Late this past year, a panel of five current and retired teachers representing the Educator Advisory Council for Advance Illinois had the opportunity to present a position paper to the Illinois State Board of Education. The document was titled “Transforming Teacher Work,” and it created a dynamic vision for the evolving roles of teachers and administrators. Following the ISBE session, those of us on the panel were interviewed on camera by staff from Advance Illinois, and our comments were expanded into op-ed pieces for various publications. My contribution was submitted and printed in the Springfield, IL, State Journal-Register on Dec. 24, 2011.
The biggest obstacle we face in education today is not poor financing, difficult family situations or bad teachers. It is the mindset that the world is the same as when our grandparents went to school. That world does not exist anymore. The world our students are entering today is very different, and the skills that they will need to be successful are very different.
To best prepare students for life in the 21st century, we need nothing short of a huge paradigm shift in how we think about the teaching profession.
That is the vision we lay out in “Transforming Teacher Work,” just released by the Advance Illinois-Educator Advisory Council. The council is composed of award-winning educators from across the state, representing hundreds of years of combined classroom experience. I proudly contributed 38 of those years in a middle school science classroom.
Recent reforms lay the foundation for positive change at the classroom level. In particular, the way educators will be evaluated in the future will provide teachers and principals with richer information that can be used to guide professional development and collaboration. Building upon this change, we believe that students are best served when:
* Teachers have the time and tools to collaborate.
* Teacher collaboration is closely tied to student achievement. Teachers who regularly observe and trade ideas with colleagues show higher gains in their students’ achievement.
* Teachers share leadership and responsibility.
* Teachers who have the skills to do so should work alongside school administrators, model teaching practice, analyze results data, lead collaborative teams, and coach other teachers.
* Teachers engage in ongoing professional learning and continuous growth.
* Teachers, like their students, should continue learning and evolving throughout their careers. We want our children to become self-directed, goal-oriented lifelong learners, and we should expect no less from teachers.
* Teachers have access to elevated and evolving career paths.
* Teachers should be able to advance in their careers without leaving the classroom and be empowered to lead and support others.
These recommendations stem from decades of research and experience, the practices of teachers in countries with the best student outcomes, and from local schools across Illinois where these things are already happening.
In my new university classroom, I train future teachers knowing that one in five of them will leave the profession in the first few years. The vision laid out in “Transforming Teacher Work” — opportunities for ongoing professional growth, career advancement and shared leadership — is key to getting our best and brightest into the classrooms and keeping them there.
This report is not so much a road map as a new mindset. It is the acknowledgment that the role of teacher has changed dramatically from the past. The report terms this transition, “from the old school to the new school.” That new school is a place where I’d want to teach.