Teaching materials

Tennessee joins campaign to #GoOpen with educational resources

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Tennessee is one of 18 states exploring the use of free digital materials to replace textbooks.

Tennessee is joining 18 other states recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its commitment to offering free online educational resources in schools, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Thursday.

As a #GoOpen state, Tennessee will provide educators with access to a large collection of high-quality digital teaching and professional development resources that easily can be used and shared. Rather than relying on physical textbooks, teachers can mix and match openly licensed materials found online and vetted for accurate, age-appropriate content.

“Tennessee is excited to join the #GoOpen movement to improve learning outcomes for our students by providing educators with high-quality educational resources,” McQueen said in a statement. “Tennessee is committed to personalizing instruction for all students, and the role of digital content through #GoOpen is an important part of our strategy.”

President Barack Obama’s administration touts the #GoOpen movement as a tool for equity, allowing all schools to have high-quality resources regardless of wealth. It’s unclear how the effort will be impacted under the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, who has vowed to cut back on federal education initiatives.

Tennessee is embracing digital content. The State Department of Education recently launched a pilot program making free digital lessons for Algebra I and Integrated Math available to Tennessee educators. And earlier this year, districts in Bristol and Tullahoma were among 12 districts nationwide chosen as #GoOpen ambassadors.

Early reports are good.

The transition from costly textbooks to openly licensed digital materials freed up money for Tullahoma City Schools so that every student has access to a computer or tablet during the day, said Superintendent Dan Lawson. But the best part, he said, is connecting with educators from across the country.

“I can now connect with folks from half a dozen other states whom I would not have known had #GoOpen not existed,” Lawson told Chalkbeat. “In doing so, we’re able to see ideas and hear ideas … and find great resources.”

Bristol Superintendent Gary Lilly says it’s also helpful to have digital resources that are easily updated.

“Not only can we make sure we’ve got up-to-date resources that are aligned to Tennessee standards, which seem to be ever-shifting,” he said, “but we can also continually update according to what’s best for our teachers and students.”

Story booth

A teacher got this Detroit woman’s troublemaking brother involved in her classroom — and transformed both siblings’ lives

Parent advocate Bernita Bradley shares a story about a great teacher who helped he brother in a Detroit schools story booth.

Bernita Bradley was in the fourth grade when she came to recognize the power of great teaching.

Now a parent advocate and blogger who spends her days advocating for quality education in Detroit, Bradley said a great teacher became her “role model” when that teacher changed Bradley’s brother from a kid who was “hopping all over the place” in class to one who realized his own potential.

The boy had been the smart kid who was doing other students’ work, but not his own. That changed when the teacher asked him to stay after school to grade other students’ papers.

“I would watch my brother grade other students’ work and then he would get excited when he didn’t know it and come over to the teacher and ask the teacher ‘I don’t know this part.’ And she would work with him on it and then he’d go back and grade and it turned him into this student who sat in the classroom,” Bradley recalled.

That teacher, she said, “really became my first official role model as a teacher just to see that she changed my brother from being this person who was all over the place to being focused.”

Bradley shared this memory in a story booth set up outside the School Days storytelling event that was sponsored by Chalkbeat and the Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers last month at the Charles H. Wright Museum.

The event brought educators, parents and a student together to tell their stories on stage at the Wright but the event also invited other Detroiters to share their stories in a booth set up by Chalkbeat and the Skillman Foundation. (Skillman also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

If you have a story to tell — or know someone who does — please let us know.

Watch Bradley’s full story here:

First Person

A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice: trusting kids to handle their bathroom business

Author Shana Peeples speaking at American Jerusalem High School in Jerusalem while touring as National Teacher of the Year.

This whole national conversation about who we should and shouldn’t let go into which bathrooms got me thinking about the most controversial thing I ever did as a teacher. I’d love to tell you it was teaching a banned book or something intellectual, but it was really all about the bathroom.

I allowed kids to quietly leave class whenever they needed to go without asking my permission.

My principal hated it; some of my colleagues viewed me as some sort of hippie. It made people question my professional judgment, my classroom management, and even my intelligence.

“So, you just let them leave when they want to?”

“If they need to go, yes.”

“Without a pass?”

“My hall pass is on a hook by the door so they can quietly take it and then replace it when they come back.”

“I bet you replace it a lot.”

“Actually, no. It’s the same one. I keep it around because it has a picture from my first year when I looked a lot younger and skinnier.”

Usually, people walk off before I can tell them any more of my crazy commie ideas. They’d die if they knew kids could take my pass to the nurse or their counselor if they needed to go. My only rule was that they had to show the same decorum that they would at the movies: no one gets up in a theater and loudly announces their business.

And in 15 years, no one used it as an excuse to skip the class or wander the campus or otherwise engage in shenanigans. Actually, no — one kid took the pass and didn’t come back until the next day. But that was because he was an English language learner on his second day who didn’t quite understand that it’s not meant as a “go home in the middle of the school day” pass.

When I began teaching, it was in a seventh-grade classroom in a portable, which is really just a converted double-wide trailer. The bathrooms were the separation space between my classroom and the reading teacher’s classroom. It seemed mean to me to control the bathroom needs of children in 90-minute block classes seated so close to one another. That was the origin of the policy.

Years later, one of my students wrote about me in an essay. I was prepared to read some sort of “Freedom Writers” love letter about the magic of my teaching. What she wrote instead was: The first day in her class I learned that she had the best bathroom policy ever. She treated us like human beings who could be trusted to take care of our own private needs.

I kept scanning the essay for the parts about the teacher magic, but that was really the only part about me specifically. The best bathroom policy ever. That’s my legacy.

But seriously, kids really can be trusted to take care of their own private needs. Especially those who are teenagers who drive cars. Or who are responsible in their after-school jobs for locking up a store’s daily receipts in the safe. Or who are responsible for getting four siblings to school on time because mom works the morning shift.

People complain to me, when they find out I used to teach high school, about how “lazy and irresponsible kids are these days.” That just irritates the fire out of me. What if so much of that behavior is because we don’t allow kids to try on trust and responsibility with little things like taking care of their bathroom business?

And maybe what looks like “laziness” is really a trained helplessness and passivity borne of so many rules and restrictions against movement of any kind. Don’t get up without permission, don’t talk without permission, don’t turn and look out the window without permission, and for Pete’s sake, don’t you put your head down on your desk and act like you’re tired because you were up all night at the hospital with your father who just had a heart attack.

Trust is a thing we create through small daily interactions. Simple things like extending the same courtesies to them as we would want for ourselves. I’m always so appreciative of professional development presenters who take the time to tell you where the coffee, water fountains, and bathrooms are. That communicates respect and consideration.

As teachers, we have to be willing to be the first to extend trust. When we do, kids will return it.

Shanna Peeples’ teaching career, all in Title I schools, began as a seventh grade writing teacher at Horace Mann Middle School in Amarillo, Texas. She later taught English at Palo Duro High School, and as the 2015 National Teacher of the Year, worked to shape the conversation in this country about working with students in poverty. She now serves as the secondary English language arts curriculum specialist for Amarillo ISD.

This piece first appeared in Curio Learning.