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A Shining Moment for Educators


A Shining Moment for Educators:  April 24

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of attending the White House Rose Garden ceremony at which President Barack Obama introduced the National Teacher of the Year (NTOY) 2013, Jeffrey Charbonneau of Washington State, to the American people.  The President also honored the class of 2013 State Teachers of the Year (STOYs), the 2013 National Secondary Principal of the Year, the 2013 Middle School Principal of the Year, and the National Distinguished Principal of the Year (elementary level).

I attended this same ceremony in 2000, as a very nervous New Jersey State Teacher of the Year 2000, meeting President Bill Clinton and Secretary Richard Riley.  I remember waiting in the Roosevelt Room, surrounded by history, and feeing completely overwhelmed by the experience, worrying about what to say when introduced to the President and Secretary, and feeling so intensely connected to my fellow STOYs on a journey of growth that extended over a full year.

My husband had told me at the time, that as a guest of a STOY, he was ushered through several layers of security into the Rose Garden, where he mingled with other STOY guests and ‘a lot of other people’.  Yesterday’s experience is one that I can only describe as a shining moment for educators.  As part of that ‘lot of other people’ I had the chance to share this experience – much less nerve-wracking for me this time – with four other STOYs – Jason Kamras (DC and NTOY 2005), Terry Dozier (SC and NTOY 1985), Marguerite Izzo (NY 2007) and Rebecca Snyder (PA 2009) and with a host of representatives from various national education organizations, many of whom are now colleagues and friends.

For me, the most moving part of the ceremony was watching each of the 2013 STOYs walk out the door of the Oval Office and down the steps into the Rose Garden, taking their place on the dais that formed the backdrop for Jeff, the Secretary and President during the announcement.  To see each educator, from so many geographic locations, school settings, developmental levels of students taught, and content areas experiencing that moment of realization that they, as educators, were being honored by our President, was enormously moving.  And knowing the difference that each of these amazing men and women make in the lives of their students – how each one touches and has touched thousands of young lives – made it even more meaningful.

This is not an easy time to be an educator.  We are facing increasing demands in terms of workloads, changes in standards and content taught, exposed to discussions about our ‘worth’ and how our own performances should be measured.  We are working in an aging system, in many instances, in outdated buildings that are under-resourced.

We do this work, in the words of another President, John F. Kennedy, not because it is easy, but because it is hard and challenging, and because we accept that challenge.  We also do it because we love it.  Teachers truly love what they do.  In speaking about Jeff yesterday, the President stated:  “Jeff was determined to … convince kids that quantum mechanics wasn’t something to run away from, but something to dive into.  He said it’s my job to convince them they are smart enough that they can do anything. Now, with Jeff’s leadership at his HS, science enrollment is way up, kids are graduating with college level science credits, and the school expects to have to hire more teachers to meet the demand.”

In Jeff’s own words to teachers, “Don’t doubt the impact that your voice can have.  Stay informed on the issues so you can speak up for public schools. Too often we feel like our voice is just one in a sea of voices, but that sea of voices doesn’t exist without each individual speaking up.”

Yesterday was a shining moment for educators.  Honored by the leaders of our land, by the national education community, and by other educators, the 2013 STOYs experienced an intense appreciation of what they do each day.  I hope that, through their collective experience, you remember your shining moment and that it continues to inspire you.

To see photos from the event, please visit:  http://www.nnstoy.org/2013-national-teacher-of-the-year-named-in-rose-garden-ceremony/

Yes, Teachers Can Learn – and More:  April 17

In the Sunday edition of the New York Times, a commentary was published, written by Jal Mehta, an assistant professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, who is the author of the forthcoming book, “The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling." In his commentary, Mr. Mehta debunks several reform planks, including THE NOTIONS that charter schools out-perform traditional public schools AND that teachers who are prepared by alternative programs perform better than those who come through traditional programs.  HE ALSO notes that despite extensive reform efforts, little has changed.  Mr. Mehta cites evidence for these assumptions, and I encourage you to read his well-written and thoughtful piece: http://www.opednews.com/Quicklink/Teachers--Will-We-Ever-Le-in-Best_Web_OpEds-130413-498.html

Mr. Mehta notes what we at NNSTOY have been saying for years, that until we change the very system of education, moving us from an antiquated system based on an agrarian calendar, to a professional structure that models the best of other professions, we have little chance of making meaningful change.  Like NNSTOY, Mr. Mehta focuses on continuums of professional practice (though he uses other terms to describe these), through which teachers can continually build their skills, work in supportive collaborative structures that are not regimented by bus schedules, explore, career pathways and opportunities for teacher leadership, and continually grow and develop.

He talks about the model of less instructional time and more time spent in action research, collaborative planning, data analyses, and ongoing assessment of professional practice in other countries.  Finally, Mr. Mehta notes that without meaningful systems change, we are relegated to making the same mistakes and moving the needle marginally, if at all, in terms of progress.

At the same time, we have recently seen a plethora of articles on the cheating scandals plaguing some of our nation’s largest school systems. This has called into question whether teacher evaluation using student test data is truly the answer some envisioned for transforming the sector.  As a counter-example to the recent cheating scandals, in his article, Helping Teachers Learn, Brent Staples cites the success of the Aspire charter school network in emphasizing extensive, constructive, and actionable feedback to teachers, creating a system of support for ongoing strengthening of professional practice.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/opinion/sunday/helping-teachers-learn.html?_r=0

At NNSTOY, we have called for a true professionalizing of teaching.  We have cited five professional structures that exist in other professions and are missing in our own.  These are:  career continuums, distributed leadership models, collaborative practice structures, actionable feedback to inform practice, and guiding principles for the profession.  In a series of blog pieces, I have provided extensive evidence for how each of these structures contributes to professional practice in other career fields. http://www.nnstoy.org/professionalizing-teaching/

Within the next few weeks, NNSTOY will be releasing its first white paper, outlining these five paradigms and the work we are undertaking, with partners, to make them a reality.

Mr. Mehta asks, “Teachers – Will We Ever Learn?”  My response is, “Yes, Mr. Mehta, we will.  By listening to the voices of our teacher leaders, we can best learn what the profession most needs.  By providing the funding and the political will to enact these recommended changes, we stand the best chance of experiencing genuine reform – reform from within.  By following the example of our teacher leaders, we can best learn how to make meaningful change.  One of the five paradigms that NNSTOY would like to see the profession put in place is Guiding Principles, developed by practitioners for the profession, and to which we would hold ourselves accountable.  If we had such a structure in place, perhaps we would not have so many other groups dictating to us to what we should be held accountable.

Mr. Staples entitles his piece, “Helping Teachers Learn.”  If we, as a country, truly want to transform the teaching profession, it will take courage, fortitude, and money.  It may be a complex journey, but need not be a lengthy one; as Mr. Mehta notes, countries like Singapore and Finland turned things around in a matter of a few years.  While complex, the starting place is simple:  if policy makers want to learn how to transform teaching, let’s try something simple as a starting place. Ask teachers what needs to change and how to make those changes realities.  Not only can we learn, we can teach.  We can find solutions that others cannot, because we live the profession every day and are best positioned to know what works and what does not. And, we can lead change within the profession most effectively.  Ask us.  Just ask us.

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