“The teacher leadership movement needs to be front and center in closing opportunity and achievement gaps,” says Roberto Rodriguez, President Obama’s top education advisor for eight years. Seven months after leaving the White House, Rodriguez is now about to take the reins of teacher policy advocacy group Teach Plus.
Teach Plus founder Celine Coggins just published a book, “How To Be Heard,” about the importance of teacher voice in shaping education policy and has spent the last decade bringing classroom teachers into public policy debates. Rodriguez, who starts in September, says there’s still a disconnect between teaching policy and practice.
“We have all the right aspirations at the policy level—great teachers for every learner—but there’s a disconnect between policy and practice and that’s why we need to elevate teacher voice,” he added, listing a range of challenges from teacher preparation to lack of teacher leadership opportunities.
Many teachers are “under-resourced” and “isolated from each other,” he said, adding, “We need to pay them better and support teachers in the classrooms that need them most. They need professional development led by teachers.”
Both of Rodriguez’s parents were educators in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mother was an administrator and his father worked in a career and technical high school while also serving on the school board.
“I experienced a lot of policy-level conversations growing up,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is “proud” of the Obama administration’s focus on teacher evaluation but it’s not sufficient for strengthening the profession. “Student success has to be at the heart of teaching, but we can’t focus on evaluation alone. We need to focus on building a stronger teacher profession. It must be more comprehensive.”
“Our teachers can lead the conversation about educational technology, social and emotional learning, personalized learning, STEM. They’re really all about innovation,” he said.
While the Obama administration sparred with teachers unions on various issues, especially around evaluation and accountability, Rodriguez still considers unions vital partners in helping strengthen the teaching profession.
“Every organization that represents teachers are partners. We need to work together and build a greater consensus about where we want to take the teaching profession—and have a vision for strengthening the field,” he said.
“All the work we have done on standards-based reform over the last 30 years has made a huge difference. States and districts have greater agency. But if we don’t turn our attention to revitalizing and advancing teaching and teacher leadership as the means to get there, we won’t meet the aspirations that we all share,” Rodriguez said.