Education Opinion

Madaline Edison, Executive Director, Educators for Excellence Minnesota

By Sara Mead — May 15, 2014 7 min read
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Despite widespread agreement in education policy about the importance of teachers, the voices of teachers themselves are often excluded from debates about public policy. As executive director of Educators for Excellence Minnesota, Madaline Edison is one of a growing number of current and former teachers nationally who are working to change that. I first met Madaline when working on a strategic planning project for Educators for Excellence and was impressed by her commitment to education, her nuanced thinking about policy and teacher voice, her leadership skills, and her ability to successfully launch and lead a new Educators for Excellence chapter. A native of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Edison, 26, earned her bachelor’s degree from South Dakota State University and a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from Hamline University. She lives in Minneapolis, Minn., where she recently became a first-time homeowner.

What do you do as Executive Director of Educators for Excellence Minnesota?

As the founding Executive Director of Educators 4 Excellence Minnesota, I oversee a team of educators working towards the long-term goals of elevating the quality and prestige of the teaching profession and increasing student achievement. We do that by ensuring educators have a meaningful voice in the decisions that impact their classrooms and careers.

As I’m learning, the role of Executive Director encompasses an incredibly varied set of responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. It includes everything from fundraising to communications to coalition building to management and more.

The most exciting part is that I get to develop strategy for our team operations and programs - including engaging our growing base of local teachers, developing and implementing training programs for teacher leaders, providing oversight on the vision-setting and execution of the chapter’s local policy priorities, and leading teacher-driven advocacy campaigns to encourage implementation of these recommendations at the local and state level.

What are some of E4E Minnesota’s accomplishments?

One of the biggest accomplishments so far is actually our launch story. About two years ago, a group of Minnesota teachers got together in a grassroots way, informally calling ourselves E3MN. We wanted to start advocating for changes we thought would elevate our profession and increase educational equity, including better evaluation, stronger ELL resources, and more opportunities for professional growth.

When we learned about Educators 4 Excellence in New York, we reached out to ask about how to better organize teachers in our community. That developed into a partnership culminating this fall, when we officially became the third chapter of Educators 4 Excellence nationally. Since then, we have been quickly growing our capacity to raise the voices of Minnesota’s teachers to fight for changes we believe will help us be stronger in the classroom and raise student achievement.

We have since grown to a network of over 550 progressive teachers in the metro area and have worked on issues including early childhood education funding, the Minnesota DREAM Act, alternative pay structures, and teacher diversity.

What are some of the challenges you face?

The main challenges I face are shared challenges for all of us working to transform education. Namely, it can be easy to get frustrated when thinking about the massive system changes necessary to create better schools that will give all of our children opportunities. We’ve got to balance our rightful outrage with the patience it takes to do things right. And, as they say, organizing is slow, respectful work. In order to create and sustain positive change, we’ve got to instill people with a sense of possibility and empower them to lead. That’s a challenge I work on everyday.

Why/how did you come to work in education?

Though my mom has been a teacher for over 25 years, growing up I never dreamed I would become a teacher. In fact, I had this too cool attitude; thinking I’m going to pave my own path, and go my own way. But in college, three major influences changed my life trajectory.

First, I became an English major, so I got the opportunity to read and digest so many great American classics and reflect upon social movements over time. Reading and discussing work by Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison and others, I learned about the power of education, as well as the deep and pervasive effects of racism and oppression in our society.

At the same time, Barack Obama had just kicked off his presidential campaign. Like many young people at the time, I was moved to engage in politics for the first time. Through working on several campaigns during that and successive election cycles, I learned about the power of organizing.

Finally, I became a tutor with Upward Bound working with Native high school students in Flandreau, South Dakota. These students taught me so much, including how deeply inequitable the educational experiences were in my own backyard and also how absolutely possible it was for all students to learn and achieve.

These experiences combined helped me to realize that fundamentally, teaching is an act of social justice.

Why/how did you come to work with E4E? What do you see as the potential or value of engaging teachers in this way?

I was a kindergarten and first grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota before joining E4E. While I was teaching, two things quickly became clear.

One was that teachers felt largely left out of decisions made about their own profession. After talking with some veteran colleagues and teachers in other schools, they basically told me “get used to it, kid.” They could tell me all about issues with the system, policies that were misdirected or poorly implemented. Too often, teachers would confide in me, in the rush to implement the newest policy, curriculum, or decision to be handed down, teachers would be left out of the discussion about what would actually lead to better student outcomes. We felt more like subjects of change than agents of change.

The second thing that became apparent was that there were reasons to be abundantly hopeful that things could be different. Each day I got the chance to work alongside amazingly talented, dedicated professionals who wanted more for their students. Like many of my colleagues, my experiences with my students left me convinced that all students are capable, loveable, and infinitely full of potential. Furthermore, my experiences in of my classroom left me feeling determined to change the larger systems and structures that seemed to determine my students’ futures.

That’s why I’m convinced that empowering educators is one key to ensuring that all students get an excellent education. E4E provides an outlet for forward-thinking teachers to come together and promote positive, equity-based solutions for our students. We are building off of Minnesota’s well-established tradition of organizing to drive positive change in our community. We believe that when teachers become informed, learn from each other through networking, and take ownership over policy change and implementation, the divide between policy and practice can be bridged.

Who are some of your heroes/mentors/people you respect whose examples shape your work?

I deeply respect and admire the teacher leaders I have the fortune of working with through E4E. They change lives daily, including mine.

I also find tremendous inspiration in the parents and students who tirelessly fight to change systems of injustice and racism. I’m lucky to know many parent and student activists whom I learn from constantly.

It goes without saying that many of my personal heroes are organizers who live by the creed that Paul Wellstone frequently said, “we all do better when we all do better.”

What do you hope to be doing 5-10 years from now? What do you hope to have accomplished?

In the next decade, I hope I can say I was part of a community that succeeding in democratizing the way decisions are made in education so that teachers, parents, and students themselves actively shape decisions through a lens of equity and excellence.

In that time, I hope to see teachers transforming their profession into one that challenges and supports the capable adults in the system. They will inspire the next generation of civic leaders to change our country’s future by teaching.

I hope that in all of these shifts, we stay centered around the task of creating a system that realizes the inherent dignity, potential, and worth of all students. I believe that is the core of the work of my generation.

What interests do you have outside of work?

As a new homeowner with a 100+ year old home, I spend a lot of time fixing up my house. I like to volunteer on progressive campaigns. I enjoy a good brunch with friends. Last summer I traveled to Thailand for vacation and to visit the refugee camp where many of my former students grew up. The town of Mae Sot was a highlig

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.