trying to let people know what’s going on.
What’s the topic? How to improve education in Dallas, of course.
What ONE group of key stakeholders is left out of these discussions? Teachers.
It’s a bugaboo for me. Education discussion sponsored by the New York Times, but no teachers. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan buses across America — school kids show up to sing welcomes, but teachers appear to be left out of discussions along the route.
So I Tweeted back — what’s up with that? In the past few months, I’ve gotten Tweets back from writers, scientists, friends, and Tom Peters, the management guru. I was happy Blackburn responded. it puts him in good company.
It’s not like this once teachers were left out, due to scheduling conflicts. The process design pointedly includes stakeholders other than teachers. Trained facilitators — professionals? paid? — are brought in, a touch that suggests these meetings are formal efforts whose products will be used for some formal policy-making purpose. Invitees include “diverse” community members.
Listen. Learn. Dialogue.
Dallas ISD Dining & Dialogue is a pilot initiative in partnership with Dallas ISD and Leadership Dallas Alumni with support from the Dallas Regional Chamber. The purpose is to encourage frequent communication over a meal between members of the community and Dallas ISD that address practical solutions to improve education in our community. The roundtable-style dining events bring together small groups of individuals with diverse backgrounds to foster community-wide dialogue about Dallas ISD in an effort to gain understanding, share ideas, and increase diverse investment in education for the benefit of our region.
The FREE dining events are held quarterly at various sites within the Dallas metroplex. Discussions are led by trained facilitators who guide participants through questions designed to elicit thoughts and opinions on issues facing Dallas ISD. This dining and dialogue framework is patterned after Dallas Dinner Table, a popular, highly-regarded community event founded by Leadership Dallas alumni, and DeSoto Dining and Dialogue.
Dialogues will include school board members and other important school voices along with community stakeholders such as business leaders, parents, neighborhood associations, nonprofits and members of the Dallas ISD Teen Board.
I still get some notifications from DISD, but none on this.
Should we be concerned about any biases of Leadership Dallas, intentional or unconscious? Leadership Dallas draws its inspiration from Leadership Atlanta, the formal effort to create a band of leaders to lead Atlanta after so many leaders died in a tragic airplane crash years ago. Alas, the assumption is that educators cannot be leaders. The course work is scheduled in a way that makes it difficult for any professional to participate, but almost impossible for any hourly worker, or teacher.
Looking through the records, I see very few people participating who have much to do with education, and especially no teachers. Gross oversight. There are no garbage collectors, either — that may be a bigger problem in a place like Memphis with a different history on garbage collectors — or any other workers without graduate degrees. Small business owners don’t get great representation, either.
Hmmm. NEA? AFT? We’ll check with them later.
So, Lew Blackburn — you’re the leader of this bunch, in some cases more than Superintendent Mike Miles (he may not be paying attention to this, either, let alone to the opinions of mere teachers, who make 17% of what he earns. It’s up to you, I think. You need to make sure teachers are a part of this dialogue, to be sure it doesn’t become a monologue.
Get some teachers involved in this process. Get some principals involved, and some other school administrators. Counselors might have a good, and different view. Do you still have librarians enough in DISD to get a couple involved? Libraries should be a key focus point for education in the 21st century, and many Dallasi ISD libraries have librarians who work harder and more effectively than the district has a right to expect (they don’t get paid for what they do, heaven knows). And, keep records of these dinners. These meetings are in the gray area of the Texas public meetings laws — but you want to be certain you have an open process that is not open to petty challenges due to bureaucratic miscues. If any policy comes out of these meetings, you’ll need to be certain they were open for public meetings rules.
Gee, any reporters invited?
Are these sessions designed to improve education in Dallas, or to find new ways to flog teachers? Make sure the actions speak louder than words on these things.
Mr. Blackburn, you’ve made a couple of good moves here — including Tweeting about what’s going on. Keep these processes going, and improve them. Make sure teachers are not left behind.