After working in the Oakland, California schools for 24 years — one of the toughest districts in the country — Anthony Cody has seen and led a good bit of change in education. From teaching high needs students to building collaborative communities of teachers, Cody has made a big difference.
Now an active blogger (he writes the Living in Dialogue blog for Education Week), Cody is able to apply what he’s learned through guiding other teachers, many of whom are struggling with same issues he did as a teacher. One of the biggest issues? Students facing poverty and other difficulties at home often simply can’t meet expectations at school. In 2011, Cody organized the Save Our Schools March in Washington, D.C., responding to frustration with federal policies — namely the continued focus on standardized tests.
Today, Cody shares more about what he’s learned over a long career, and what he hopes for the future of education.
Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?
In the Oakland schools, where I worked for 24 years, I developed a program called TeamScience that paired experienced science teachers with novices in order to give them support and help them become effective. This program started in 2007, and has served more than 100 teachers in the District. Now in its sixth year, it has served to increase the retention of both the experienced teachers and novices, and student performance in science has improved significantly.
I also worked with the Oakland Effective Teaching Task Force and helped organize the first Oakland Teachers’ Convention. The recommendations from this event resulted in an expansion in teacher-led professional development and teacher inquiry in the schools there.
I have contributed to two reports addressing important issues for the teaching profession, written with other members of Accomplished California Teachers. The first, A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom, reviews current teacher evaluation practices and suggests ways the evaluation process could be strengthened. The second, Promoting Quality Teaching, was just released, and it offers ways to improve teacher pay and career pathways.
What has changed as a result of your efforts?
TeamScience, the mentoring program I described, has helped create a stronger level of collaboration and collegial support among science teachers in Oakland, and improved teacher retention and student outcomes.
The Mills Teacher Scholars has expanded as a result mainly of the excellence of their work, but was also helped by the attention I helped bring through my blog.
The reports I mentioned have been used by a number of school districts and the California state legislature when contemplating changes to evaluation and compensation systems.
How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?
The posts I reference provide more detailed advice about how to implement these strategies.
How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?
In preparing the reports, we hosted online meetings where participants could share their thoughts in a live discussion, through their computers.
What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?
The Oakland schools are a challenging place to work, as are many high poverty school systems. These conditions, and the low pay, result in very high turnover levels for teachers. This makes it difficult to raise the level of teaching at a school, because we lose people just when they are getting their feet under them.
What is your region doing well currently to support education?
The voters of California just voted to raise taxes to support education. This will allow us to recover a bit from years of harsh budget cuts. There is also an innovative program in California called the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA), which provides high poverty schools with support to lower class sizes and give teachers more time to collaborate.
What conditions must change in your country to better support education?
The first conditions that must be changed are those affecting the lives of our students. Political leaders are operating under the mistaken idea that our schools can improve student outcomes while we ignore the fact that more and more of our students are living in poverty. For the past decade we have attempted to spur growth by punishing teachers and schools for low test scores. This has only served to narrow the curriculum and encourage teaching to the test. In order to support education, we need to stop equating learning with test scores, and allow schools far greater flexibility in measuring student outcomes. We should expand programs like QEIA, which provide schools with resources needed for teacher collaboration and small class sizes.
What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?
The best opportunity for innovation lies in the innate curiosity and creativity of our students and teachers. If we can only unleash it by abandoning the idea that excellence will come from standards and tests.
What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?
Choose your school carefully. Make sure you do not land in a school where you are handed a script and a set of test blueprints to prepare your students for. Learn who your students are, in every dimension. Pay attention to their culture, to the challenges they face in their community, and to the ways you can get support from their family. Look to all of these for things that strengthen your student, for assets they bring to school. Build on these strengths.
What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?
I think the trends towards authentic “place-based” and “project-based” learning are very encouraging. The trend towards virtual education is a big concern. I think online education is being aggressively sold, and is likely to be disappointing.
If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?
Self-confidence. Students need experiences that confirm to them their own powers of observation and analysis. They need practice acting on the world and succeeding at understanding and changing it. Once they own this power, they can use it throughout their lives.
About Anthony Cody
Anthony Cody spent 24 years working in Oakland schools, 18 of them as a science teacher at a high-needs middle school. He is National Board certified, and now leads workshops with teachers focused on Project Based Learning. With education at a crossroads, he invites you to join him in a dialogue on education reform and teaching for change and deep learning. For additional information on Cody’s work, visit his Web site, Teachers Lead.
- Birthplace: Berkeley, California
- Current residence: Willits, California
- Education: BS and teaching credential, UC Berkeley; Masters in secondary science education, San Jose State University
- Website I check every day: http://www.edweek.org/tm/index.html
- Person who inspires me most: Aija Simmons
- Favorite childhood memory: Helping out in Dan Peletz’ kindergarten class.
- Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Seattle, Washington