What's the Plus?
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What's the Plus?

We’re All In This Together

By Francis Pina

High School Musical is right, “We’re all in this together.” We as educators need to recognize and own that. In my career, I’ve taught at a charter school in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and currently work at a public high school in the city’s Charlestown neighborhood, and I know that the time for cross-sector collaboration is now. The vast majority of Boston’s elementary and secondary students are beginning the new school year in a public, charter or catholic classroom. Many of them share the same neighborhoods and experiences as their peers. Shouldn’t we be looking at each other as collaborators in our students’ success?

In November 2016, Question 2, a ballot initiative to authorize charter school or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools in Massachusetts, underscored the toxic relationship between the charter and public school sectors in our state. The ballot was voted down, but what the public failed to realize was that many of my charter school colleagues also voted no. Teachers’ concerns about appropriate funding, family displacement, student trauma, and immigration issues are mutual and cross all sectors. We have allowed the rhetoric of ‘unions backing terrible teachers’ and ‘charters being for-profit’ overshadow the fact that there are many teachers in every sector doing amazing work for all of our students. We have allowed ourselves to be blind to the successes of teachers across sectors who have earned National Board Teacher Certification, State Teacher of the Year, and National Teacher of the Year, instead of looking to those teachers for strategies on how their work has helped students. Teachers are the most important factor in student achievement. We need to get to know each other and take advantage of opportunities to collaborate because quite a few of us got into our sectors for the same reason: we wanted to help kids succeed.

Over my last five years of teaching, I have found myself teaching more students, having more classes, and joining a larger network of teachers. I took the skills and some best practices I learned and honed in my charter classroom, and scaled them to the bigger classroom in my current high school; I believe that by doing that, I was fulfilling the original intent of a charter school. While my teaching context changed, my students did not: The majority of my students were still Black or Latino, came from the same neighborhoods, and had the same challenges in my math classroom. That is what made conversations and collaboration with my former colleagues so helpful: we understood each other. I saw this in my work with The Better Math Teaching Network where I learned about structured math talk protocols and learned more impactful ways to teach functions and question student understanding. I saw this in my work with Teach Plus’ Commonwealth Policy Fellowship and its collaborative initiative with The Boston Foundation to form the Boston EDX Fellowship where I learned effective teaching practices directly from students, teachers, parents, and administrators from across the sectors. I witnessed this through events like The Boston EdTalks and the EdVestors Showcase where I first learned about competency-based grading and Do It Yourself (DIY) Coaching. The more I collaborate, the more best practices I learn, the more I respect that sector.

If my ask for teachers across the sectors is to collaborate, then my ask for the non-profits and education organizations in Massachusetts is to continue to create more platforms for that collaboration, and for the unions to extend the olive branch and invite teachers from public, charter, and catholic schools to be a part of a joint professional development initiative like EdCamp. The Boston Teachers Union has done this when they welcomed three of the City on the Hill charter schools to join the union this past spring. I have learned so much from all teachers, whether it be resources or classroom practices, and have met teachers who represent our profession at its best. I believe Boston is in a position to not only recognize the quality of teaching across the sectors, but to put politics aside and put what is most important first: our children.

Francis Pina, a Boston Public Schools (BPS) alum, teaches integrated math 1 and 2 at Charlestown High School in BPS. He is an alum of the Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellowship and a Fellow with the Boston EDX Fellowship.

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