Welcome to a new school year! Amidst the busyness of planning and preparing, remember 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?
[pullquote position= "right"]Now is the time to plan for how you will “step up and advocate."
Empowering Students to Explore Their Passions
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.
“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.”
All too often, we see initiatives in education developed without any meaningful input from the stakeholders in schools and 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.
Social Media as a Tool for Advocacy
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, as there are specific hashtags and Twitter chats where professionals in these fields can connect. He’s also set up a Facebook chat room called "Teachers Who Scrum" for those teachers who want to improve their use of Agile in the classroom.
Thayer hopes to see more educators elevate their voices and speak publicly on topics about which they feel passionate. “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,” he says. “Counselors are a great resource for these programs and can help you get involved.”
Don’t Be Shy. Step Up and Advocate
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?
At which conferences might you present?
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?
Through educators’ authentic experiences and unique expertise, we can move towards policies and programs that lead to career and life success for all students.
Mary Conroy Almada is the communications manager for America Achieves Educator Network, where she and her team work to link education to economic opportunity and lifelong success. Mary holds a bachelor's in journalism from the University of Georgia and a master’s in education policy and management from Harvard.