Tag: Guest Post

#FamilyFriday- The Power of Parent Voice

#FamilyFriday- The Power of Parent Voice

#FamilyFriday is a weekly series of voices from the field of families and advocates from across the State of New Mexico. Each Friday, a new voice will be posted. If you would like to submit a blog post for consideration of publication, please submit it to Family.Liaison@state.nm.us. Enjoy and share!

The Power of Parent Voice

Misti Oracion

I am extremely privileged!  Every day I have the pleasure of helping parents and guardians advocate for their children.  I am a Family Liaison at Parents Reaching Out, the U.S. Department of Education’s-funded Parent Training Information Center for New Mexico.  I am also a member of the Secretary’s Family Advisory, and I had the incredible opportunity of being an inaugural member of the NMPED’s Family Cabinet.  I witness firsthand the power of family engagement and parent voice.  Incredible things happen when parents and schools come together as a team for student success.

Families often call Parents Reaching Out asking for an advocate.  We don’t have anyone with that job title.  Our titles are Liaisons because we know parents are the experts and the best advocates for their children.  We give them the tools they need to do it!

The most exciting part of my job and my experience with the Family Cabinet is watching a parent strongly advocate for their child, and then watching it ripple out to affect other children as well.  When a parent says to me, “I wish I could make it better, or change the system, but it’s not possible.”  I respectfully disagree.  I ask them to start by advocating for their child.  Change begins with gaining accurate knowledge, using your voice, supporting your child, and having high expectations.  When you start with your child, you can create change!

Last year, we supported a parent who had been requesting an evaluation for special education services for her child for over a year.  She used the tools we gave her and said to the district, “I don’t think you are following the law, and when I request an evaluation you need to honor the request or provide me with a copy of my parents’ rights.”  The child received the evaluation and services he needed, and then it rippled out.  The district was required to re-write their policy on the SAT [(Student Assistance Team)] process.  They now honor a parent’s request for an evaluation and allow it to happen at the same time as the SAT process, or they provide parents with procedural safeguards, explaining parents’ rights to due process.

In another district, a parent realized her child, who received special education services, was getting less instructional time than general education students.  This loss of instructional [time] was because the school was bussing special education students in late and [out] early.  This parent reached into her toolbox and asked for compensatory time for the instructional minutes her child should have received.  A memo went out to the whole district with directions that ALL children should receive the same amount of instructional minutes, and the practice of bussing in students early or late stopped.

Another parent used her voice and asked that her son’s school purchase a reading program for him because he was not making adequate progress towards reading at grade level.  The school bought a curriculum, and now every other child not reading at grade level benefits as well.

There are procedures put into place so that parents can work as a team with the school or respectfully disagree with a school as they advocate for their child.  A parent’s voice is powerful!  We need to advocate for our children because ALL of our children deserve the best.  Parent voices will bring powerful change!

If you need help in advocating for your child please reach out!  You can reach out to your PTA/PTO, Parents Reaching Out, EPICS, and the NM PED Family Engagement Coordinator.  We are privileged to be in a state where we have a Public Education Department who is doing more than giving lip service to Family Engagement and will help provide you with the correct knowledge you need to advocate for your child and all of New Mexico’s children.

Let’s use our voices and help New Mexico’s children rise!

#FamilyFriday- The Power of Positivity

#FamilyFriday- The Power of Positivity

#FamilyFriday is a weekly series of voices from the field of families and advocates from across the State of New Mexico. Each Friday, a new voice will be posted. If you would like to submit a blog post for consideration of publication, please submit it to Family.Liaison@state.nm.us. Enjoy and share!

