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Reflection leads to transformation for former union leader
posted by: Cindy Omlin | February 09, 2015, 03:07 PM   

brenda miller 2014 cropOnce upon a time I led the charge for traditional systems over education reform. I was a staunch supporter and advocate of the status quo. I'll never forget a persuasive speech I gave during my undergraduate studies; the tone was that of an idealistic individual who would never have considered the idea that parent and student choice played a valuable role in the discussion. My kids' schools where functioning just fine, and what was good for teachers was good for families and students.

In my mind there was no discussion at all if it meant reform efforts diverted money and attention from the institution of traditional district education. This mindset carried me through many years as an active participant in Idaho's education conversation. During my role as a parent, classroom volunteer, Idaho PTA president, teacher, union member and leader, that voice remained confident.

What would cause such a strong advocate's mindset clinging to the status quo to shift? A simple yet powerful thing called reflection. As my own children entered junior high and high school, I began to look at their education through a different lens. What I saw was a one-size-fits-all mentality that no longer met their needs or my expectations.

Teachers became less accommodating to their diverse interests and academic needs. I began to hear things like "that won't work" or "we can't do that" repeated in decision-making meetings and other collaborative settings. And worst of all, I saw my kids begin to lose interest in school.

As a parent this aggravated me, but as an educator I became increasingly astonished that other professionals could so easily dismiss even the smallest change or innovative idea that might help a child succeed. After all, isn't that what being a teacher is all about?

Having been a part of the traditional education community for so long, the shift didn't occur overnight. With any good decision, one should weigh the pros and cons. My list was long and would have made for a great debate among education advocates. But this decision was a deeply personal one. That reflection caused the shift that changed not only my opinions about school choice, but also the school my youngest child graduated from and my decision to teach at a public charter school.

In turn that career decision revealed where the union's allegiances truly lie. When I was no longer an instrument of recruitment and they had no power of negotiation, my membership no longer mattered. The final shift occurred when I left the union and became a member and leader in a professional nonunion teacher association that supports teachers in all education settings, Northwest Professional Educators.

I now understand that choice options are serving teachers and students alike. Whether it is a public charter school, blended learning model or innovative district school, students and teachers are making choices that reflect individual needs. Options and innovation in education should be embraced as the wave of the future.

This story is not over; my reflection continues with a new mission, as an education leader who wants to see all students and families have access to high-quality schools that meet their unique needs and provide teachers an opportunity to be supported by an association of choice that respects them and their profession wherever they teach.

Education is about progress, freedom of information and the exchange of ideas. Observing National School Choice Week, today through Saturday, reminds us we must start a conversation about adapting to serve the needs of communities.

--Brenda Miller is regional director for Northwest Professional Educators, Idaho's nonunion choice for educators. She is a former charter school educator, Idaho PTA president, and Idaho Education Association student chapter leader.


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