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How to Become an Agent of Change: One Teacher’s Story ~ Mick Wiest

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Mick Wiest has spent over thirty years working with secondary and community college students and staff. He earned his M. Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at Montana State University-Bozeman. His selection as 2014 Wyoming Teacher of the Year is a testament to his relentless adherence to the belief that all students can learn at high levels as they live up to the expectations of caring teachers. In addition to his work in the classroom, Mick has been a workshop leader and keynote speaker for the Wyoming Department of Education and a teacher leader in the Wyoming Writing Project. He has helped guide each district in which he has worked in curriculum development. Mick currently serves as Professional Learning Communities Coordinator for Sheridan County School District 2 in Sheridan, Wyoming.
Recently, I was the keynote speaker at an education summit in our community. Invited guests included legislators, school board members from four different districts, the president and other administrators from our local college, and board members of a local education foundation. As I began to take my seat at a banquet table, one of the state senators from our district approached. As he shook my hand, he said, “I just wanted to thank you for the research you provided me on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and issues surrounding state assessments. That information was instrumental in the education bills we passed this session.” As I sat down, I thought back to how our working relationship had begun.

About eight months ago my wife and I took part in an “Out of the Darkness” walk and fundraiser for suicide prevention. This particular senator was also walking for the cause that day. When we arrived back to the staging area, I approached him and introduced myself. I had met him before when he was a mayor, but I reminded him who I was. I told him that I would like to meet with him regarding state standards and assessment. He, of course, welcomed the interaction since the legislative session had not yet begun. At that time, he told me he was fundamentally opposed to retaining the CCSS in Wyoming.

A month or two later, I also did a presentation on the CCSS in a conference room at our school district office. For that informational session, our administration invited all of our school board members and our district representatives and senators. I provided each of them – including the senator that I met during the fundraiser – with the sources I used for my PowerPoint presentation, which advocated for the CCSS. One of the legislators was the chair of the House Education Committee. He, too, used the information that I provided in the dialogues and debates in which he took part. He became a strong supporter of retaining the CCSS and empowering the state board of education to consider adoption of Next Generation Science Standards, something that was forbidden by legislation enacted last year.

After our newly elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction took office, I also contacted her and requested a meeting to discuss several issues of concern to our district, including CCSS and our state assessment. She set aside an entire afternoon for me to visit with her and various members of her staff. I made sure to leave with her a summary of my talking points on each issue along with brief research documents that supported my appeals. She was very receptive and committed to appropriate follow through.

Return with me to the education summit. The senator who had been opposed to the Common Core when we had our first dialogue had become an advocate for continuing with the standards. I told him I would be sending him information on state assessments. A state school board member also sat at my table. The board had just been tasked by the legislature with the job of selecting the most appropriate assessment for the state. She, too, requested a copy of the research I would be sending the senator, and I am now being considered as a member of the task force to recommend an assessment to the board of education and legislature.

It was easy to leverage informal social contacts by taking initiative to make formal contacts with decision makers and influencers. By being willing to present my perspective as a teacher and evidence to support it, I was able to quickly establish myself as an agent of change. The experiences were very satisfying and rewarding – and I’d recommend that all teachers take the chance and reach out to their legislators.