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Teachers defining what they need and contributing to solutions

Guest Blogger: Vicki Phillips, Director of College-Ready Education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
As I’ve discussed in previous posts, one of the Gates Foundation’s most pressing priorities is to remove the obstacles that impede quality teaching and learning.
The College Ready team and I spend lots of time visiting schools, listening to teachers, and discussing with them potential solutions and innovations that will allow them to be successful.
Some of their needs are immediate and pressing: classroom libraries, science equipment, online programs, resources that allow for field studies, and sometimes even just a solid supply of paper and pencils. Too often, teachers spend their own money to address these basic issues.
As Bill discusses in his recent blog post, this is where we all can help. Organizations such as DonorsChoose.org allow us all to give a small donation to impact student engagement and learning. Imagine: What would happen if on the first day of school, each one of us connects with a teacher to give a small donation to a project of her choice? It would be small gesture that could make a big difference.
Most often in our conversations with teachers, they talk about the larger systemic issues that impact their classroom—whether it is more time for professional learning, planning and collaboration, new ways to assess students in real time, or better technology tools to meet student learning needs. Their input is critical to shaping the College Ready team’s strategies and helps us collectively evolve in our thinking and approaches.
School visits and informal teacher conversations are just one avenue for teacher input. We have been focused and intentional about hearing directly from teachers in ways that are as unbiased and objective as possible.
Surveys such as Scholastic’s Primary Sources are informing the next steps and areas of support for Common Core implementation. While interviews and surveys with more than 3,000 teachers, detailed in Teachers Know Best, are helping to shape our investments in innovation and technology.
Teachers also play a formal advisory role to our team as part of the Teacher Advisory Council (TAC). The TAC teachers serve a two-year term and meet with us twice per year. Our new TAC team just kicked off for 2014-2016, and I couldn’t be more excited about the teachers who are working with us.
We will be tackling some important issues with TAC over the next several years and rely on them to advise, critique, and inform our work. Their expertise and insights will help us—and all of the partners and schools we work—go after some of seemingly intractable obstacles that are blocking effective teaching and learning.

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