About 180 teachers, school principals and education advocates convened at the U.S. Department of Education’s headquarters last Friday to make connections and engage in important conversations about how educators will lead the transformation of their profession.
With representatives from their leadership organizations, educators drilled down on a number of topics and made recommendations to the Department and the White House about ED’s next steps in the RESPECT Project. Justin Lamb, a New York City teacher with Educators 4 Excellence, suggested that the federal government help districts and unions to work together to carve out more roles for teacher leaders in schools. Glenn Morehouse Olson of the VIVA Project recommended that ED become more involved in raising the bar for what teachers coming into the field should know and be able to do, including adding more writing criteria and setting standards for alternative certification. Wendy Uptain of Hope Street Group described the power of convening accomplished teachers to “shine a spotlight” on areas of excellent practice and share successes, and she called for more such meetings.
A recurring theme of the day was the power of educators to drive their own profession. “Teachers as leaders needs to be a linchpin of our efforts,” said Ann Byrd of the Center for Teaching Quality, “not a bullet point.” Several groups even argued that teachers should be allowed to apply directly for federal grants to implement innovative practices in their schools. (Federal education funds typically flow through states and school districts before reaching individual schools and classrooms.) Arthur Linder of the National Association of Secondary School Principals advocated for more distributed leadership in schools with strong instructional leaders.
Another common thread in the conversations was the public’s poor perception of the value of teaching and school leadership. Aaron Bredenkamp, an Omaha, Neb., math teacher on loan to ED as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow, recommended that the Department work on “rebranding the profession” so that parents and taxpayers will support reform. Washington Fellow Jen Bado-Aleman agreed and called for an advertising campaign that that would show the complex demands of great teaching and school leadership.
While commuting home at the end of the day, I got a text from a former ED teaching fellow who could not attend the event but who had just experienced a teachable moment that affirmed the importance of transforming teaching and the public perception of it. A high school junior had told him that she was having trouble deciding on a career. “The only two things I can see myself doing are nursing and teaching,” she told this teacher, “but I only have the grades to teach.”
I found myself very thankful that the educators in the room at ED were envisioning a future when students will say, “I need to get my grades up so that I can teach.”
Laurie Calvert is the Teacher Liaison at the U.S. Department of Education, a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, and a 14-year English teacher from Asheville, N.C.