WASHINGTON, D.C. – School choice is a hot topic in 2016. Whether headlines point to students excelling in public charter schools or in innovative blended learning programs, students and teachers are taking advantage of the options and flexibility provided by school choice policies across the country.

school choice nowThe fact is every educational setting is a choice. District public schools, public charter schools, independent and parochial schools, and virtual schools – these are all choices in action.

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As we adapt to a dramatically changing profession in the years ahead, teachers across the country are embracing these new teaching environments, with thousands of teachers educating millions of children throughout the United States.

This growing school choice movement has meant positive advancement for American education and educators. Truly professional teachers should be given credit for their role in supporting and advancing innovation.

In sharing their talents in these emerging education environments, teachers are helping to create a brighter future for students who need personalized options.

While the protectors of the status quo would have you believe that school choice is controversial, this growing movement is a sign of progress in 2016.  Americans demand choices in everything from entertainment to groceries and everything in between. Why should education be any different?

As educators, we know a one-size-fits-all system does little to address the unique needs of our students. Students learn different, just as teachers have their own strengths and preferences. In adapting to system of choice, professional educators are realizing that these advances are not only meeting needs for students, but also revolutionizing the teaching profession.

It’s critical that we not only embrace these changes but lead the charge for advancing new options.

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These changes will provide enormous opportunity for the next generation of educators —flexibility, autonomy, creativity, and personal accountability.  School choice will advance the profession in ways we could only dream of just ten years ago.

Thousands of teachers are supporting this new direction and are teaching in choice schools every day. According to membership surveys by the Association of American Educators (AAE), the non-union teachers’ organization that I lead, teachers are indeed onboard with many policies that provide choice to all stakeholders.

Take AAE Member Ms. Shawna Exline for instance. A teacher in a public arts school in Idaho, Shawna returned to the profession after her own children excelled in the unique school of choice.  “I was so energized by my children’s experience that I returned to the classroom and became the school’s 8th grade teacher.

“I had the opportunity to teach not only both my children, but also work with amazing students, families and educators who embraced the arts.”

We’re proud to support Shawna—the district’s Teacher of the Year in 2016.

While personal circumstances may change priorities and schedules, teachers like Shawna are finding they are not only able to continue their careers but they are also able to develop skills in ways they never could have imagined possible.

Research shows us that students learn best when taught by an excellent teacher. Nationwide statistics show a positive correlation between school choice and graduation rates. We shouldn’t discourage talented professionals from leaving the classroom because they can’t conform to the constricts of a traditional classroom setting.

Online options, blended learning, and nontraditional charter schools can offer flexibility for some of our best educators and help attract new innovators to the profession.

Our focus should be on matching talented professionals with positions that best use their talents and recognizing educators for their contributions to education reform.

This week is National School Choice Week and as a truly professional educators’ organization, the Association of American Educators is celebrating teachers in all academic settings and promoting professional choices. Teachers benefit from choices too!

Gary Beckner is the chairman and president of the Association of American Educators.