Testifying at the Texas Capitol

photo 4 (1)This “off-season” in the Texas legislature brings about a chance for both House and Senate members to gather information and intel for the upcoming session in 2015. On the House side, Public Education committee members are gathering information to review, repeal, and possibly replace the current method of administering teacher evaluations.  That was the not-so-hidden agenda presented to me a couple of weeks ago when I was asked to give testimony on innovative teaching and learning from the viewpoint of a 1:1 school.

Now, I’ve done all manner of public speaking in my life from being a keynote speaker to dressing up like a zombie, I really enjoy engaging a crowd.  I don’t get nervous or stage fright like I probably should in those situations.  Testifying was definitely an exception to that rule.  While I was extremely honored and grateful to have the opportunity to speak, I was nervous beyond belief.  Not only did I have a whole set of verbiage to learn (“Mr. Chairman, members of the the committee, etc) but I was also on a 10-minute time limit.  Those of you that know me know that I can speak fast so my goal was to cram about 20 minutes worth of content into those 10 minutes without being completely incomprehensible.

Those intimidating tables!
Those intimidating tables!

Adding to those nerves was the actual physical set-up of the room.  I don’t know how many of you have had to give testimony or speak at a Board meeting, but that set-up can be intimidating.  I was sitting at table with 3 other witnesses looking up toward a wall of tables that greatly mimicked “The Wall” from Game of Thrones in my mind.   This gave the committee members a distinct strategic advantage in terms of having the higher ground and vantage point to any argument.

I had all sorts of crazy ideas for my testimony as a way to stand-out (Zombie costume or take over their iPads somehow came to mind first) . However, in the end, I felt it most important to speak clearly on our 1:1, the changes we’ve seen in learning and teaching, and the fact that professional learning is so valuable with these changes.  Here’s a link to the entire testimony (I’m in the first hour and a half or so).

I did decide to auto-tweet my testimony since my notes were written on keynote slides (I had been advised to avoid “reading” my testimony).   While I got no response from the panel at the auto-tweet remark, I did actually get Rep. Donna Howard (D) to tweet at me which I took as an early win.

As for the testimony itself, I was fast but seemed to get the story of my district across.  I was extremely thankful to see a friendly face, our Superintendent Dr. Nola Wellman, walk in minutes before I took the stand.  Once I started speaking a strange calm washed over me.  I realized as they moved to the next panelist, that this was a great opportunity to speak my mind about what’s been bothering me about the way the state handles public education.  If you don’t want to watch the entire testimony, here’s a few of the points I tried to make:

The Autopsy that is standardized testing

I actually got quoted by the local NPR affiliate for this one, when asked about whether or not state standardized tests should count towards a teachers evaluation, I cautioned the committee that course of action is “dangerous.”  My rational being, you are judging that teacher using one metric that is essential an autopsy of what they learned, not only that year from that teacher, but the teacher prior to that and prior to that and so on. This isn’t a new idea among many of us, but thought it was a good opportunity to get that out in the open.

“Bottom Kids”

When Rep. Harold Dutton mentioned in his cross testimony of Andrew Kim about whether or not project-based learning worked for “bottom kids” I started stewing. Our culture is so ingrained with the idea of ranking individuals that we now use nomenclature that demeans those struggling students right out of the gate by calling them “bottom kids.”  I went on a mini-rant about how we as society need stop the competitive nature of state-testing in our world as it really benefits no one. (note: Rep. Dutton would later go on to apologize for using that phrase)

Evaluating in Isolation

Near the end of our time on the panel, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock took the opportunity to ask us our opinion on how teachers should be evaluated. There was unanimous agreement among the panel that the focus should shift from the “Dog & Pony” show of teacher-led lectures to encompass more of a 360 view of the classroom and what are the kids doing. As an appraiser you should be not only ask kids what they are learning but also ask them to demonstrate their learning. My main beef with traditional teacher evaluations is the idea that we all should teach in silos (an idea that’s made even worse when  you throw in performance-based pay). There are no metrics out there that truly measure teamwork, but having items on a evaluation that encourage collaboration among peers would be valuable to break from the approach of teaching in isolation.

Parents evaluating teachers?

