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Traveling a New Path to Learn About Education

By David B. Cohen — September 22, 2014 4 min read

Welcome to Road Trips In Education! This new blog at Ed Week Teacher takes its name from my new ventures during a temporary break from a 20-year teaching career. I’m spending most of this academic year visiting teachers and schools throughout California—to learn from them, and to bring attention to some of the exciting work people do daily and usually without notice beyond their communities. I won’t focus extensively on my day-to-day visits and travels, but this blog will certainly be informed by my opportunities to talk with teachers at their schools throughout the year. My main goal in this space is to make connections between policy and practice, for the benefit of readers who spend most of their time focused on one or the other.

It was a strange feeling, grading that last final exam back in May, and knowing that instead of heading into summer break I was veering onto another course entirely. Usually, that moment offers a kind of relief that’s hard to describe. Maybe it’s similar to finishing a marathon, or an ultramarathon. But last May, I had a sense of shifting from one race into another, without knowing exactly what I was getting into.

After several years of working in teacher leadership efforts, especially as associate director of Accomplished California Teachers (ACT), I had developed a sustained interest in visiting schools to observe and learn from many of the teachers I had come to know. In the time that ACT was up and running as a project at the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, we did some work I’m quite proud of, involving teachers from all over the state. We produced policy reports providing teacher viewpoints and recommendations regarding teacher evaluation (2010), and compensation and career pathways (2012). These reports had some influence on legislative analyses, state reports on the teaching profession, school boards and other education organizations. We also organized events that helped teacher leaders network with one another, growing our sense of connectedness and our ability to share resources that supported local leadership activities. Some of our members participated in or helped create leadership opportunities in their districts or teachers associations, and some played significant roles in state-level work establishing goals for improving the teaching profession.

Ultimately, despite all of the challenges in California public education today, I’ve emerged from these years with a sense of optimism. I know that we have many fantastic teachers and effective schools in our state. There’s much more we can do to support them, and help remove the barriers to greater success in our schools; still, I think the critical mass of people and creativity is there to build on our strengths. While the education reform debates tilt back and forth in board rooms, the legislature, and the courts, there are dedicated and innovative people doing outstanding work every day, essentially unknown and invisible to most of us. I wanted to make some small contribution to changing that situation, making good teaching more visible.

Actually, the first iteration of this idea goes back a few more years, and involved a fantasy road trip all the way around the country. I had this curiousity about Cleveland, MS - the home of teacher-leader (and blogger) Renee Moore. I’ve admired Renee for as long as I’ve known about her, but we’ve only met in person in Washington, D.C. Then I realized a road trip to Mississippi might give me the chance along the way to drop in on some other teacher leaders I’ve known online or from conferences. I could plan stops in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. And if I were to drive as far as Mississippi, why not make a few more stops across the South, turn left at the Atlantic, and go see Bill Ferriter in North Carolina? You get the idea: north to New York at least, maybe even Maine, and then westward again, taking a northern route all the way to Seattle, left at the Pacific, and back down to my home in Palo Alto.

After a few years of holding on to this dream and only telling my wife about it, I scaled it down to California, and finally started sharing it among a few friends, and then with a few people whose opinions I valued and who might have a more objective take on the idea. It wasn’t quite an obsession, but I kept looking into the practical and logistical questions involved in this undertaking. Finally, I sent an email to about sixty educators around the state, and had a quick, enthusiastic response from about half of them within hours. I made up my mind to take the leap, take a one-year leave from teaching, and take my interest in education out on the road. I look forward to sharing the journey - actual and metaphorical - with Ed Week readers.

Photo credits: David B. Cohen

In one year, I hope you’ll be able to read my book about the whole experience. To ensure the viability of the overall project - all the way from the first tank of gas to the final step in publishing - I’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign. I invite you to visit the Kickstarter page to see a video about the project and read more of the details. Feel free to share widely if you like the idea, too! (Note that Education Week is in no way affiliated with with the Kickstarter campaign.)

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The opinions expressed in Road Trips in Education 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.

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