The Power of Positivity

Carol Hernandez

My name is Carol Hernandez. I am a wife, small business owner, substitute teacher,
PTO president, and I teach dance fitness. My most important job of all is being a proud mom of
a 15 year old daughter in high school and a 12 year old son in middle school. I love spending
time volunteering at their schools because it’s important for me to be involved in my children’s
education along with knowing the environment they are in. To me, parent/family engagement is
essential to any child’s education. I also feel that it is very rewarding to watch all of the students
grow academically, physically and mentally throughout the years. Being a positive role model
and building positive relationships with students is important to me because I know in our
demographics the majority of them don’t have that at home. This is why every time I walk
through those school doors, I feel that I have a huge responsibility to encourage every student I
come in contact with. I want them to know they have a purpose, and I want them to feel
important. I want them to pass the encouragement onto others and hope that it spreads like a
bad virus! Last December these thoughts were going through my head as I was trying to listen
to the announcements over the intercom. I looked around and all of the students were
completely ignoring the monotone voices coming through the speakers. That evening I asked
both of my kids what the announcements said that day and neither of them had a clue. That’s
when I came up with this crazy idea!
Our middle school had issues with consistency in leadership last year that impacted the
school’s environment and students’ behavior in a negative way. As the year progressed, the
behavior seemed to get worse, and it was making it harder for teachers to teach and students to
learn. I had students telling me about their frustrations because of all the disruptions in class. I
explained to them that they needed to tell their teachers or their principal the issues they were
facing. None of the students who had approached me wanted to do that because they were
afraid. That’s when I realized that they needed to learn to advocate for themselves.
I scheduled a meeting with my son’s Science teacher to tell her about my idea. I
explained to her that I wanted to start a Social Media program during advisory class. I wanted
to record a video of the kids giving the announcements, create a YouTube channel, and [allow] the
students [to] watch it every day during advisory. Along with the students being more engaged
in the announcements because their peers are on YouTube, this is our chance to promote and
recognize good character [and] encourage good behavior along with rewarding students for it! In the
meantime, this is also a chance for us to build a bridge between the school, parents, and
community! [Anyone] can subscribe to the YouTube channel and get alerts so that they know
what’s happening at our school! They can be informed of upcoming events they can attend,
see/hear if their children are rewarded for good behavior, and be a part of their children’s school
with a click of a button! My son’s science teacher was screaming with excitement and
immediately scheduled a meeting with the principal for us to pitch the idea to him. I explained
my plan to use my son’s equipment and assured him that it wouldn’t cost the school anything to
do this. Needless to say, the principal thought it was a brilliant idea and gave us the green light
to get started in February.
The first day the students walked into their new advisory class they were happy to see
me there. As I looked around the room I was a little worried because I knew we had to make
this exciting to engage our audience immediately, and some of the students in the class were
very shy and quiet, including my own children. I had a talk with the class and let them know all
the plans. I explained to them that their job was to promote good character and kindness and
encourage good behavior. They all vowed to be leaders of the school, to encourage each other
when they saw someone struggling and to think of each other as family inside and outside of the
classroom. That is when MMS Social Media Squad was created! We only had 30 minutes and
4 days per week to get everything done so we had to utilize our time efficiently. My daughter
learned to edit the videos at home, and she was in charge of that since the equipment belonged
to my son. I began writing the script for everyone but later handed the responsibility over to the
students. We truly became a well-oiled machine! The Squad was having a blast and loved
every minute!
The response from the student body was AMAZING! Each week we had challenges
that promoted the pillars of character. If a student was caught displaying good character their
name was announced and they were rewarded during lunch that Friday with a fountain drink
from Circle K. The behavior in our school changed drastically within 2 weeks. One of my
favorite challenges was to invite someone who sits alone at lunch to sit with your group.
Students who would never have spoken to each other were now sitting together at lunch!
Students who were notorious for their bad behavior started to behave well because they saw
the change in the environment. Students were being kind and opening doors for each other!
Towards the end of the year when students started to get antsy, we handed over the power to
teachers and let them report students who made a difference in their classroom. They loved it!
The good behavior and character was spreading! The Social Media Squad had almost 400
subscribers! They were speaking at board meetings; the once shy students were now speaking
with confidence and began to advocate for themselves! Every day they were determined to take
their school back and change the culture!
Going back and watching the videos from when we first started and how quickly those
students grew is amazing to me. In less than 4 months the camera-shy students, some who
had language barriers and/or self esteem issues, blossomed into confident leaders of our school
community! Being part of the MMS Social Media Squad has forever changed me. I now know
that with positive relationships, a little encouragement, and patience, these kiddos are
unstoppable! Most importantly…they know they are unstoppable.

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn

2018 National Title I Conference: Liberty to Learn


I had the distinct privilege to attend the recent National Title I conference in Philadelphia last month. Along with two colleagues and our school’s Director, I took three days away from my school and students to travel across the country to accept a 2018 Title I Distinguished School Award. This award was for closing the achievement gap between student groups, and was the result of the hard work of our entire staff. What an honor to be one of two schools in New Mexico to receive this award (shout out to the other honoree: Union Elementary School in Las Vegas, NM)! While the award was a surprise and something to celebrate, I quickly learned that the four days spent with educators from across the country was a meaningful opportunity for my own learning.

