nOne of the challenges we face in Tennessee moving forward is the need to further develop and align the education-to-career pipeline.  Governor-elect Bill Lee probably expressed this better than any candidate on the campaign trail, and his potential as governor in this arena offers great hope for a brighter future for Tennessee.   The objective is clear:  we must prepare students for the demands of the modern workforce.  This will require targeted strategies in our schools to help ensure every child has an opportunity for success.

The Tennessee State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) did a good analysis of Postsecondary and Career Readiness in Tennessee with their study:  Educating the Workforce of Tomorrow.  As they point out a “rapidly changing economy requires urgent focus on student postsecondary and career readiness, with greater intensity than ever before.”  This is where Governor Lee can make his greatest impact in education and future economic growth of the state.   He has pledged to “establish a seamless path between our school districts, community and technical colleges, four-year colleges and universities, and local industry to empower students with the real-world skills they need to get a great job once they graduate.” 

Lee has stated that “Coding, mechatronics, logistics, and computer science will become fundamental skills for the modern workforce and I will ensure every student has access to coursework in these areas by investing in the technology, materials, and instruction to get our students the opportunity they deserve.”   This means that we must continually reimagine what education looks like for our students.  And as Governor, Bill Lee will work to make that a high priority.  This is exciting news for educators, who have seen constant change yet understand that we are transforming our schools to the next generation. 

The state has started trending this way, especially in some communities in the state.  Lyle Ailshie, the current acting Commissioner of Education, began his work on high school redesign as a Superintendent in Kingsport.  He received national recognition for his effort.   In Maury County, Dr. Ryan Jackson, principal of Mount Pleasant High School, is also garnering much national attention for his work with STEAM initiatives, dual enrollment and dual credit opportunities and is a champion for the school’s and the district’s Project-Based Learning curriculum.

It is likely that many communities in the state will move toward these flexible school models to support new opportunities for career and technical education, work-based learning and apprenticeships, and dual-enrollment courses for students preparing for their career.  The future is bright in Tennessee.  Let’s make our state the envy of the nation. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

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A new year is a time for reflection and more importantly a time for hope.  We will see a momentous change in state and federal government.  If anything is certain, it is that leadership matters, now more than ever.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.

We know that leadership is not a position or a title, it is action and example.  However, that caveat comes with this admonishment: “In order to lead, you have to know what you believe,” according to my mother, Linda Bowman-Lawhorn. 

The federal government is likely to remain as divisive as ever.  In Tennessee, we have some exceptional leaders representing our state in Washington, DC.   However, our federal government is dysfunctional, and has been for a number of years.   Partisanship has become an extreme contact sport in our nation’s capital.  That is why states best serve as the laboratories of democracy for our nation.          

Limited government, individual freedom, traditional values are likely to remain priorities in state government during the Lee Administration and the 111th Tennessee General Assembly which convenes on January 8th, 2019.  The challenge for leaders will be practical and innovative approaches to complex problems.   That may require we change the way people think about issues, and promote policies that allow and encourage individuals and institutions to succeed. The state has probably never had this much turnover in leadership and some people are justifiably concerned.  However, I see that as an opportunity for leaders to thrive and make the greatest difference on behalf of our citizens.  

In education we will need leaders from the Tennessee Department of Education, every local education agency and in each classroom that are tenacious in creating a world of opportunities for every learner. We must remember that our individual actions can positively (or negatively) impact the life of children in this state.  The success or failure of the next generation of education leaders will mean real changes in the lives of students and their families.  We must make the world better than the one we inherited.

Policymakers and stakeholders must collaborate to the greatest extent possible to ensure that our students succeed, and that our educators get the resources they need with the compensation and respect they deserve.  Today’s children are tomorrow’s future, and education is a proven path to upward mobility for all students. 

Embrace 2019 with zeal and enthusiasm.  It can be a year full of potential.  We have an opportunity to renew our belief in our fellow citizens and set a new course in Tennessee that our fellow Americans can seek to emulate.  It will require ethical leadership and tireless advocacy for issues that you care about, but the promise of a new year brings the best hope for mankind.  The future is yet to be written.  Let freedom ring across our state and nation. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

Humans are not designed to live alone.  We are by nature designed to live together in community to reach our full potential.  English poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.”   Our actions can influence everyone around us.  Lasting relationships are perhaps the key to a happy life.  It is one of the benefits of education and school as we meet and become friends with people.  Many of those friendships are lifelong relationships which can forever change your life.

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan.  I was member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds.” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.   It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced.  Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends.  I had just turned twenty years old.  And I was never more miserable in my life.

