Salt & Watermelon

Salt and Watermelon?  Not as uncommon together as you might think.  So it is with some strategic partnerships teacher leaders can develop to create meaningful and lasting change in education.  Like salt and watermelon, they just might be better…together.

Guacamole and pound cake are two things that typically don’t go together, well.

Each possesses unique qualities and purposes we greatly appreciate and enjoy. But just the thought of putting them together makes my stomach coil.

Salt and watermelon are two things that that typically don’t seem to go together well, either.  Again, each possesses unique qualities and purposes we greatly appreciate and enjoy. Yet, some people seem to think that salt sprinkled on watermelon makes it sweeter, better. The first time I heard this I was skeptical. The only way to really know though is to try it.

So I did.


To my surprise it was the best thing I’d ever put in my mouth! The only way I now eat melon, of any kind, is with a dash or two of salt. As I understand it, the salt creates a salty sweet contrast that intensifies the usually subtle sweetness of the melon.

The point I want to make here is that things with distinct qualities and purposes don’t always have to be at odds with each other. Sometimes unique pairings can serve each other in new and powerful ways.

I believe this is true for teachers and legislators.

 

This is a pairing we have not seen consistently work together well on matters of teaching and learning. But don’t recoil at the thought. Let’s first look at…

What we generally know about their work that makes them seem incompatible:

  • Legislators’ sphere of influence is broad, yet the outcome often dictates what can take place within classrooms;
  • Teachers’ sphere of influence is typically bound by the classroom and school community, yet the outcome of their work makes all other professions possible;
  • Legislators’ work primarily with other adults within the realm of their work;
  • Teachers’ work primarily with children, but also with all other adults (i.e. colleagues, parents, business and community leaders) within the realm of students’ learning;
  • Teachers know their students as well as the complexities of their content, and how to create robust and individualized learning experiences that make the content accessible to all students;
  •  Legislators know their constituency as well as the complexities of getting a bill passed by both houses in order to ensure that an idea that addresses an area of concern becomes law.

 

As you look at the difference in requisite knowledge and skills, you can’t help but notice what these two professions share in common: expertise in work that influences and impacts the welfare of others. I also can’t help but believe that teachers and legislators integrating their expertise can have an even greater influence and impact on the welfare of students through transformative education policy.

 

There was a time that I did not believe this, especially after learning that the people who craft education policy have little to no classroom experience. I began to understand why policy did not support practice nor align with implementation.

 

Furthermore, current reform has its roots in the findings and recommendations of a report entitled A Nation at Risk (1983). The expertise of classroom teachers was excluded from subsequent reform measures; the impact of which is that we are left with misguided efforts that have left us more at risk than before.

 

Clearly leaving teachers out of the development and construction of education policy and reform is pointless and ineffectual; and our nation’s students are suffering from its ill effects.

 

The question then is: How involved should teachers be in efforts to transform teaching and learning? Teachers must lead the way, in partnership with legislators, to articulate meaningful and lasting changes in education policy and reform.

 

The conditions are ripe for this to occur. I know this because I witnessed it first hand as a member of a five-teacher panel invited to a recent convening of National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). The main focus of which was the College and Career Ready Standards (CCRS).

 

The 30 policy makers in attendance serve as either the chair or vice-chair of the education committee for their state’s legislature. And, 25% of those states represented, recently rescinded the standards and are considering ways to dust off the old ones. The five teacher leaders on the panel fully support the standards, even though the states and districts in which they practice, vary in position.

 

What I found remarkable at this convening was that regardless of the states’ position on CCRS, policy makers proved eager to learn from teachers and hear our expert opinion on why and how the standards are changing teaching and learning for the better. We regaled them with stories from our classrooms, of transformations in student learning through inquiry, collaboration, and the effective communication of ideas—expectations at the core of the standards.  We also shared from our professional experience, what needs to happen to take the results we see and experience, in our classrooms everyday, to scale.

 

It was significant but not surprising, that heretofore these legislators had not engaged in this kind of exchange of ideas with teachers in their state. The panel strongly recommended that they seek out the teacher leaders and get them involved in the issues they face, especially those around CCRS, the assessment, evaluation tools, educator preparation, and data privacy.

 

I left the convening convinced more than ever that teachers must leverage their classroom expertise to change the landscape of education through partnerships with legislators. This shift in practice is different from tradition, but it has the potential to make all the difference for students and the future of our nation.

 

Otherwise, history show us that well-meaning, but misguided efforts will undo any gains made to improve the quality of education for all students and to reestablish our nation as a leader, preparing our students for the 21st century work place.

 

However, if teachers and legislators work together to enhance each other’s unique qualities and purposes, just like salt and watermelon, there is no end to what we could achieve toward a savory and sustainable education system.

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