Let me back up to say that I hardly ever leave New Mexico for professional reasons. When I lived on the east coast, it was very easy to travel to conferences and events where I could collaborate and learn from other teachers. Given our geographic isolation, however, many of us in New Mexico rely on conversations with fellow teachers and on reading professional articles to further our own development and growth. This trip demonstrated to me that you cannot underestimate the importance of meaningful conversation and professional development with those from other communities and perspectives.

Although we had travelled a very long day to get to Philly and our first session was early the next morning, I was immediately engaged by National Teacher of the Year Sydney Chaffee’s keynote address. Some of you may have heard Sydney speak at our New Mexico Teacher Summit last June. I enjoyed meeting her in Albuquerque, so I anticipated her address. She spoke at length about how education can be a tool for social justice, challenging us all to take risks on behalf of our students and give voice to issues affecting them (and us). She reminded us how important we are, and we agreed. I felt like I was a young teacher again, full of passion and purpose.

We ended the day with an armchair interview with former US Secretary of Education John King. I felt hopeful to know that such thoughtful and intelligent people are considering how to make education viable and equitable. This work is happening in so many ways, on so many levels. The thousands of educators in the room (teachers, principals, superintendents, and district level leaders) were clearly enthusiastic about the messages from the stage: all students deserve the opportunity to learn. And the Distinguished Schools celebration showed that, in fact, schools from all over the country are ensuring that they are.

While I attended break-out sessions on areas of interest to me (spelling instruction, brain-based instruction for phonics, student engagement, and the power of speech), my Director learned about social emotional awareness and how to use restorative practices to improve school culture. Over dinner each evening, the four of us from Taos Charter discussed how to bring back our new learning to New Mexico. We talked about how to look at grading, how to connect to students, and other over-arching ideas to improve our school. We felt energized by Salome Thomas-EL (Principal El) from Philadelphia and his keynote talk on how one person can make a difference. My teaching partner and I embraced his mantra: No excuses! So often those of us in Title I schools sink into that attitude that we cannot make a difference, that we cannot teach certain kids. This conference blasted us out of that mentality.

So why am I writing this blog post for New Mexico teachers? I feel impelled to share with you that you can, and must, fight to attend any regional or national conference you can. Consider writing a grant, requesting Title II funds from your school or district, or looking for scholarships. Talk to others, join a professional online community, take a class. Subscribe to articles or blog posts by those working on a national level to keep learning focused on students. Be inspired by the successes of other schools and teachers. Remember that it only takes one passionate teacher in the life of a child. Be that person for one child. No excuses.

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary

We’re Listening & Your Voice Matters: A Legislative Update From The Secretary

Colleagues—

Here’s the reality: HB310 is by far the most comprehensive, the most far-reaching, and the largest teacher compensation bill under consideration this legislative session.

That’s why I decided to testify on behalf of the diverse group of sponsors–Representatives Baldonado (Valencia), Clahchischilliage (San Juan), and Smith (Bernalillo, Sandoval, Santa Fe)—on Saturday morning:  because this kind of legislation has the potential to be transformative for educators, for students, and for this profession that we love.

It’s also important to note that the tabling of HB310 is part of a broader trend of unabashed partisanship that we have witnessed this session.  As a former middle school social studies teacher I am idealistic about the democratic process, and I believed that HB210 (Early Literacy Interventions & Family Engagement), HB 297 (Addressing Chronic Absenteeism), HB180 (More Funding For Schools, Less For District Offices), and HB177 (Teacher Advancement w/o Master’s Degree) would all garner enthusiastic bipartisan support.  After all, I’ve worked for leaders from both sides of the aisle who have supported similar ideas.  Two of these bills had bipartisan sponsors, and all four were revised based on feedback from legislators and the field.

Unfortunately, all of these bills were stopped in their tracks by hyper-partisanship at the Roundhouse this year.

HB310 did several things that I thought were noteworthy, and several things that stakeholders and legislators on both sides of the aisle had requested:

  1. Increased the starting salary of Level 1 teachers by $4,000 to $38,000, permanently
  2. Guaranteed a 2.5% salary increase to all educators, permanently
  3. Guaranteed a 2% salary increase to all non-licensed school staff, permanently
  4. Included a $5 million appropriation for teacher recruitment activities (and an amendment from the committee integrated teacher mentoring as well!)
  5. Increased the starting salaries of Level 2 and Level 3 teachers by $2,000, permanently

 

The House Education Committee had the responsibility to consider this bill on its educational merits.  A multi-pronged approach to improving teacher compensation is both necessary and overdue.  I believed it would generate bipartisan support and sufficient funding—but it was tabled in hyper-partisan fashion, same as the rest.