One of the more interesting questions was the final one – Should parents be able to evaluate teachers?  This question prompted my “mic drop” (although it was more of a “mic shove” if you watch the video)

When asked the question, here was my response:

“I have no problem at all with parents evaluating teachers….as long as teachers can evaluate parents.” (mic shove)

photo 1 (1)
Registration kiosks for those speaking

Opportunity strikes

This whole experience was very eye-opening for me and it has raised some extra questions in my mind that I’d love for some of my fellow bloggers or followers to reply to.  Please comment below to one or all of these questions:

1. If you had 10 minutes to present in front of Congress, what would you talk about and why?

2. If you could remake teacher evaluations, what would you do differently?

3. Have you ever had a time in your life when you were given the opportunity to say something, but didn’t?

I’d be curious to hear your responses and invite you to help add to my testimony.

I promise not only that I’ll listen, but that I won’t be staring down at you from a tall desk.

About MrHooker

Educator, global speaker and consultant, event organizer, educational strategist and CEO of HookerTech LLC, Future Ready Schools Faculty member, author of the 6-book series "Mobile Learning Mindset", "Ready Set FAIL!" and his latest book "Learning Evolution: The New Era of AI in the Classroom." He also is the host of the ISTE Learning Unleashed podcast and the UnDisruptED podcast by Future Ready schools. He is most importantly, a husband and father of 3.

7 comments on “Testifying at the Texas Capitol

  1. Julie Carmona


    Loved this post. Thank you for not only representing teachers, but for also continuing to “to have our backs”! Thanks for your bravery too! My Fave Statement: *”I have no problem at all with parents evaluating teachers….as long as teachers can evaluate parents.” (mic shove)*

    Can’t wait to share this with my 3rd grade team….my collaborative teacher loved your statement as well. I don’t have any well thought out or profound answers to your questions (yet), but I would love to poll my team for some of their responses. It’s the end of the year and that’s what we’re obviously focused on, but this means a lot to us… so I would love to help brainstorm.



    Julie Carmona, M.Ed. Third Grade Teacher Valley View Elementary Check Out Our Class Website

    • Thanks Julie! I see that “team-teaching” approach being something that just makes sense. Doctors, lawyers, architects, etc are all part of teams or “firms” that collaborate to solve problems. Our profession still works in isolation, but I’ve seen some great work in our district with those collaborative teachers. Appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  2. 1. If you had 10 minutes to present in front of Congress, what would you talk about and why?
    a) Reduce class size. we have the data, we know it works. Reduce teacher stress, improve their ability to do what they love-teach-not daily crowd control.
    b) Start with accessibility on the front end. All the new apps, ipad goodies etc are but tools. Don’t let the new “toys” and glamour take away from what is most important. Universal Design. Success rates WILL rise when those issues are addressed. Federal estimates show ~18% of the population have a disability. Its the largest minority in the world.
    2. If you could remake teacher evaluations, what would you do differently?
    Teachers should be evaluated by their peers and principals-(include other measurements too). Peers KNOW. Principals should be evaluated by in house teachers, other principals and administrators.
    3. Have you ever had a time in your life when you were given the opportunity to say something, but didn’t?
    I take in lots of info, then, prefer to respond-not knee jerk react. So yes, I often miss opportunities. I once heard circuit speaker Curtis Bonk speak on e-learning (http://php.indiana.edu/~cjbonk/). He was brilliant, fun, engaging and creative-knows the latest fads in teaching methods. I later sent him an email and asked why he did not address Universal Access (UD) since he seemed to truly care about all students. He replied “Sometimes I do”. I responded I felt he had a duty to include something about UD in all his talks. He said he would try.
    For each new fad, app etc, we should always see (and demand no less) if it will work for those that use assistive technology. It’s actually mandated by the Feds, but many are slow to realize UD and accessibility is as important to access as ramps are to buildings (http://buyaccessible.gov/). Otherwise, we shut the door of education in student’s faces and are not truly educators, nor interested in pedagogy. Rather, like those on a merry go round, reaching only for shiny objects in e learning because they dangle and are new.
    Thanks for carrying the message!

    • Great ideas Rebecca! I agree that those in the “AT” side of the house are often overlooked unfairly. I love the idea of staff evaluating their leaders. I’m going to try that this year with my team. It seems only fair, and since we are trying to improve, feedback is valuable. Question is…should that feedback be anonymous? Some staff don’t always feel comfortable giving feedback to their bosses. (although that speaks volumes as well)
      Thank you for your reply!

  3. I do question how anonymous some things really are too. I know I have seen survey feedback boomerang. Having said that, if we live in a world of fear, we will never “become” more than a shadow. Our kids deserve our best if that is what we hope to sow for the future.

  4. woscholar

    Once you testify and get the newness out of it, it becomes second nature. You almost feel compelled to head over there and share your wisdom with them on every pertinent topic. Keep up the great work! They need to hear from educators instead of special interests who masquerade as education experts.

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