Fast forward 35 years, I am now a father and grandfather.  In the time since my days in the Marine Corps, I married my wife (whom I met in Junior High).  I have worked as a middle and high school teacher, worked for a governor and been a part of university and several think tanks and owned my own business.  There is no physical gift in the world that means more than me than actually being with my family.  No job or gift or experience matches that of grandchild yelling “Pappy” as they fly into my arms. The best gifts in life are never the ones you will find under a tree. 

Focus on your relationships.  Relationships develop when people spend time together.  Whether it is with friends or family, it is how you get to know people and how you become known to others.  Faith is also a relationship.  There remains hope for all of us.  It is never too late to change in life, until life is gone.   

Build relationships with those around you. Those relationships will bring more love to the world. Our self-worth is built in who we are in those relationships, not what we can accomplish in an occupation.  Good relationships are based on respect.  If you give up on people, you could miss out on something extraordinary. Never give up.  Live in the moment.  This Christmas give the gift of yourself to others.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

I have never shied away from sharing my Christian faith, as imperfect as it is.  I view faith as something personal, but appropriate to share with others, as long as someone is not compelled or required to conform to as a condition for employment or citizenship. We do not have a national religion, but we are still a nation that values belief in God.       

For educators, Christmas marks the half-way point in the year.  When school returns it will be a new year:  2019.   Educators will spend a few days at home with their own family at Christmas.  It may afford them an opportunity to catch up on reading as well as a chance to finish some personal chores left untended since school started.  Christmas is a special time for family, friends and faith. 

Christmas Day is one day a year we set aside to thank God for the gift of His son.  We must all eventually ponder the meaning of the life and death of a teacher from Nazareth, Jesus Christ. For those of a different faith or even no faith, it is also an opportunity to partake in the goodwill of friends and neighbors, who may be Christian.  This time of the year should reflect the best of mankind. For Christians there are five things to consider:

  1. Miracles.  We can claim Jesus is the reason for the season, but the truth is we get lost in the busyness of the holiday.  So, it is through childlike wonder we must remember a tiny baby in a manger born in Bethlehem.  And while we fully engage in myriad of events, we do not lose focus on this miracle of Jesus Christ living among us.  He is the one and only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
  2. Message.  The hopeful message of Christmas is that we are not alone.  God so loved the world that he sent His son Jesus Christ into a world of sin to restore the brokenness between God and Man.  His gift of love is better than any gift found under a tree.    
  3. Meaning.  Without Jesus birth, His death could never have happened.  Jesus’ death made possible the forgiveness of sins, which in turn enables us to look forward to living and reigning with Christ in the Kingdom of God.
  4. Mission.  Our mission is to serve others, in love, and with grace.  As Eugene Peterson wrote: “Christian spirituality means living into the mature wholeness of the gospel. It means taking all the elements of your life—children, spouse, job, weather, possessions, relationships—and experiencing them as an act of faith.”
  5. Ministry.  Ministry is more than just work done by clergy. The Greek word in the New Testament that is often translated as “ministry” is diakonia. The basic meaning of this word is “service.” The ultimate example of ministry is Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus of his own free will gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant. He became like a human being and appeared in human likeness. His entire life on earth, and ultimately His death on the cross, was about others.  Ministry means to serve.   

Live life by those beliefs and values. Love God. Love each other. Love the world. Love the least. Make disciples of others.  When we lose ourselves in the service of others, we discover our own lives.  Mother Teresa said: “Give your hands to serve, and your hearts to love.”  That is the path forward for faith, and the “riveting, redemptive, and revolutionary story of God, who left His home to bring us home, and more profoundly, to make us His home” added Nathan Edwardson. 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He is a lifelong educator.

JC Bowman 1983

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. I was member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds,” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.   It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced. Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends.  I had just turned twenty years old.  Life is a cruel teacher. And I learned my lessons.   

Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. The Veterans Administration reports that an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. People who commit suicide often do not consider the emotional consequences for survivors, their families and friends. For depressed people, the holidays can be particularly difficult.   We experience added stress, loneliness and reminders of those we have loved and lost. If you have thoughts of suicide please get help immediately, or call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1–800–273–TALK (8255),24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When you next find yourself in need of help, please ask someone.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee

There is a growing focus on education choice across the United States, especially here in Tennessee. When you discuss parent choice, everybody immediately thinks of vouchers. Vouchers are only one form of choice. When you discuss school choice, the debate is unfairly focused between public and private. Terminology is constantly changing and evolving, and the words themselves create unnecessary conflict. Before we step further into the debate, I think there is one choice that is being ignored as an option: open enrollment or voluntary public school choice.

