Three Questions with Heidi Glidden, Manager, Educational Issues at the American Federation of Teachers

August 21, 2016

On June 21, 2016, 100Kin10 brought together ~30 representatives from a diverse range of 100Kin10’s best-in-class partner organizations (including universities, professional associations, unions, professional development providers, museums, and state advocacy organizations) for a solution lab to grapple with an issue that is very real and very timely for those working with students around the country: What should I do in response to the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act? Although think tanks and policy organizations around the country are analyzing policy and distributing facts and timelines via white papers and webinars, this group of 100Kin10 partners came together not to study the legislation but to think more critically about the role they need to play within their communities to keep STEM and teachers a top priority as states and districts develop plans under ESSA.

By early August, a small group of attendees (~10) who had opted into a leadership group had finalized and distributed an RFP requesting proposals that addressed their shared need. We asked one of these leadership attendees, Heidi Glidden of the American Federation of Teachers, to share her perspective on the solution lab process and product. As a co-investor in the second 100Kin10 solution lab, which focused on change management for the college- and career-ready standards, Heidi has a strong perspective on the benefits of approaching big, messy challenges the solution lab way.

1. What challenges or needs is your organization facing in thinking about the transition to ESSA?
I prefer to think about ESSA as an opportunity, particularly around the potential in the law to put control into the hands of the practitioner. But, as with all laws, there is ample room for interpretation in ESSA; and it is critical that, as regulations are proposed and passed, teachers, schools, and other local leaders are empowered to shape their local educational priorities and landscape.

Understanding ESSA as an entry point, even an invitation, for educators and others to be active participants in driving policy and its implementation, we have to encourage and support our teachers and other STEM education stakeholders to voice their opinion and contribute to changing the system, rather than continuing as bystanders or spectators that previous laws like No Child Left Behind often positioned them to be. We need to use ESSA as an opportunity to engage local stakeholders as participants and leaders in the conversation around the kind of learning we want and need in our schools.

2. Based on your experience as a co-investor in the most recent solution lab product, and your participation in this ESSA solution lab gathering, why is the whole solution lab process (from the in-person workshop to the development of the solution) uniquely beneficial to solving a big, shared challenge, such as navigating the transition to ESSA?
There are so many layers and levels and lenses to big, meaty challenges like this one. As a representative of a big, national organization, I see this issue from one perspective; but, in getting in a room with other 100Kin10 partners – whether they’re from a museum, a school district, a university, a corporation – and hearing how they see it from their particular view, I gain such better understanding of the underlying issues. We’re all trying to address the same challenge – just coming at it from so many different places – and together we can better unpack and get to the core of that challenge.

Solution labs are truly unique. They force you to get out of your own way, to think bigger, and try a new approach to addressing something your organization is grappling with alongside an impressive group of collaborators. And, on top of that, you get access to a product that is big, impactful and expensive (like the Blow Minds, Teach STEM campaign or the Plagiarize this research and toolkit), one that you likely do not have the time, resources, or people to create on your own. I’ve worked for AFT for over 20 years, and I have not had any other experiences like solution labs. This is the first time that I’ve worked with not-the-normal bedfellows, and I love that.

3. We will select the solution lab product on September 22nd. Why would you recommend that partners attend the finalist presentations and selection discussion?
Hearing directly from the individual that developed the proposal is critical. Directly hearing the thinking and intentions behind the writing – rather than getting the information through the grapevine – sets you up to better understand the work and to help advocate for it within your organization.

More importantly, by being present at this selection discussion, you can advocate with other partners in the room for the product that will be most helpful for your organization. This is your chance to help determine what proposal the network moves forward, which will allow your organization to access a resource that you likely could not purchase or commission on its own. Plus, if your top-choice product is not selected, you have at least had the opportunity to learn about the other ideas that may resonate with you, and your organization can pursue those individually or in collaboration with a small group of 100Kin10 partners.

If you care about this issue, if it’s a priority for you, you should attend the selection discussion. It’s the best way to access what will be a high-quality solution to a big, complex need.