Welcome to a new school year! Amidst the busyness of planning and preparing, we encourage you to take a step back and reflect on how you want to shape the landscape of your school, district, and community. What issues do you care about most and how will you affect change on these issues?
Now is the time, as described below by one teacher, to plan for how you will “step up and advocate.”
Before joining America Achieves as a Colorado Educator Voice Fellow, high school teacher Bret Thayer was involved in training both teachers and students in the IT Agile design process. Thayer observed that through project-based learning, students worked in groups on authentic real-world tasks and were empowered to take learning into their own hands and strengthen their communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.
Yet he noticed that many classrooms and schools still primarily used traditional models, with students in their desks and teachers directing from the front of the room. “High school should be a place of exploration and immersion in areas that students are interested in,” he says. “They need to have a good idea of what they want to do out of high school and explore their passions.”
This conviction drove Thayer to advocate for and elevate his voice around career-ready capstones (according to the Colorado Department of Education, a capstone is the culminating exhibition of a student’s project or experience that demonstrates academic and intellectual learning). Thayer wants more schools to be focused on implementing or expanding career-ready capstones as well as encouraging students to select the capstone project as a graduation option.
Resource for Educators: America Achieves — Process for Developing Career-Ready Performance Tasks
“Career-ready capstones provide students with an opportunity to practice technical skills and personal skills to get ready for high opportunity careers in in-demand industries,” says Thayer. “I strongly believe that high school should not be just a place where students are plodding through curriculum just to meet generic graduation requirements.”
Thayer’s students participate in a “Daily Stand Up” where they explain the status of and obstacles in their current project.
All too often, we see initiatives in education developed without any meaningful input from the stakeholders in schools classrooms every day — educators.
Thayer is determined to have a voice. He pushes this work forward by taking initiative and embarking on various communications efforts to grow awareness around the importance of career-ready capstones. He presents at conferences (most recently at Innovative Education Colorado conference, where he gave an Ignite presentation on the need for career-ready capstones) and meets with stakeholders at his school including other teachers, counselors, and administrators.
Resource for Educators: Tech4Learning — 6 tips for submitting sessions to education conferences
Resource for Educators: Community Tool Box — Conducting Effective Meetings
Social media also offers ways for educators to connect and advocate. Thayer uses LinkedIn to communicate with professionals in the IT world and Twitter for education and Agile professionals — there are specific hashtags and Twitter chats where professionals in these fields can connect. He’s set up a Facebook chat room called "Teachers Who Scrum" for those teachers who want to improve their use of Agile in the classroom.
Resource for Educators: Cult of Pedagogy — So You Have a Twitter Account. Now What?
Thayer hopes to see more educators elevate their voices and speak publicly about topics they feel passionate about. “There are many different avenues available for teachers to voice their opinions and support career education: district newsletters, school announcements, clubs with a business and career-ready focus like DECA, HOSA - Future Health Professionals, and Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA),” he says. “Counselors are a great resource for these programs and can help you get involved.”
“Don’t be shy,” says Thayer. “Step up and advocate.”
Resource for Educators: Education Week — More Tips on Fine-Tuning Our Teacher Advocacy
As a new school year begins, now is the time to take his words to heart — step up and advocate. What are your areas of passion and expertise? Where do you see a need that your passion and expertise can fill? What conferences might you present at, and what stakeholders might you meet with to push your advocacy work forward? How can social media support you to accomplish your goals? What other tools and channels are available?
Next month, America Achieves will be releasing a resource with tools and strategies to support educators in elevating their voices. We believe that through educators’ authentic experiences and unique expertise, we can move towards policies and programs that lead to career and life success for all students.
All the best,
The Educator Networks Team