I am lucky.

As these final days of summer tick away, I find myself, like many teachers, preparing to return to my classroom: reviewing curriculum, revamping lessons, and revving my recharged engines. However, I’m not doing this on my own. I have the fortune of working in a collaborative, creative environment with teachers from around the Portland Metro area who have come together with the sole intent of creating engaging curriculum that supports emerging writers.

Sounds great, right?

I started attending the Oregon Writing Project’s weeklong curriculum camps about seven years ago when my district brought them in to work with my department. Though the grant money funding this work eventually went away, I have continued to work with OWP, first as a student and now as a coach. I have continued because here I feel supported and trusted. Here teachers rely on each other and trust each other’s expertise. Here we work on dynamic, relevant curriculum based on our knowledge of students instead of a prescribed, “fix-all” method.

Trusting teachers works.  It’s amazing what happens when you put teachers in this kind of an environment. They flourish. They thrive. They dig in and do the work. They evaluate their own practice and look at old curriculum with fresh eyes. They create the kind of curriculum textbook companies cannot because teachers know the specific needs of the community in which they work.

Some teachers are fortunate enough to work in districts where administrators celebrate this kind of work. For example, for the past two summers I have had the opportunity to coach in curriculum camps in districts just south of Portland where for the past four years, administrators have supported this teacher-centered approach to curriculum development through funding, resources, and encouragement. What I witnessed is nothing short of inspiring: teachers coming together knowing that they are trusted to make the best curriculum choices for their students. At the end of each week of positive, dedicated work, these teachers produced complete units designed to not only meet standards, but to challenge and engage students.

Unfortunately, there are many district leaders who don’t put this kind of trust in their teachers. Instead they place faith in those focused on profit rather than on student need, bringing in companies that sell patented, “revolutionary” methods at top dollar. They worry more about holding teachers accountable than how to best support them. They only hear the voices that are screaming the loudest, those coming from salesmen, politicians, and the media.

What these administrators may not realize is that when the support is there, when teachers are truly empowered to create a dynamic classroom, all of those things they feel we need to be held accountable for—test scores, student engagement, etc. —fall into place. Teachers, and subsequently students, take ownership of the classroom and learning.

Instead what we often see is teachers, faced with shoddy professional development or curriculum mandates they see as detrimental to students, suffering through, smiling and nodding, and then closing the classroom door and teaching the way they see fit. It is a survival technique that comes from a system in which teachers feel they have no voice. However, we need to feel empowered to affect the sphere outside of our classroom and advocate for ourselves and our students. We need to understand that if we don’t advocate for meaningful professional and curriculum development, the only voices our district leaders will hear are the politicians who damn us and the salesmen looking to profit from our students. We need to be the ones to seek opportunity, write proposals, and advocate for what we know is best, working towards a system where we don’t feel the need to close our doors or feel lucky when a good bit of professional development comes our way, but where we make our own luck and work for the resources that will create the kind of classrooms our students deserve.

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