If you’re fuming, I get it.  You are working hard, advocating for your kids, trying to get involved while still working a full day.  Meanwhile, you’re up against powerful special interests groups that camp out in the Roundhouse for the full session.  It’s a situation that’s rigged against our students and, in many ways, our profession.

I still believe HB310 to be the strongest piece of teacher compensation legislation around, and given that many of you have reached out to me, it seems you may think so, too.  People have asked me—what can we do to keep this possibility alive, both in the short-term and the long-term?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • The House Education Committee members who tabled the bill could bring HB310 “off the table”
  • AFT/ATF was the only group that stood-up in opposition to HB310, yet they had substantial influence: http://sg001-harmony.sliq.net/00293/Harmony/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20180213/-1/46376
  • The Executive Budget recommendation included a multi-pronged approach to teacher compensation, and we will continue to fight for it
  • Over the long-term, more teacher and parent voice is needed in these processes—both during session and during the interim

 

All this being said, your advocacy and belief in elevating teacher and parent voices have not been for nothing.  We’re still working with the Legislature on a 2018-19 (FY19) budget that would include a large teacher compensation increase, a substantial increase in Pre-K funding, higher levels of funding for transportation and instructional materials, and the preservation of the successful programs that have driven outcomes in your schools (from AP fee waivers to Reads to Lead).  More than ever in our state’s history, there is a diversity of teacher and parent voices being heard on issues that impact our students.  Student achievement results are on the rise, we have the #1 State Plan under ESSA in the nation, and you’re building a community of educators and families that are demanding more for our kids.

It’s an honor and a privilege to work on your behalf every day.  Let your voices be heard—and remember that our civic and moral outrage must be sustained over time.  Our students need us to keep up the fight.

In partnership—

CR

Christopher N. Ruszkowski
Secretary of Education
New Mexico Public Education Department

GUEST POST: How the NM Teacher Summit Changed My Summer Plans

GUEST POST: How the NM Teacher Summit Changed My Summer Plans

I can’t seem to come down from the past few days. This is a strange feeling for me because June is usually a month characterized by lounging on the couch, starting (and hopefully finishing) house projects that have gone undone since Christmas break, and consciously releasing the stressful moments and memories of my teaching year.  No matter how wonderful the school year has been for me, I invariably need this complete break from it and from almost everything educational. At least that is how I have managed to get through the last ten years.

Granted, when I was a new teacher I had that eager, overachiever thirst for new knowledge. Over the past 26 years that “newness” has worn off and I have learned to pace myself, never teach summer school, and stay in my robe until noon. I am one of those teachers who needs the full 10 weeks of summer vacation to rejuvenate. Come Labor Day, I am back in full force and signing up for everything extra-curricular and then some. I push myself non-stop, just not in June. Let’s face it: I’ve been doing this a long time, and I only have so much energy to go around.

So imagine how surprised I was to return from the Second Annual NM Teacher Summit last night with an energy usually reserved for September. I literally couldn’t subdue the enthusiasm and joy I felt as I drove back from Albuquerque to Taos. The landscape looked crisper and the sunset brighter. What just happened to me?

I now realize how I have isolated myself professionally over the last decade. I admit, I have a good thing going. I love my school, my director, my colleagues, and my students. I have a fabulous view of Taos Mountain from my window, and my commute is 1-1/2 miles. Life is good….and easy. Online professional development and collaboration with brilliant coworkers is all I need. Or so I thought.

It’s easy to self-isolate in a large landmass state such as New Mexico. When I taught in New England states and even in coastal Virginia, there was always a district or city nearby where teachers shared information, conferenced, and supported each other. I didn’t remember until this week in Albuquerque how much I had missed that. To be in a convention center ballroom with 1,000 of my peers was exhilarating. To hear our New Mexico Public Education Department thank us for our work and inspire us to push ourselves to greater heights was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I attended break-out sessions where I learned how PED is working to improve education in New Mexico, met old and new teacher friends, and celebrated accomplishments in New Mexico schools. I gained a better appreciation for the vision and efforts of former Secretary Skandera to effect change for New Mexico students, and for the energy of the new Acting Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski to continue to work to equip and empower teachers in order to make that happen. It wasn’t long before I remembered why I chose this great profession and how much I still love teaching. In my self-imposed isolation, I sometimes forget that truth.

