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Teachers Know Best: Reflections from the Gates US Education Forum

At the Gates US Education Learning Forum last week, I found myself amidst education leaders from nonprofits, advocacy groups, and schools. The conversation focused on the Gates Foundation’s priorities for their Early Learning, College Readiness, and Post-Secondary Divisions. Attendees were encouraged to collaborate and exchange ideas. Despite inspiring talks from Ted Mitchell of the US Department of Education, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Gates Foundation US Program President Allan Golston, I learned the most from the teachers in attendance.
The DonorsChoose.org model empowers and supports teachers directly, and we believe wholeheartedly that teachers know best what their students need to succeed. Here’s what three extraordinary teachers taught me this week:
Cecily Woodard shared the importance of giving teachers the opportunity to connect with one another both within and outside of their own districts. Innovations and new teaching techniques don’t always find their way across the education system through traditional channels, so direct teacher-to-teacher conversation is essential. Cicely uses Facebook and Twitter to connect with fellow teachers and attends conferences whenever she can.
Tara Smith reinforced the power of inspiration. She described honestly her internal struggle at the end of every school year: should she stay in the classroom? With days that would be trying for the toughest among us, teaching can be a very lonely profession. Tara turns to conferences, other teachers, and quotes (see below) to stay the course in the face of ongoing challenges.

Rachel Lawrence described the need for new content and formats for teacher development. Leading philosophies like design thinking and techniques for personalized learning sometimes don’t make it to educators in the classroom, and—as a result—teachers lose the chance to stretch themselves in new ways. Just as the Common Core recommends a combination of texts to support student literacy and comprehension, so should we diversify the types of professional development we offer to teachers.
Cecily, Tara, Rachel, and all of you—our DonorsChoose.org teachers—inspire me every day. Just as you continue to go above and beyond for your students, we’ll continue in our quest to go above and beyond for you.
Shout out to the Gates Foundation teacher2teacher network.

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