We must expand open enrollment policies in our public school districts. There are two primary types of open enrollment policies: 1) Intra-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools within their home districts. 2) Inter-district enrollment policies, where students may transfer to schools outside of their home districts. Both are forms of choice.

Currently, Tennessee has voluntary intra-district and inter-district open enrollment policies. That may need to change, if districts do not get more aggressive in championing parental options in public education. Hopefully, that will be led by district leaders or school boards across the state. We need to make open enrollment a high priority.

Today, our workforce is highly mobile. Many adults no longer work in the community they reside. This is very clear in Middle Tennessee, which is exploding with population growth with more on the way. If we want parents involved in their child’s education, it would only make sense that public school options become more convenient for the adult who then often provides the transportation.

Currently, open enrollment policies may be either mandatory or voluntary. Under mandatory programs, districts must allow for open enrollment. Under voluntary programs, districts may choose whether to allow for open enrollment. It is easy to see that the direction by the state will be to move from voluntary to mandatory, if districts do not adopt open enrollment policies or do a better job of highlighting voluntary public school choice.

Questions that policymakers and the media should ask: 1) What districts in Tennessee allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 2) What districts in Tennessee do not allow students to transfer to schools within their home districts? 3) What districts in Tennessee accept students transferring to schools outside of their home district?

As the focus on education choice is elevated by Governor-elect Bill Lee, maybe the easiest place to find initial consensus is with open enrollment. Mandatory open enrollment policies will likely be promoted by the state. This could either be accomplished by funding, new legislation, or districts adopting new policies. Intra-district and Inter-district open enrollment policies must be on the table, when the subject of education choice is discussed. The message is that public schools are the best option for parents. Parents should be able to trust public schools to educate all children to the best of their ability.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

We know psychologically that there is a connection between feeling of self-worth and actions.  When teachers lose hope in their career, eventually they change the direction of their own future and in turn it impacts the future of our children.  If you are an educator or have friends who are educators, you have undoubtedly discussed teacher morale in public education and thoughts on the future of education.  Sadly, those thoughts were most likely negative.  Educators who enter the field are often bright-eyed, confident, and enthusiastic.  Teacher turnover is continuing to climb higher, yet those entering the field is going lower. What happened?  That is the problem we must solve.

Teacher turnover holds back our schools and our students.  How do you improve morale?  It will take multiple strategies, which differ from community to community, district to district, school to school.  Let’s look at four of the most prominent issues:  educator compensation, lack of respect for educators, testing and out of control students.

Educator Compensation.  Compensation is everything that is provided to the educator for their services. Compensation alone will not impact teacher morale.   Governor Bill Haslam made teacher salaries a priority, and should be recognized for his efforts.  It is debatable if dollars allocated for salary increases reached all classroom teachers.  This may be attributed to district implemented pay plans. Educators should be involved in the development of those plans. Governor-elect Bill Lee indicated he intends to develop a pipeline of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession. This will likely include incentive compensation programs, together with stipends, and associated benefits that are based on professional employee performance that exceeds expectations.  Compensation can also be used to aid in hiring, and/or retaining highly qualified teachers for hard-to-staff schools and subject areas.

Lack of Respect for Educators.  Teaching, a profession once held in high esteem, is being de-valued both by stakeholders and policymakers for a variety of reasons. Teachers, who are on the frontlines of parental dissatisfaction with the system, are often made scapegoats by people who have lost trust in the system. This lack of respect is reflected by lack of parental support and engagement.  In fairness, some parents are supportive and work with educators to help ensure their children get the best possible education.  Yet more often than not, parents simply blame the teacher for the problems at school.  But even more than that, teachers often lack the support of their administrators, district, and even the state.  Bureaucrats keep piling on more requirements of educators with barely a nod of appreciation.  Teachers, above all other professions, deserve the recognition and gratitude of a job well-done.  Doing so on a regular basis will be a small step toward improving the teacher turnover rate.

Testing.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Nobody would object to testing that benefits the teaching and learning process of students.  As it stands currently, the data is not received in a timely manner and the results yield little or no benefit to the students.  Educators would welcome a robust, practical solution to current assessment issues. A portfolio-based assessment model is also problematic.  However, it may be a preferred model of student evaluation if it is not too time-consuming.  It is based on a wide range of student work done over a long period of time, rather than on a single, paper-and-pencil test taken over a few hours.  We must work to ensure that our assessments and the subsequent results are empowering and informing without being a time drain.  Assessments should not inhibit quality instruction but provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. Most importantly, assessments should be not used a punitive measure against teachers.

