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Big Week for Teaching…An International Summit, A National Celebration….and St. Patrick’s Day

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March 16, 2012 04:49 pm

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Bob Wise Headshot_1_2 - Welcome to the alliance

Teachers dominate the policy discussions this week with the second annual International Summit on the Teaching Profession in New York City hosted by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Education International (EI). Last year’s summit had 16 participating nations; the main requirement for participation was that the highest ranking government education official be accompanied by the national union leader.

The Summit adjourned Thursday night; Friday morning in the same location begins the two day Celebration of Teaching and Learning. In its seventh year and organized by WNET, the Celebration has become known as the Davos of teaching. And for the thousands of teachers and educators who come to share best practices, the grand finale will be St. Patrick’s Day in New York.

For the Summit this year, 23 nations showed up with the theme being “Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders.” For me, the tone of opening remarks, especially by Secretary Arne Duncan, reflected an evolution in thinking about the policymakers approach to improving the teaching profession.

Last year’s summit occurred amidst palpable tension between the Obama Administration over issues of teacher evaluation, how to measure effectiveness, and what to do with the measurements that resulted. While each nation’s policymaker and union leader did not always agree, the first summit did underscore that most of the high performing nations focused on gaining improvement by supporting and building the teaching profession rather than relying on the type of accountability measures being debated in the U.S.

Last year’s summit reminded me of a family -in this case, the U.S.- having trouble talking to one another, so it invites the neighbors in to offer suggestions on how to improve communications. Opening remarks this year indicated the intervention might have helped.

During the last year, the Obama administration and NEA and AFT have all made accommodations to begin moving from the often acrimonious relationship which seemed to always result in negative associations about the teaching profession. The just-released MetLife Annual Survey of the American Teacher starkly detailed how poisonous the well has become for teachers. Duncan discussed the six step RESPECT (Recognizing Education Success, Professional Excellence, Collaborative Teaching) initiative to listen to teachers including upcoming public meetings across the country. Each union has been putting on the table previously sacrosanct issues.

So this year the Secretary sounded more confident and upbeat about what could be accomplished to elevate the teaching profession. He spent much of his introductory remarks invoking lessons from other nations and the need for positive measures to support teacher development. How to measure teacher effectiveness is still on the agenda, but as part of an overall approach, not as a front-and-center, in-your-face agenda item. And hopefully almost everyone has moved from believing that teaching effectiveness is measured solely by how well students perform on a standardized test.

One of the most valuable sessions, and where nations can truly assist each other, was the Thursday morning topic; “Preparing Teachers: Delivery of 21st Century Skills.” This plenary session looked at what are the competencies teachers must be able to teach, and what types of teacher preparation programs are necessary.

This session is affirmation for many similar efforts underway. At the Alliance, we work to inform policymakers about the importance of these deeper learning skills that develop not only core academic content, but also competencies in critical and creative thinking, collaboration, communication and student self-reflection. One enthusiastic summit attendee should be Ken Kay, longtime national leader of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and now leading EdLeader21 to implementing these competencies into actual practice in school districts. Something to watch for soon is that Ken and Valerie Greenhill are coauthoring a practical how-to guide for school leaders wanting to bring these 21st century skills to their school or district.

Summit speakers stressed the link between information-based economies and developing the deeper learning skills necessary for success. High performing nations increasingly recognize that core academic content is not enough without developing each student’s abilities to apply the knowledge in many ways. Nations sharing data, research, practice and policy experiences would benefit each summit participant.

One U.S. attendee, a longtime education researcher and writer, asked me skeptically, “so what does this accomplish?” A fair question. For the United States, maybe just knowing that international guests were returning resulted in efforts to clean our house and show that we had been listening. Much of the American policy direction seems to be becoming steadily more sophisticated, the ongoing discussions more positive, and growing willingness to forgo adamant positions in favor of working together. For the participating nations as a whole, there is value to staking out areas for common effort where each has something to offer as well as gain.

And, of course, the real test comes next year when nations report on the progress on what they agreed to this week.

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