Changing Education: A Radically Simple Plan

Amber Chandler at AFT TEACH

Changing Education: A Conference of Pioneering Unionists Working for Reform

I was given the amazing opportunity to present a session at AFT’s #TEACH19 conference in Washington, D.C. It was only after my session—Social, Emotional and Academic Strategies for Building an Inclusive Classroom Community— was over that I realized the vibe I’d detected immediately upon arrival had not been my imagination. Most conferences have a “feel” to them, and I enjoy going alone so that I can really experience the sessions, networking and the flow of energy that emerges. From the minute I walked into the hotel, I could feel the sensation of expectation. The participants wanted to be here, and they were ready. At the time, I wasn’t sure what we were all anticipating, but it was exciting.

The session was packed, and the phrase “preach to the choir” entered my mind as I watched heads nod, and bathed in the intermittent words of encouragement as I talked about why we needed to dismantle what we knew and teach the students in front of us, not telling them who they are, but asking them where they came from and who they want to become. When my session ended, as I packed up my computer and started daydreaming about taking my heels off and the cup of coffee I needed, it dawned on me that not only had I been talking to educators, but I had also been privileged to talk to our union—a dedicated group of people who regularly organize around ideas and take matters into our collective hands. (See what happened at pre-TEACH events when educators participated in Lobby Day.)

 

Chris Emdan discusses changing education at AFT TEACH conference

[Mike Campbell photos]

 

On Friday morning, when I heard Chris Emdin’s address, I knew that the convergence of “doers” upon this place was because we are unionists, and we care enough to take the steps that will change education. I’m eager to share three of the things Chris said that not only encapsulated our energy but also will act as a road map forward after we head back to our own schools.

Changing Education: The old models have failed us and our students.

 

"You can't utilize old models for a new time." @chrisemdin inspiring #TEACH19 to break free from models that were created during times when those we educate weren't even included. @AFTteach @AFTunion pic.twitter.com/1mwt3eJW5W

— Amber Chandler, NBCT (@MsAmberChandler) July 12, 2019

 

Changing Education: The profession of teaching needs to be reclaimed as the honorable, challenging and rewarding profession that it is.

 

"Teachers need to break from the trauma of being told that our profession is somehow less." "By teaching and learning, we are changing the universe." "To teach and reach all students is to teach and reach the public." @AFTunion @AFTteach @chrisemdin pic.twitter.com/0w0L5pc5tE

— Amber Chandler, NBCT (@MsAmberChandler) July 12, 2019

 

Changing Education: As professionals, we need to “go where we need to go.”

 

“Every good teacher knows you write amazing lesson plans but when you start to teach you go where you need to go” @chrisemdin #TEACH19 @UFT @AFTteach pic.twitter.com/e5ZJdUAmWy

— Emily (@Edub526) July 12, 2019

 

In the end, that sensation of expectation foreshadowed the experiences that were to come. This conference was a springboard back to the basics, a radical simplicity of changing education by working with our students where, in Chris’ words, we: “Love them. Accept them. Be present with them.” If we can follow this radical simplicity, I believe we can change the face of teaching and learning.

Amber Chandler
Amber Rain Chandler is a National Board Certified ELA teacher and education writer in Hamburg, NY, and was named Association for Middle Level Educators' 2018 National Teacher of the Year. She leads professional development in Project-Based Learning, Danielson's Domains, and...