New Millennium Initiative’s fireside chats heat up

Call it cabin fever.  A February storm blanketed Denver with nearly 18 inches of snow outside of our hotel, while a dozen teacher leaders from the Center for Teaching Quality’s New Millennium Initiative (NMI) met to ponder such questions as:

How do we affect classroom teaching quality as well as education policy? 

How can we involve more outstanding teachers from other communities?

How can we deliver our messages effectively to key stakeholders?

The fireplace crackled and the hot chocolate flowed, but I grew frustrated with the direction of a roundtable role-playing conversation.  A colleague playing the part of an antagonistic union leader interrupted me with, “Unions are the voices of teachers.”

“No, they’re not,” I quipped.  “They’re a voice, not the only one.”

“But we negotiate the rights of the profession,” she said.

Checkmate.  The exercise taught me a couple things.  First, I needed more practice under fire.  Second, if you don’t have a clear solution to offer, it might be best to pass the mic or come back to the table with one.

My colleague had nailed an important dichotomy that deserves consideration.  As teacher advocacy groups populate the education reform landscape, how do they distinguish themselves while avoiding public and political misperceptions?  Many NMI teacher leaders are also proud union members; some serve as local representatives and presidents.  The five sites in Denver; Seattle; California’s Bay Area; Illinois; and Hillsborough County, Florida, consist of teacher leaders from a multitude of backgrounds.

Our discussions got me thinking about our strengths.  While the New Millennium Initiative builds teachers’ policy expertise, we still need to highlight what we already know: how to teach.  These chats weren’t always easy, or even comfortable.  But they were productive.  We learned about each other’s successes, like that of the Denver team. We also shared challenges, such as how to keep these fast-growing sites nimble, engaged, and focused on connecting excellent teaching practice with policy.

I left Colorado with clarity and a shared sense of purpose with these innovative teachers.  NMI leaders parted with these goals:

  1. Clarify the mission of using classroom expertise to influence policy.
  2. Transform our teacher networks into communities.
  3. Offer solutions during tough conversations with stakeholders.

Keep an eye out for the New Millennium Initiative.  We’re out to turn expertise into action.