The best part for me: seeing a friend and former colleague who I mentored when she was a new teacher. She was able to attend just part of the Summit because she attends MBA classes to  become an educational leader in her home city of Albuquerque. Oh, and one of my former third grade students performed for the teachers in an incredible display of her drama skills developed at New Mexico School for the Arts where she will be a high school senior. The rewards of being a teacher always come back to the kids!

So I’m back to my problem of figuring out how to come down from this unexpected high. While I honor my physical and emotional need to stay away from the classroom during the summer, I might sneak in some educational reading from one of the many titles shared at the Summit. My boss and I agreed to read Simon Sinek’s Start with Why next month, and I’m excited to reread Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck. The Summit not only connected me to friends and specific strategies for furthering my practice, but it made me want to expand my big picture of education while I have the time to start and finish a book. This is the first June in YEARS where I actually look forward to thinking about educational topics and themes. Forgive me if I do it in my robe on the couch.

This guest post was written by Leslie Baker, a teacher at Taos Charter School in Taos, NM and member of the New Mexico Teacher Leader Network.

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Goodbye from Secretary Skandera

Dear Teachers of New Mexico’s Kids,

It’s been nearly seven years since we first started this journey together in New Mexico. And it’s been a joy and the utmost privilege to serve under Governor Susana Martinez and serve our great state. During this time, we’ve accomplished and fundamentally changed public education in New Mexico.  Together, we now have systems for providing great information for families, communities and educators—and there are unprecedented supports for students and educators to close gaps and provide access and opportunity for all.  Most importantly, we’ve established a new trajectory for success for every child regardless of zip code or circumstance.

While there are always lessons learned looking back, and while recognizing the work for our kids is never done looking forward, I am truly grateful to each one of you who has championed your kids and communities, managed and embraced change for kids in a relatively short amount of time, and continue to fight for all that is possible for your students. Please know that I will continue to support this work and cheer you on and whole-heartedly wish the best for you and the students and families you serve.  Thank you for your commitment, your partnership, and your willingness to put our kids first.

As leaders you know that you are only as good as your team. I am humbled by the team at the PED. It has been a privilege to serve alongside them in doing this work. They have given their hearts and lives with passion and purpose. I am proud of them and proud of what they will continue to do. Specifically, I am excited about passing the baton to Christopher Ruszkowski, my successor. He is as committed to kids and their success as anyone I have ever known. He will not only keep fighting the good fight, he will build on the strong foundation New Mexico has and make it even stronger. If you do not already know CR and the amazing team here at the PED, please know just how deeply they are committed to serving our state and our kids.

It has been an honor. Thank you for the opportunity to serve alongside of you. I wish you the very best going forward and know without a shadow of a doubt that you will continue to do great things!

With gratitude,
Hanna

This letter was originally shared with New Mexico teachers via email from Secretary Skandera on June 20, 2017.

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

GUEST POST: Kids (and Teachers) Just Wanna Have Fun

“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.”

                                           Mary Poppins

Do you ever wish you could be more like that fun and effective nanny, Mary Poppins? She knew that the secret to helping her young charges succeed was injecting a little fun into their chores and lives.

When we think about the increasing demands on us as teachers, we may ask “where is the fun?” After all, we are tasked with the seemingly impossible. We must cover all the standards, increase depth of knowledge through questioning, incorporate formative assessment into each lesson, prepare all students to pass standardized tests, provide and track interventions in the classroom, differentiate instruction for all learners, meet weekly with colleagues to analyze data, communicate with parents though online platforms……Whew! The list is endless. New expectations for accountability, rigor, and communication make teaching an even more challenging profession. Rookie and veteran teachers alike can feel overwhelmed.

Of all the questions we ask of our teaching, the most important one is, “how can we incorporate joy into the classroom – for ourselves and for our students?” Why is this an essential question? Because if we aren’t having fun, our students certainly aren’t having fun. As adult learners, we know that being relaxed opens us up to new ideas and improved learning. Anyone who has observed a group of children at play knows that this is even more important for our young learners.