Out of Control Students.  Effective educators consider the root causes of misbehavior and develop appropriate solutions on a consistent, ongoing basis.  However, some students need attention and intervention beyond the scope of what a classroom teacher can provide.  It is imperative that a school and district adopt policies that support effective classroom management, as well as student instruction for all students.  One possible policy has to be a better tracking of the time an educator has to spend on discipline issues.  Do parents have the right to know, for example, if one student disrupts their own child’s education so frequently, they lose instruction time?  School districts must balance their responsibilities toward the community with the responsibility to nurture students.  Without discipline, students cannot learn.  Students themselves must respect rules and authority regardless of underlying disabilities/issues.  Districts must have policies in place that protect all students’ right to learn.

There is no one size fits all strategy that will work in every school or district.  This is a recurring theme among those who believe in local control in public education.  Together, we can work to address teacher morale issues.  Once a plan is in place, it is very important to examine, evaluate, and adjust as necessary.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.

Running Towards Eternity

We all have a limited amount of time, unfortunately too many people waste it.   Once it is gone, it is gone.  Time is one thing we can never get it back.  We will make time for what is important to us.  So, the best gift you can give someone is your time.  This Christmas Season find time for those in your life. —JC Bowman

Bill Lee

I am excited about the future of public education in Tennessee.  Many critics like to point out some of the shortcomings of our system, and rightly so.  A one size fits all system does not work for everyone.  It never has, and never will.  The system will continue to evolve, albeit slowly, and adjustments will always be needed.  We should welcome debate on public education, which remains our greatest priority.

In order to attract and keep industries and business that we need for a global economy, we must build and develop a quality workforce.  A quality education system ultimately provides economic mobility for all of our citizens.  It is imperative that taxpayers understand that education is an investment for our state’s future, not merely an expense to bear.  It is also a constitutional requirement in our state.

As a businessman, Governor-elect Bill Lee understands that higher salaries will encourage more people to join the teaching profession and hopefully entice current educators to remain in the field, resulting in better outcomes for Tennessee students.  Lee has stated his three major priorities: 1) Getting our students ready to enter the workforce; 2) Strengthening the foundations of a quality system; and 3) Encouraging innovation.  It is a K12 education agenda we should embrace.

Tennessee’s business community has expressed increased concerned about workforce development. In the future, people with solid, transferable skills that are open to continued learning will be critical for our workforce.   To get our students ready for the workforce we must better link state and local efforts for economic development and job creation.  This will also necessitate expanding post-secondary vocational training. Many occupations are developed through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. That does not always mean expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.  In high school, Tennessee may want to consider giving students the option to use the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate examination, rather than the ACT/SAT in the 11th grade year.

Strengthening the foundations of our public-school system, begins with support for local control of public education.  It is also critical to look at how we fund our schools.  The methodology we use to fund our schools has constantly been litigated by school districts.  These lawsuits prove we must incorporate and take into consideration the dramatically different cost of living and doing business in different counties across the state. We must update our school funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs.  At the state level we have to improve the teacher pipeline.  This means we must identify and develop a community of well-trained, highly compensated educators who can flourish in the teaching profession.  Any investment we make in education must be high quality, and position our children for success in the classroom, career and life.  We have much work to do.

We need our new Governor, our new Commissioner and our new Tennessee General Assembly to listen to educators and continue to champion innovation in public education. Educators want that chance to be inventive, and they understand the need to challenge the status quo.  The testing culture has killed the enthusiasm of many educators.  Although we need testing to measure the progress of our students, we should recognize these tests are often unreliable in evaluating teachers and schools. We should pursue reliable standardized tests that provide accurate feedback for educators, parents, and students. No single test should be a determinant of a student’s, teacher’s or school’s success. True measurement of progress should instead consist of several benchmarks, not just testing.

We must also break down the bureaucratic barriers that have kept educators and school districts from pursuing solutions to the unique challenges of their communities.  Governor-elect Lee has promised to “pilot innovative approaches that encourage our schools and their communities to work together and design solutions without bureaucratic hurdles.”  That is a wise strategy to pursue.   Lee, like many other business and community leaders, understands that the solutions to many problems we face in our hinge on a quality public education system.   Our future depends on that success. Let’s all work to make that happen.

JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multi-million-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education re-imagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.

To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

Dream On

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.