Kelley Cusmano, Heather Guack, Sarah Giddings, and Matthew McCullough
When our team began working with the Collaborative for Student Success in 2016, we were challenged to develop and implement a state advocacy project aligned to the mission: to maintain implementation of high standards, high-quality assessments and strong systems of accountability to ensure that all students are prepared for post-secondary success. There was particular hope in Michigan to address these issues through our state’s accountability plan. We were asked to serve on the Teacher Quality committee for while the state was developing their ESSA-compliant plan to provide strategic counsel on teacher quality, preparation, retention, and recruitment. While we were meeting with stakeholders as part of this committee, we realized that we were the only active educators in the room, and that the best people to show how ESSA could be implemented in our state are the people in our shoes: current educators.
In the past ten years, rather than make positive gains in student achievement and learning, Michigan has been unable to solve widespread equity issues. Student achievement has continued to lag behind. We felt very overwhelmed by the issues that faced our state and were evident in our districts, but we also realized that we needed to implement a project on a statewide level in order to have the most powerful impact. After a lot of discussion, debate, and input from stakeholders, we decided to create a Teach to Lead conference that would be held in conjunction with the Michigan Governor’s Summit on Education and Talent.
We gathered ideas from educators throughout the state with problems of practice that aligned to the Collaborative’s mission, with the goal of putting together a statewide teacher-led conference. After a three week submission window, we were delighted to find that we had received interest from fellow educators all over the state (including some from the Upper Peninsula, an area that has traditionally been much harder to engage). We wanted the projects to be rooted in leveraging strategic partnerships between educational and community stakeholders in the hope that we would have sustainable community-based projects that would lead to better accountability and stronger outcomes for every child. Once we selected our topics using the Collaborative’s missions and the Michigan Top 10 in 10 Initiative, we connected project leads with critical friends to provide valuable support, insight and dialogue on the issues posed. This process was challenging and time-consuming, but ended up being instrumental to making the conference a success.