When I left the business world to become a teacher, I tapped into my creative side for perhaps the first time in my life. I witnessed the innate creativity of my fifth-grade students and worked to develop lessons that brought that out. Over the years, I have built on this and found a few strategies to infuse fun into the “work” of school. Whenever I feel like I am not having fun, I remember my early years in the classroom and how happy and privileged I felt to work with young people. Now, in our new landscape of high-stakes testing, I find it extremely important to add some fun every day. Here are seven of my tips for having fun:

  1. Start the day with a smile.
    I like to greet each student at the door with a smile and a handshake to start the day. This can create a joyful tone for the day and help me check in with each child. Students can also check in with their buddy before class starts. High fives, turn-and-talk pep talks, and secret handshakes can bring out a smile and put everyone in a happy state.
  2. Use games to teach.
    Learning games are an easy way to lighten the mood in the classroom. Students are engaged, communicative, and they don’t always know they are “working.”
  3. Be a little dramatic.
    Someone once told me that every teacher should take a drama class, and I agree. Even if you are on the quiet side, find ways to surprise your class with unexpected entrances or actions. I have stood on a desk to teach math, cracked eggs over my head when demonstrating how to give directions, and worn a picture frame around my neck to silently remind students to “frame” their sentences.
  4. Use music to direct the day.
    I can’t teach without music – big, loud music. I attribute this to my training from Eric Jensen in the importance of changing our students’ states in order to keep them alert and able to learn. This strategy for brain-based learning comes with a built-in element: FUN! Pick a theme for the day (Disco Day is my favorite) and turn on the music while students walk around the room and touch five gold things before returning to their seats. Everyone is smiling and dancing and ready for the next activity.
  5. Play with your students.
    Tap into your inner child and join your students in their games. Get in line for 4-square, jump in to the jump rope game, pick up a basketball in the pick-up game. Show off your hula hoop skills (if you still have them). Your students will appreciate that you know how to have fun, and it will carry back into the classroom.
  6. Designate a fun, role-playing day.
    Give everyone a chance to have some fun by transforming the classroom into a historical period. For example, I used to have a Colonial Day every year in second grade where we would all come in costume and re-enact colonial school practices. Then we would participate in craft stations and deepen our understanding of the time period.
  7. Give students choice – and breaks.
    Find ways to let students choose their activities. During Writing Workshop, allow them to illustrate and embellish their stories at a publishing center. Build in short breaks in the classroom so they can extend their learning by using the materials available.

Remember that our goal is to develop thinking skills, not to cram information into our students. The more fun we are having, the more we are open to new learning. This is true for our students and for us. To channel Mary Poppins, we want to learn “in the most delightful way!”

This guest post was submitted by New Mexico Teacher Leader Ambassador, Leslie Baker. Leslie is a literacy teacher at Taos Charter School in Taos, NM. 
GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

GUEST POST: On the Verge of “Teacher Tired” and the NMTLN

Dear Teacher,

I know.  It’s late in winter. The sky is mostly absent of sunshine and the cold is settling into your bones. You have too many papers to grade, at least one third of the students in your class are sick with some contagion—yet they continue to come to school, another classroom observation is pending, and statewide testing is looming in front of you like a huge black hole that you are certain will suck you in and not let you go.  I know.  I’m right there with you.  I know you are on the verge of ‘teacher-tired,’ and the middle of the year ‘teacher blues’ are settling in.  I also know that the last thing you really want to do is think about the NMPED or any of the coming expectations in education connected with ESSA or state legislation surrounding education. I. KNOW.

These were all the burdens I carried with me when I drove to Santa Fe the evening of January 11th. I was TIRED.  And even though I was humbled and excited for the upcoming New Mexico Teacher Leader Network  gathering I had been chosen to participate in, I was also feeling a bit pessimistic, and if I’m honest, skeptical about the notion of one more ‘training’ hosted by the NMPED.  You see, as a 16 year NM teacher veteran, I had little faith that day in the PED’s ability to entertain or inform me to a level that I would find helpful or beneficial enough to justify the hours of prepping I had to do to be gone from my classroom for two full days.

That Wednesday evening of January 11th as I made the3.5 hour drive from Texico to the state capital, I spent my time in quiet reflection about what I hoped to take away from this upcoming ‘leader’ journey.  Teaching isn’t easy. You know this. It requires a certain mixture of intentionality and magic with a smidge of planning and a healthy dose of love that can be exhausting. Combine all of these elements, and the idea of adding one more thing to the mix is enough to send even the most seasoned and vibrant teacher over the edge and into, as Dr. Seuss calls them, those ‘not-so-nice places’.   And even though I was humbled by the selection, I wasn’t yet fully committed to the process, but I was also really curious about what the PED’s intentions were with this committee of 50 teachers, so I promised myself to give it my best, albeit tired teacher, effort!

