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Teachers as Trustees, Part 1

February 17, 2014

Christopher Chiang (photo courtesy of the author)

Christopher Chiang (photo courtesy of the author)

InterACT guest blog post by Christopher Chiang

InterACT features many blog posts on the topic of teacher leadership, but this guest post is the first that provides the perspective of a teacher whose leadership comes through elected office.

Christopher Chiang is a teacher at the Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA, and a school board trustee in the Mountain View Whisman School District. He holds a BA in Political Science from the UC Irvine, an MA in Teaching from Stanford, and an MA in Educational Leadership from Columbia University. He wrote this guest post for InterACT, and it will be followed by two others posts by teachers with current or recent positions on school boards.

I ran for school board because I worried that education conversations at the district level focused too much on test scores and paid too little attention to teachers. Standardized tests are a useful data point, but so are the professionals working daily with the children, but so little attention is given to their input.

I think being an actively teaching educator on the board, allowed me to see, and point out, when our energies or resources were not about to help change things in the classroom, or worse, make it harder for teachers to teach. I was shocked how often complex instructional issues are discussed without teachers in the room, or worse when teachers do give input, it is given little weight. During the open session, you have your district leaders, who collectively have a great deal of education experience. But behind closed doors when choosing or evaluating superintendents, the trustees can only rely on their own experiences, which can vary widely. It is there that a teacher’s voice is most valuable.

As education becomes more grounded in science and research, the need for a professionals voice in the guidance of a school is as sensible as doctors helping lead hospitals. A seasoned teacher also comes to a board already trained in active listening, always staying composed, even, or especially in front of angry parents. Those skills make for a very effective board trustee.

What I had not anticipated is how slowly board decisions are made. Whether it be the Brown Act or the amount of required oversight decisions a board must handle, the pace can be jarring for educators who are used to making quick decisions in their classroom. Teachers often just ask to be supported. I hope more teachers will step into public service to create that support in the communities they live.

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