Teachers and Principals Get Engaged

Teachers at the Teacher Leader Convening

Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams

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.

Teachers discussing at the teacher leader convening

Teachers discussed how educators can lead the transformation of their profession. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

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

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.  


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts to those of us who could nor attend the meeting. It was great to hear that people are realizing what a huge part of education parents, students and community are. Students desire to learn for reasons other then passing exams will change the atmosphere in our schools. Consequences for behavior must exist, in many schools there are none. When experienced and newer staff work together and share, students benefit. Education is not a business for profit, students are not commodities; they are the future of the world. However unpopular this is, all students do not need to go to college. We need people to do all kinds of jobs, what happened to vocational training in high school?

  2. Good work and a wonderful beginning. Who is responsible for maintaining the effort and will it continue beyond changes in political leadership?

    Throughout a voice is missing, meaningful input from the student. Where is their active participation in this effort?

    The evaluation and assessment of teachers should overtly and loudly be an integral part of the daily routine for teachers just as it is for the students they teach. I saw mentioned that evaluation should be at least annual. WRONG. It must be daily with periodic, no less than quarterly, summations with course corrections as a required component. (This is really easy to do and very productive)

    Listen to the people that do the work, the teachers, but do not forget the other half of that team, the students.

  3. This convening was a wonderful example of the power of dialog and the fundamental connections that we as teachers and school leaders share. It underscored the need for such gatherings to connect us all to each other’s work. I applaud the U.S. Department of Education for supporting and encouraging such an event and I look forward to more such opportunities for teachers to reach out beyond their known world of contacts to learn about each other.

  4. Mr. Duncan, are you really interested in transforming education? Then you have to be able to accept that the solutions may be unpopular and politically difficult to achieve. Let me give you an example.

    “the star cornerback and kick returner … has been dismissed from LSU”, head coach Les Miles announced Friday. “This is a very difficult day for our team,” Miles said. “We lose a quality person, teammate and contributor to the program. However, with that being said, we have a standard that our players are held to and when that standard is not met, there are consequences.”

    This is the opposite of what happens in public education. We talk about standards, but do not allow any of the kind of consequenses that would actually impact student behavior, because those consequences would harm the individual involved.

    When you don’t enforce violations, then you effectively have no standards for behavior. As a consequence, we are sacrificing the entire school system, harming education for all.

    Administrators and policy makers will say that schools have high standards that are enforced. This is simply not true in practice. I have heard it said that it is a kids job to push limits and boundaries, but when the only real consequences fall on teachers and not students those boundaries get stretched further and further every year.

    The only real solution is to sacrifice some individual students by allowing them to fail, and thus save the entire school system. Les Miles knows this, do our educational policy makers?

    • This is precisely the reason why alternate certification is necessary. Some students will never be able to follow the rigourous academic trac intended for other professions. All professions should be equally valued and students’ aptitudes for them respected.

  5. The issue in education is learning, more specifically empowering all individuals to learn critical information, long term, the way that is most effective and most efficient for them, individually.

    For this to individually occur, long term, with critical, must know information, all of the research validates, that the one to many teaching approach, needs to be replaced by a truly personalized learning approach.

    Where individual, long term, critical must know learning, = Appropriate, Professionally Facilitated: initial understanding, ongoing reinforcement, fluency/mastery, recall (eliminating forgetting), application, stick/behavior change, adaptive reasoning skills, in the most effective and most efficient way possible

    Ask any teacher, and they will agree the best approach for learning is one teacher to one student (1:1), teacher facilitated, truly personalized learning

    Since this is not financially feasible, there is a need to integrate learning technology that parallels and supports the new learning model:

    “ Instructor facilitated, truly personalized learning, over time, with Instructor facilitated, truly personalized reinforcement, over time, in an Instructor facilitated, truly personalized, blended learning environment, over time”.

    Since each learner (below grade/at risk, traditional, gifted) will individually learn what they don’t know, at a personalized, spaced and reinforced pace that is right for them, they will learn to mastery in the shortest time possible and develop adaptive reasoning skills to apply that learned information to new situations.

    This individually accommodates all students and is professionally facilitated, ensuring optimized individual learning outcomes.

    Plus it parallels how individuals learn critical information, long term.

    This technology has been available since 2000, is brain based, research proven, classroom proven and has advanced individual learning outcomes for 1,000’s of students.

    It can offer specific topics (Math/ELA) or it can be customized, where each student can enter and learn their critical information, empowering each student with a truly personalized, adaptive learning system.

    The learning problem is complex and has multiple components, but first and foremost, we must follow the proven learning research if we have a desire to advance individual learning outcomes

  6. In response to Steve’s entry, I find it interesting that those who pay for private education would not demand certified teachers. Certification in and of itself should not be the end all be all of professionalism. I personally know many “certified” teachers that need to be totally revamped and some uncertified teachers that do an outstanding job. These meetings are a step in the right direction.

  7. Wonderful account of the Convening last Friday. It was very exciting to consider that various ways of taking the teaching profession to the next level. On further reflection, it occurred to me that as long as licensing only applies to those who work in public schools (as opposed to private, religious etc.) we’re going to be swimming upstream in terms of establishing teaching as a true profession.

    Imagine if the licensing of physicians applied only to hospitals – that it was legal to perform surgery or prescribe medications as long as you didn’t do it at a hospital. What would that do to the medical profession, and more importantly, the quality of medical care? Yet teachers work in a system where licensing is only a gateway to public employment – and an increasingly porous gateway at that.

    I don’t really have an answer, but sometimes when seeking solutions it is useful to know the full scope of the problem.

  8. Thanks for sharing this meeting. I would imagine what it would be like if student representatives were engaged. Maybe it would help learners know that education is primarily theirs, not for their parents or their teachers.

  9. A very thoughtful context was chosen because its required to rebrand the education system not only at primary level but even at higher level.
    There is an erosion of the value system in education and a drastic change in student- teacher relation that needs revamping to restore the sanctity of this profession.

  10. I am so glad to see that Teachers and Principals are able to have an open dialogue concerning the future directions of classroom leadership on all levels. I am hoping that at some point parents will be involved in meetings like this so they can understand that it takes more that just sending your child to school, it takes participation on all parts.
    Thanks for sharing this meeting with us.

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