Like many of you, probably, my exposure to the world of Olympia extended as far as Facebook friending my legislators and a viewing of “I’m Just a Bill” when I was a young tyke.
Despite having friends who worked in government, the whole system seemed foreign and out of reach. That is, until I found the opportunity to work on refining the language of a bill and watch its movement through Olympia: House Bill 1345. Through work on a policy team with Teachers United, I investigated and drew conclusions about what makes good professional learning, or professional development.
When our team looked into past Olympia sessions, we found out that one of Washington’s representatives had tried to pass a bill defining professional learning for educators in the 2013-2014 session. Here’s where my actions changed. Instead of saying “huh, that’s interesting”, I said “why don’t we contact her legislative assistant and find out if you she wants to talk about the bill and where it stands for the coming session?” Suddenly, the flood gates opened. Our team of teachers got to provide feedback and re-craft the language of the bill. Some of us got to testify to the House and Senate education committees in support of the bill. All of us got to actively participate in our government and use our teacher voice!
Because get this… Legislators are super interested in what real, living and breathing teachers have to say. Why it took me this long to figure that out astounds me.
Have a Conversation. Build a Relationship.
It goes without saying, except that I’m going to say it, that you should reach out to any stakeholder in your professional world. When you reach out, aim to have a conversation. Learn from them about their needs and wants while sharing your needs and wants. Depending on the stakeholder, it’ll be refreshing for them to hear from someone who doesn’t want to just ask, ask, ask. I’m glad someone recommended early on that you might even save your wants and asks until a second or third meeting.
Be Prepared to Wait…and See Defeat
Last year was the first time that I tracked a bill from inception to its final stage. I tuned into the committee votes like it was a new episode of Scandal (OMG! Can you believe Olivia and #spoileralert?). Sadly, it ended with my bill dying in committee. The 2014-2015 session was intense when it came to education and parties, and our little bill got kind of caught up in that tension. After attending a CSTP Advocacy workshop in July 2015, I learned that bills aren’t built in one year. They take several years, discussions, and iterations often to find success. So, here is the 2015-2016 and our bill is already passed out of the House and had a hearing in the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee, based upon all the groundwork from the previous years. I wait, hoping that 2015-2016 will be the Year of Professional Learning.
Defining Professional Learning
Wondering what exactly HB1345 is about? HB1345 sets to define professional learning for all educators in Washington State. As defined in the bill, professional learning should be:
- Comprehensive, job-embedded, and collaborative
- On-going and measurable
- Differentiated, sustained, and evidence-based
- Meet known needs of students and teachers, using data
- Continually assessed for success and changes
- Employ experts, in and outside the school
Having clear definitions will help all of us hold each other accountable to make sure that our professional learning seeks to help students and teachers grow and succeed.