By Nicole Reddig, Communications and Policy Intern

This summer, members of the inaugural cohort of the Michigan Teacher Leadership Collaborative (MTLC), all of them classroom teachers, celebrated the conclusion of their year of advocacy and engagement in practices and policies that support equity in education. The MTLC, launched in the 2021-22 year, is a joint effort of The Education Trust-Midwest and Teach Plus to provide a highly selective leadership opportunity for outstanding Michigan teachers looking to share their expertise around equity-focused instructional practices, deepen their knowledge of education policy, and gain a voice in decisions that affect historically underserved students and the teaching profession.

As part of the MTLC program, the teachers join a working group focused on a specific topic that they are interested in and then collaborate with their fellow members to advance equitable policy change.

One of the cohort’s working groups worked throughout the year to fight for a more equitable state budget that would better support the state’s most underserved students. Their work included advocating for legislators to prioritize supplemental funding for at-risk students and removing a budget loophole that could trigger cutting the funding for at-risk students first during a budget shortfall. Cohort members published op-eds in Bridge Michigan and other media, launched social media campaigns to mobilize other educators and the general public, and met with legislators and budget negotiators. In her op-ed, MTLC member Frances Lazette called on legislators to “keep our state’s low-income and at-risk students at the forefront of their discussions and invest the surplus dollars in the students who need it the most.”

Their recommendations were ultimately included in the final version of the state education budget, signed in July. The enacted budget included $9,150 per-pupil in funding, the highest level of per-pupil funding in state history, and guaranteed that at-risk students would receive an extra 11.5 percent in funding, which has not occurred for the past several years.

Other working groups focused on recommendations to improve the pipeline for Michigan’s educator workforce, student mental health access, and supporting students’ transitions to post-secondary learning.

In addition to participating in working groups, MTLC members developed skills around writing op-eds and engaging with media. MTLC members published op-eds in support of legislation to increase access to school libraries and media specialists, as well as legislation geared towards preparing educators to support student mental health.

Writing about libraries in Chalkbeat Detroit, Joy Lyman argued that, “Literacy can make or break [students’] school performance and enhance their career and civic participation. All our students should have access to a school library and a certified librarian to help improve reading levels and foster critical thinking and source analysis.” 

Mercedes Harvey-Flowers, a U.S. History and AP Research teacher in Dearborn Heights, discussed teacher vacancies in support of HB 5107, legislation that would create a model teacher-cadet program in Michigan and build a pipeline of future educators starting in high school. “As a classroom teacher, I think of collaboration as the core of my practice. I collaborate with other teachers to ensure that students are using the skills they’ve gained cross-curricularly,” she wrote. Harvey-Flowers was also quoted in an M-Live article about teacher shortages which ran in affiliated news outlets across the state, including as a front-page article on the Sunday Grand Rapids Press.

In addition to building skills and collaborating to advance equity at the systems level, the cohort served as a space to network and build community with educators from across the state. MTLC members also shared their instructional expertise with each other and the field. Specifically, MTLC members led workshops about their equity-minded classroom practices and other conference sessions geared towards educators at The Education Trust-Midwest’s conference, Ed Summit: Building a Movement, Building Hope.  MTLC members also learned about The Education Trust’s Former Writer-In-Residence Karin Chenoweth’s research about schools achieving extraordinary results for underserved groups of students and created their own “How It’s Being Done” presentations to share practices they use to advance equity in their classrooms with other members of the MTLC.

Through lifting up their voices, learning new skills, and collaborating with each other, the first cohort of the Michigan Teacher Leadership Collaborative has made important strides in addressing educational equity in Michigan. The work now continues with the second cohort of the collaborative, which launched this month and will continue their work through the 2022-23 school year.