Fast forward to today as I write this blog entry. Wow.  Just. WOW.  I stand corrected.  I am also restored in my belief that our state is FULL of dedicated educators who value and esteem teachers.  I spent those two cold days in Santa Fe surrounded by teachers and policy educators who are filled with a warmth and genuine love of teaching that any educator would be proud to associate with and learn from together. Not only did the New Mexico Public Education Department pull off a stellar event that championed and valued teachers in our state, they also owned up to previous mistakes in communication, preparation, and planning with regard to many of the changes that have been rolled out over the past 3 years in our school districts and classrooms.  That is important. Recognizing past mistakes and failures and owning responsibility in those incidents is important to me.  Many times over the last three years I felt unappreciated and demeaned. The NMPED owned their part in fostering those feelings. They were humble and candid about mistakes that were made, and earnest in a desire to create a solid bridge between teachers and the state department of education. The atmosphere was one of genuine authenticity and a deep desire to establish a rapport with teachers to enable effective communication and respect. I wouldn’t tell you this if I didn’t honestly believe the intention in their actions was genuine and aimed toward empowering teachers with a voice at the statewide level.

In reflecting upon my experience and what I am taking away from this new journey I’ve embarked upon, I now understand that as a teacher leader it is my responsibility to work with and share information and understandings with my fellow district colleagues in order to grow and build a mutual trust and respect between New Mexico teachers and the PED.  I mean, when you think about what we do every day, the reality is, that should be one of our primary areas of focus as educators.  My role as a NMTLN ambassador is to help build a bridge between all stakeholders so that NM students have the best possible learning journey we can offer.  Do I think this will happen immediately? No, absolutely not.  All good things take time to grow, but I’m optimistic that with the proper attention and care, the seeds of communication that were planted during those two days in Santa Fe will flourish into a strong connection between those who hold the future of the state—our kids—in their hearts.

I would love to talk to anyone who has questions or concerns about what I learned and know as a NMTLN ambassador.

Good things are happening, y’all.

Dawn Bilbrey
8th Grade ELA/US History
Texico Middle School
Texico, NM

GUEST POST: REFLECTIONS ON THE 2016 TEACHER SUMMIT

GUEST POST: REFLECTIONS ON THE 2016 TEACHER SUMMIT

There is no question that the last few years in education — with their myriad of changes in standards, testing and teaching evaluations, and all the debates that went with them — have sometimes made teachers feel hard pressed to stay on top of everything being asked of them.

Through it all, we used each other as sounding boards for ideas on how to adopt Common Core, how to prepare kids for PARCC and for how to upload those NMTeach artifacts. And we also did plenty of griping about those responsible (read Secretary Hanna Skandera).

So when I found out about the recent New Mexico Teacher Summit and that it would provide the opportunity to ask some of the burning questions that have come up over the last few years, I jumped at the chance. And I was not disappointed.

No, I didn’t convince Secretary Skandera to dump the evaluation system or get rid of EOCs. But I did find out that she and her staff are open to, and actually want, feedback from teachers in order to improve those systems.

In every session I attended, from NMTeach 101 to an introduction to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, our presenters invited questions and did their best to answer them honestly. And they didn’t sugarcoat the problems or why they chose their solutions. I also got the chance to hear from tons of smart, talented teachers from across the state. It was clear they care about kids and want our schools to serve them better.

I also learned more about the Secretary’s Teacher Advisory, a group of 17 teachers from across New Mexico who are doing their best to present our perspective to Secretary Skandera and report back to those of us on the ground. There are also plans to form a larger group of teacher leaders who will hopefully translate all that state policy to those of us who are too busy planning lessons to pay attention to every change coming our way.

It would be a lie to say that I came away completely convinced of every move Secretary Skandera and her staff have made recently. I still think we can get better at helping kids and supporting teachers. But I can say that as teachers we can’t sit idly by complaining. We need to jump in there with our own ideas and solutions, from policy on down to classroom practice.

The New Mexico Teacher Summit was a valuable first step in empowering teachers to be a part of the process. I wait eagerly to find out what becomes of all the opinions and ideas that teachers shared over the summit’s two days. And I can’t wait until next year.

John Sena is an English teacher at Española Valley High School