How teachers shaped Along’s content: Teach Plus partner spotlight

We are highlighting organizations that have been instrumental in the research, development, and content creation of Along in our ongoing Partner Spotlight blog series. This month, we focus on Teach Plus, an organization that works to empower excellent, experienced, and diverse teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that advance equity, opportunity, and student success. Along recently talked to Lindsey Bird, California Education Leadership Coach at Teach Plus, to learn more about how teacher voices were incorporated into our content.

Why did you join Teach Plus?

I was brought in to Teach Plus in January of 2021 to run a Change Agent network in California, after having recently left an 18-year teaching career. I was a Teach Plus Policy Fellow while in the classroom, so I had personally experienced Teach Plus’ commitment to infusing authentic teacher voice into education policy and practice conversations. I was thrilled at the opportunity to help other educators have an equally empowering experience. 

How did you get involved with Along?

Teach Plus collaborated with CZI and Gradient Learning to develop an Along Teach Plus Alumni Fellowship program last summer, and when I was asked to help lead this work I jumped at the opportunity. We recruited Teach Plus program alumni from across the country, with a focus on teachers experienced in addressing the mental health and social learning needs of their students. Their purpose was to review Along’s content through the lens of educator friendliness, equity and access for diverse student demographics, and culturally inclusive opportunities for interaction. We selected a powerhouse team of Fellows spanning from California to Rhode Island, in classrooms ranging from elementary through high school, including both urban and rural settings, all with resumes ideal to the task at hand. 

Why was this partnership significant to Teach Plus?

This partnership was developed under the context of “what does education look like during and after the pandemic?,” and with a consideration of all the equity factors that play into fully answering that question. Teach Plus works to elevate teacher voice on behalf of educational equity, with the ultimate goal of closing opportunity gaps for marginalized students. We want to do this while the spotlight the pandemic had put on the unequal conditions that are far too common in institutions of public education is still bright. Who better to give those inequities a voice than the teachers witnessing and experiencing them alongside their students daily? 

Teach Plus teacher leaders know that focusing on academics alone means missing a significant opportunity to meet the needs of the whole child.  We want to be solutions-oriented, and to work with partners like Along, who share the intent of closing opportunity gaps, elevating authentic teacher voice, and providing students the wrap-around services necessary to meet their full potential. The pandemic created emphasis and urgency around what teacher leaders had been communicating all along, but this time we seized the opportunity to capture their voices.

In the spring of 2021, Teach Plus led teachers from across the country in a design thinking process, The Phoenix Project, to reimagine teaching and learning and create recommendations for emerging from the pandemic with a more equitable education system.  Their solutions were published along four themes: Thriving Students; Thriving Teachers; Engaged Families & Communities; and Teaching and Learning for the 2020s. Thriving Students highlighted the importance of addressing student mental health through a combination of on-site resources, educator training, and fostering safe, nurturing school environments, all of which align with the stated purpose of Along.

How did the Along Teach Plus Alumni Fellowship contribute to the development of the Along app?  

With the facilitation of Teach Plus, our team of passionate and accomplished educators vetted hundreds of prompts. Each Fellow worked in conjunction with a partner, ensuring deep student-centered reflections and educationally sound justifications for each suggestion passed on to the Along development team. While the demographic and regional diversity of the Fellows was an asset in and of itself, the added value of their expertise came from the rich interactions they’ve had with students of almost every age, gender, socio-economic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, racial and immigration status that fill American classrooms. They didn’t show up to rubber stamp anything! These teachers showed up to make sure the product they were vetting represented the diverse student mental health needs that they know exist across our nation. It was a true honor to see them bring their personal passion for students and professional dedication to meet the needs of their diverse learners into this collaboration.