Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding my shadow

Dr. John Medina

I'm writing from Portland, Oregon from the Education Commission of the States, National Policy Forum. A lot of national education policy is decided here and it's only the 4th year that the Teachers of the Year cohort has been included in the discussion.

The National Education Association sponsored our visit to include teacher voices in this event. This past year has exposed all of us to a great deal of educational policy and information and it's a chance for us to weigh in, from the educators'perspective.

One of the highlights of the conference was meeting and hearing Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Dr. Medina is a firecracker of a speaker who has seen how we need to exercise, solve problems and explore to be as smart as we can be and live long. He suggests that it would be a good plan for brain researchers and educational policy makers to get together so that what is learned in the lab can help inform our practice.

John Medina says that our brain was developed to work best when we are moving and solving problems outside. If you wanted to design an environment which would be as different as possible from what the brain needs, create a classroom or a cubicle in an office.

People need challenges, questions with no answers and the time to solve problems. We take ten years to solidify information and need to hear it over and over again for the connections to become permanent.

Besides, John Medina, there was a lot of talk about the "Common Core Standards" with much excitement and some disagreement. Each state brings what they call "Commissioners" which are what I understand as official delegates who participate in the votes and conversations about national policy. In New Jersey, our former Governor, Corzine, appointed our current "Commissioners."

The Teachers of the Year don't have a formal role so we have to just try to jump in and make our comments when we can.

I had the chance to chat informally with representatives from the NEA, the People to People organization, New Jersey Principals and Supervisor's Association and Educational Testing Service. Bringing people together from 46 states in the country to talk about education is quite a feat.

Most Educational Forum participants welcome the Teachers of the Year, but I look forward to the day when teachers have a more active role in the panels and discussions. One of our colleagues - Our Louisiana Teacher of the Year, Holly Broffy - is on a teacher effectiveness panel tomorrow. She's the only one of us who has been given a formal role in the event. She'll represent us well, but how strange a world it is when the people involved in education, at the grass roots, don't have a natural role in the formation of the policies that govern this work.

It doesn't make sense.

Still, it's great to be here to have elevator conversations with legislators from around the country, to grab the mike when we can and to promote the best practices we care about.

For the last eight months, I've been flying around the state of New Jersey and the country talking with a wide variety of stakeholders about education. I've been learning a great deal about how decisions are made, who the players are and how I can best advocate for my profession and make a difference in my field.

In a couple of weeks, I'll be back in my classroom, teaching high school juniors and seniors Spanish.

I keep thinking about Peter Pan and his shadow. Maybe you remember that Peter lost his shadow and then, later, he found it.

Maybe that shadow is what connected Peter to reality and what showed the impact of his flight on the people and things of his world.

When I was walking on the South West 5th Avenue in Portland today, I suddenly saw my shadow appear. It's coming into focus and I'll do my best to let it connect me to my family, my students and my colleagues.

This year has shown me that I'm part of the world of the real teachers who are working with everyday kids. What I do happens in time and space and it matters to the people I interact with. Any high flying ideas I might have, must win success in my classroom.

If not, the kids will let me know.

The Teacher of the Year Recognition year is coming to a close. On August 26th, we choose our new state teacher and then, there is "Next Steps Beyond" conference in New York. At that conference, we'll bring all the teachers of the year, from every state in the nation, together to talk about how what they have learned this year will influence their teaching. What will each of our roles be?

That's where I'll sew my shadow back on, for good.

1 comment:

Paul Dodenhoff said...

Hi MaryAnn,
Great to see that you are out there with other educators trying to get the ear of our legislators. Hopefully, they will begin to listen and to include those who do the actual educating in future discussions!
Talk about synchronicity! You mentioned Peter Pan and his shadow. This coming Sunday I will be the speaker at CUC since Rev. Tittle is away. The topic of my sermon? "Soap and Shadow or What To Do When Your Shadow Falls Off." And Peter Pan and Wendy both have a place in the sermon. INdeed, Peter's shadow was very important to him. He knew that without it, he wasn't a whole person. And fortunately for him, when he found it, Wendy was there to sew it back on. There are lots of lessons in the shadow. We just have to learn to listen to and embrace them.