The Power of Listening

csIt’s more important than ever for Ohio policymakers to actively listen to stakeholders and gather meaningful feedback to inform the policies that will positively impact our schools. This year, states across the country are working on a plan to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). And while many states submitted their plans to the U.S Department of Education in March, our state’s Department of Education in Columbus has decided to delay submission of its plan until September, which is a good thing for our state and for our students.

Ohio will take the extra time necessary to ensure that the opinions of teachers and key stakeholders are captured in a plan that can have lasting effects on Ohio’s education system, creating more opportunities for them to listen to important voices across our state.

Listening has opened so many doors for me throughout my career. In college, I was set on becoming a patent attorney even though I felt like teaching was in my blood. Ultimately, I decided to listen to my heart and pursue a rewarding career in education, just like my parents did years ago.

Today, I am the Director of Curriculum for Bay Village Schools and serve as the state lead for the Ohio Standards Advocates. Listening is critical in this role, which has included the opportunity to help the Ohio Department of Education host regional ESSA stakeholder sessions and gather listening data that will be used to inform education policy decisions. In these sessions, I’ve listened to not only teachers, but also community members, parents, school board members, preschool program officers, college professors, and PTA members discuss important topics such as teacher and school accountability, teacher evaluations, preschool programs, and English language learners.

Woodrow Wilson said that “the ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” It is crucial for policymakers to listen to teachers when developing policy that will directly affect their classrooms, especially when it comes to professional development opportunities. Teachers need high-quality professional development opportunities that provide them with hands on experience, tools and resources in order to teach Ohio students to the best of their abilities.

However, a recent report from Educators for High Standards, which listened to more than 800 teachers, found that they aren’t hopeful that ESSA will provide them with the professional development opportunities that they need. Although ESSA does have the potential to expand and improve professional development opportunities for teachers that are more tailored to their students’ needs, this research is a sign that more teachers’ voices must be heard – and it’s vital that policymakers are listening.

Allowing additional time to complete our state’s ESSA plan at the state level also provides more time for local decision making. Although ESSA plans have implications at the national and state level, policymakers must continue to listen to and engage teachers and other community members.

Let’s make the most of the time we have to guarantee that all of Ohio’s students receive a quality education that prepares them for college or a career. You can visit the Ohio Department of Education website or follow them on Twitter for updates on ESSA and future engagement opportunities.

Char Shryock is the Director of Curriculum and Instruction in Bay Village City Schools in Ohio. She also serves as the chair of the Ohio Educator Leader Cadre and as a leader in the Ohio Core Advocate Program. She spent 22 years in the classroom as a middle and upper grades English and science teacher and also as a technology integration specialist.