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.

  • Mary Cavaioli

    Art Education

    I have traveled abroad often sice i graduated from college and feel that it broadens ones persective on the world and it certainly gave me more tolerance and appreciation for what I have in the USA! I think today's children would greatly benefit from time overseas (not just virtually, but physically) 🙂

    Also, as an NBCT, I find that my experiences in working with a multitude of students/families and colleagues over the past 30 years have helped to make me a more accomplished and successful educator!

  • KrisGiere

    3 Vital Things Indeed!

    Awesome work, Val!  You’ve tackled another important concept, and I am so glad you shared it with us.

    The three things you point out play a major role in efforts to increase equity.  I agree that they are indeed vital to our learning and teaching experiences.

    My work with first generation college students connects me to this post on a personal level.  I have watched them struggle with learning the world of academia and try to do what I can to help them along their journey.  Though I was not a first generation college student myself, I still didn’t know a whole lot about how higher education operates: auditing courses, withdrawing from courses, financial aid, and more.  And even though the information was readily available if you knew where to look, I found there were times when I didn’t know to ask let alone know where to look.  I still have moments when I feel embarrassed about some of my mistakes that I have made, wishing that I just had known that I could ask for “x” or “y.”  So, I find myself trying to provide as much information and explanation to my students about just the ins and outs of college.

    Now, I get that this is just one isolated incident, much like your travel analogy, but I can’t help myself from thinking about what else one of my students might not know to ask.  Many of them already confess to me that they don’t ask sometimes for fear of looking dumb.

    Obviously, I don’t know it all, and I don’t even know how to look it all up.  What I do know is that these 3 Things as you detail them are so very important to helping students be their best.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    – Kris

  • Rob Kriete

    Be the change…

    …you wish to see in your school!

    Great posting, Val!

  • Sheila Diggs Hill

    3 Vital Things


    Your article is spot on! I am an Instructional Specialist on a Title 1 campus and I have experienced and witnessed exactly what you are saying. My goal this upcoming year is to share as much as possible. Everyone's background is different and knowledge is definitely power!

    Thank You for sharing your thoughts!