How We Improve Education in Michigan

Across the country, we’ve recently seen the collective power of teachers to make change and have their voices heard. As classroom teachers for a combined 64 years, we strongly believe that teachers must be treated as professionals and as integral partners in the important work of improving educational outcomes for students.

Thankfully, Governor Rick Snyder agrees. A few weeks ago, the Governor, along with Michigan Economic Development Corporation Director Roger Curtis, kicked off the first annual Teach to Lead Summit here in Michigan. The Summit brought together nearly 20 teams of educators, policymakers and leaders from business, industry and higher education to vet and grow plans to improve teaching and learning across our state.

More often than not, policies are done to teachers and not with them. In Michigan we have many plans, many strategies, and many reports, but it seems that there is little consultation with classroom teachers who know firsthand what it takes to be successful in K-12 education. The Summit empowered educators to champion the ideas we believe will have an impact in our classrooms, and gave us the space to work with key stakeholders and partners to develop action-based plans to achieve these goals.

It also provided a space where teacher leaders could engage with experts of various backgrounds to help expand upon existing ideas—ranging from how to include student voices in school-wide decisions, to exploring podcasts to expand students’ awareness of careers, to curriculum partnerships between communities and their schools. Many of the teams also included student voices so they could truly represent the full breadth of stakeholders needed to move these ideas forward. All projects were grounded in the same goals—to increase student success in the classroom, while supporting innovative approaches to learning.

During the Summit, we had a chance to share these projects with Governor Snyder and Mr. Curtis and discuss our shared vision for education in our state. Most importantly, by coming together, we were able to spark conversations that will continue throughout the year as teams continue to build on their projects—checking in with experts in the field who can provide professional advice on each project as we work toward implementation.

Our hope is that these projects not only come to fruition, but that our success encourages more teachers and leaders—from the Upper Peninsula to Grand Rapids to Rochester Hills—to participate in next year’s Teach to Lead Summit.

With all the planning and reporting in Michigan about our schools and how our students are falling behind their peers in other states, it is crucial that we have opportunities like Teach to Lead that involve teachers leading the work, networking with partners and acting rather than just planning.

We have a wealth of information on our state’s performance, but progress and change cannot be top-down. Those doing the work who are directly connected with students need to be a part of this conversation and we hope to share more about the actions that result from this powerful collaboration at next year’s Summit.


Kelley Cusmano is an ELA and Leadership teacher at Rochester High School in Rochester Hills; Heather Gauck, NBCT, is a Special Education teacher at Grand Rapids Public Schools and PBS Digital Innovator All Star 2018; Sarah Giddings, NBCT is a Lead Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator at Washtenaw Alliance for Virtual Education in Washtenaw County; and Matt McCullough is director of Innovation in Teaching and Learning at Schoolcraft Community Schools in Schoolcraft, MI.