Ed. note: Secretary Duncan penned the following letter for a Virtual Conference that will take place during July. During the conference, participants will discuss the question, “What is the center of the classroom?”
The center of a classroom is not a test, a textbook, or the posters on the wall. It’s not a state or district policy, and it most certainly is not a federal law.
The heart of the classroom is found in the unique relationships between students and teachers. In the same way that a family turns a house into a home, a physical and emotional transformation takes place when teachers and students work together in community to reach common goals. We see it in the trust, the expectations, the experiences and the knowledge of every person in the class.
Founder of Communities in Schools, Bill Milliken often says, “Programs don’t change people, relationships do.” That is why it is so important that our classrooms be filled with great teachers who have high expectations, content knowledge, sound pedagogy and the ability to connect with and motivate students. A teacher full of fervor, who is able to inspire and connect with her students and build a community of learners, forms this center.
Government cannot create these relationships, but what federal, state, district, and school leaders can do is create conditions that nurture and grow the talents of our teachers. Teachers need leaders who will provide them with authentic evaluations based on multiple measures, including reliable student achievement data. They need to be supported by meaningful professional learning opportunities that help them to grow and engage collaboratively to address their unique challenges. Teachers need avenues to connect with families and community partners. And they need us to respect them as professionals, pay them fairly for a job well done, and offer leadership paths that do not always force them to leave the classroom.
We must treat our teachers well. They are the force that forges the meaningful connections that are at the heart of every great classroom. Without teachers, the center cannot hold.
Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education