Make Sure Your Students Have These 3 Things

Yes, you do teach your content. But you are also responsible for providing your students with something else. Time to change the game.

More than 3,000 educators from all 50 states and 18 countries converged on Washington, DC for the second annual Teaching and Learning Conference hosted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in mid-March. Thankfully, because of my efforts to become a connected educator over the past few years, I was invited to be one them.

I was finally able meet the real people behind the Twitter handles, and no one was a stranger. As my colleague Jose Vilson (@TheJLV) said, “it felt right being there.”

The two-day conference, which could have easily been week-long, featured thought and action leaders in education slotted for every session. I was only disappointed by the fact that I couldn’t duplicate myself so that I could be in every room.

I am an educator, but I realized on the plane ride home from #TLConf2015 that my actual job is to ensure students and teachers have information, access, and opportunity. That’s what I do! And if you are an educator, you need to know that is what you (should) do, too.

  • Information, especially in education, is power for those who have it and lack of power for those who don’t. What information shouldn’t be is proprietary. For instance, I know several educators who would have loved to be in the building during #TLConf2015, but who were at home with no knowledge that the event was even happening. As educators, do we assume that our students and colleagues already have the information or because of some characteristic (race, social class, economic status) that they don’t want the information?
  • Access is the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use. Generally speaking, do the students in our classrooms, or the teachers on our campuses have the access to impact teaching and learning, or is that freedom reserved for a select few?
  • Opportunity is a favorable time or occasion. Are our educational systems created to provide opportunities, or are our students and teachers so bogged down with “stuff” in our systems and in our societies that they can’t even fathom a favorable time or occasion to take advantage of the information and the access, if they have it?

Let me illustrate with an anecdote from two recent conversations. I have friends who regularly travel the world to learn, serve, and explore. I also have friends who have not left my home state. I have been out of the country twice; once to Mexico for my honeymoon and later to Toronto. I didn’t take advantage of any study abroad in college, and most of my friends didn’t either. Could it be because I didn’t make it a priority? Maybe. But more than that, I couldn’t make it a priority because I didn’t have the information, access, or opportunity. I didn’t personally know anyone who was traveling the world, and frankly, it’s hard to find the opportunity when you are working to pay your bills.

I wonder for those who have not traveled if it is because they didn’t have the information, access, or opportunity? Or was it all of the above? I wonder what decisions they would have made if they had all three?

(Tip: Connect with teacher-leader and global citizen Noah Zeichner, @NZeichner, if you want to how to transcend the geographical boundaries of teaching and learning.)

Travel is my personal example, but these factors are also relevant to education.

For example, think of how information, access, and opportunity can affect first-generation college students, students exposed to coding in kindergarten, or teachers who have flexible schedules to work in the classroom and on teacher-leadership initiatives. Information, access and opportunity are game changers, and we need game-changers.

As educators, we can’t guarantee what students or colleagues will do with the information, access or opportunity, but we can guarantee what will happen if they don’t have these things. Struggle.

Depending on where and who you teach, the amount of information, access or opportunity your students and teachers need will vary; that’s educational equity and equality.

That’s where we as teacher leaders come in and play a pivotal role in the future of our world. Dr. Pedro Noguera, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools, was one of the featured speakers at #TLConf2015. He wrote in this piece, “If nothing else, our collective lack of progress in pursuing racial integration and equity in education over the last few years should tell us that these issues will not fade or fix themselves over time.”

Addressing educational equity and equality is a huge job, but don’t be intimated by its size because it is worth the work. There is an old saying that many hands make light work. We – all of us – have to get to work.

If you have information, share it. If you are the gatekeeper, throw open the doors and give people access to the table. If you have the ability, remove obstacles so that students and teachers can take advantages of the opportunities.

Teacher-leadership and action doesn’t have to be school-wide, district-wide, nationwide, or worldwide. It starts in your classroom with the students in front of you.