Chicago VIVA Project Gives a Voice to Teachers
By Robert Schroeder
If the 2011 occupation of the Wisconsin state capitol building is any indication, civil discussion of education policy is, well, turning a bit uncivil.
Two long-time educators are opening an online forum for Chicago teachers with the goal of creating an interactive space for discussion, research and conversation designed to give teachers a voice in shaping educational policy. The Chicago VIVA (Voices Ideas Vision Action) Project launches today with a focus on how teachers can best use class time to improve student learning. National Louis University has been invited to participate as a research provider. National Louis University students and alumni teaching in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) are invited and encouraged to take a leading role in the discussions.
"Teachers are dying to be heard; all you have to do is ask them," said Elizabeth Evans, founding CEO of the VIVA Project. "If you give them a chance to engage with their colleagues, not surprisingly they will go the extra mile to solve the problems facing students."
The VIVA Project started as a demonstration project at the national level. Eight teachers were identified as leaders in the first online forums and were selected to meet with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in December 2010. The VIVA Project moved next to New York state, focusing on changes to teacher evaluation policies, and identified teacher leaders met with New York State Education Commissioner John King. In the Chicago version, discussion will revolve around the changing school day in CPS. CPS has agreed to participate in the initiative, and online teacher leaders from the Chicago project will meet with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.
"In education, [the discussion] is so polarized between boards of education and unions, and lost in the middle are teachers who care about students and the profession," said Cynthia Richards, vice president for new media with the VIVA Project. "[This is] an important bridge, a middle ground where real teachers can have a voice."
All CPS teachers are invited to participate in the project's first phase, an open exchange of ideas and conversations on the forums. In the second phase, the identified teacher leaders will form a small writing collaborative to create a final report for Brizard delivered in December. The collaborative will then meet with Brizard in a working session to discuss the report.
National Louis University will connect participating teachers with the latest research about best practices and learning, as well as provide them with helpful resources for The VIVA Project discussion.
"This is the perfect place for us to be because we have those relationships with teachers and the connection around the most recent research," said Tina Nolan, Ed.D., associate director of partnerships. "We can connect directly to research that support ideas and perhaps research that runs counter to their ideas so they can go back and think creatively, drawing on their everyday practice to come up with new ideas."
CPS teachers can begin participating in the VIVA project today by visiting the project website.