Stephanie Hirsh: Back To School Blog

Extract from Learning Forward Together, 4th Sept 2018

Why should we care about this disparity in how the public perceives schools? First and foremost, our responsibility is to ensure all students have effective learning experiences every day, and accomplishing this goal requires that our entire society be committed to supporting a great public school system. Great public schools demand sustained investments in teaching and learning. At the same time, educators who serve our most vulnerable children require more. We must increase the understanding of and appreciation for this equation even as we teach citizens about all the elements of an effective public education and the benefits to society and to people individually.

If you agree, then I ask you to take one of the following actions this school year. If you do so, or have other suggestions to share, please let us know.

1.      Share your best stories about your neighbourhood schools. The best news is local, and we have incredible opportunities to elevate the good news we want others to hear. This year, consider telling stories about the following:

·         What teachers are learning so that students perform better this year than last.
·         How students are using new technologies and tools to demonstrate new learning.
·         How students and educators are giving back to their local communities.
·         How your school is reducing inequities in access to great teaching and learning.

2.      Engage your senior citizens in your school. Recognize that your retired neighbours often have the most time to discuss the status of public education and may not have the latest on-the-ground information. We know that people invest in causes where they believe their opinions matter, they are needed, and where they think they can make a difference. Are there ways that you can leverage the experience and networking power of senior citizens to strengthen your school community? What would local senior citizens say if they were invited once a month to visit the school, have lunch with students, or tutor students in the library? What if they were offered the opportunity to lend their expertise in public relations, leadership, advocacy, finance, operations, or infrastructure? And then what if they were asked to help with increasing the support for the school within the community? This is a strategy I have just recently leveraged in my own circles, having recognized how passionate and ready to work some of my experienced networks are.

3.      Finally, educate your local, state, provincial, and federal politicians. From personal experience, I know it is a big challenge to increase taxes for local schools. As a former school board member, I certainly recognized that my constituents did not elect me to raise their taxes. The same statement would be repeated by your state and federal representatives. So your task is to make it impossible for policymakers – and community members who vote -- to say “no” to investing in public schools. Start by:

·         Sending regular updates on the great things happening in your school for your students, community, and faculty, with a focus on outcomes.

·         Sending notes of appreciation for their support of public education. Serving as a policymaker is a tough job – and I can tell you, politicians, rarely hear “thank you.”

·         Getting them – or their staff members -- to visit your school to observe great teaching and learning in action and to hear from students and teachers themselves about how much their support matters.

Local, state, provincial, and federal investments are critical to supporting educators to build the knowledge and skills they need to help all students reach their potential. If policymakers don’t hear about the impact of those investments, chances are that the next time a vote comes up, it will be easy to compromise and give those dollars to some other important cause. Please make it a priority this year to share a great local story about teaching and learning.

I wish everyone an amazing school year. Thank you to everyone who is dedicating your life to the noblest profession there is – your legacy is in those faces staring at you every day.

Stephanie Hirsh
Executive Director
Learning Forward
The Professional Learning Association
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