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What Does It Mean to Empower Students and Teachers?

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image of CEO Osarugue “Michelle” Odemwingie

Osarugue “Michelle” Odemwingie, CEO

Time has a powerful way of forcing you to look back and reflect on where you’ve been and how far you’ve come. There is something profound for me that my one year anniversary as CEO coincides with my ten year anniversary at ANet. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the past 10 years, and as I reflect on the different roles I’ve had from principal coach to CEO and the evolution of our team, I’m regrounded in the work that has always been at the heart of the organization - empowering our students and supporting our educators. 

What I have always loved about ANet since I joined is that we’ve never been a program - ANet is a partnership. I have been reminded of this over the past year as I saw colleagues adapt to every change thrown at educators. As we navigated the lingering impact of the pandemic, I’ve observed ANet spend time grounding ourselves in our values and in some ways returning to our roots. We’ve asked ourselves hard questions about what educational equity really looks like and how we can realize a vision of academically rich and empowering learning environments for all students. 

That’s included hard conversations on when our coaching, resources and assessments are accelerating partners towards that vision and when they are unintentionally creating barriers. In these past 10 years, I’ve never taken for granted the privilege to work with our partners - educators who work tirelessly to keep the focus on the bond that happens between a school and its community. Our focus on engaging educators and students with compassion and dignity has only become stronger this past year as educational equity has become a political punching bag and we see moves that signal distrust of teachers and the de-centering of student’s needs.

In the midst of it all, I find myself returning to a few of ANet’s beliefs. 

There are no silver bullets. All schools are different and need a tailored approach. Knowing that, I want to continue to make sure our organization listens deeply and studies carefully. We aim to understand the communities we serve because we know the what and the how of high quality instruction needs to be tailored to who resides in each community. The level of listening and understanding we need to be good partners requires humility. We are continuously improving, and we will keep amplifying your students, your educators and your community as we continue our work together towards educational equity. 

Educators who devote their professional lives to empowering young people deserve support that empowers them. Our job as partners is to assist each educator’s desire to do what's best for students by equipping them with the tools, empowering them with insights and accelerating their work through high quality coaching. Creating authentically empowering learning environments revolves around supporting student and teacher agency. Our experience with partners illuminates that when we empower students and teachers together, we not only see stronger learning outcomes but we also shift the culture from distrusting teachers or blaming students to holding the system accountable. Then, we can ensure it innovates and institutions evolve to better support and learn from the community it serves. 

As ANet looks to the future, we feel the collective urgency to explore what it takes to drastically shift the outcomes for students who have had to be resilient in education systems that were not designed for their success. Our work will continue to engage at all levels of the school system, and across lines of assessment, professional learning and high quality instructional materials because we know that it requires coherence across all pieces and players to create meaningful change in  the learning experience and lives of students. We hold ourselves accountable to innovate and learn from educators and young people in our own work; including engaging students in the design of our assessments through initiatives like our student advisory committees.   

When I think about the next 10 years for ANet, like many folks, I have more questions than answers about what education will look like and what progress we will collectively make, but I am certain our success will be fueled by ensuring our vision is relentlessly focused on students and the educators who commit their lives to serving them well.

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