State and District Education Leaders Collaborate to Transform the Teaching Profession

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Leaders of the eight co-sponsoring organizations discuss their support for collaboratively transforming the teaching profession. Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Education.

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

Last week, state and district education leaders from across the country traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio to share their stories, strategies, and best practices around a topic in education that seldom sees the spotlight: labor-management collaboration. For a second time, the U.S. Department of Education partnered with national education organizations, including the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of Chief State School Officers, Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, National Education Association, and National School Boards Association, to host a major convening centered on changing the way that school administrators, board members, and union leaders work together to improve teaching and learning.

While news headlines tend to focus on the challenges of collaboration among these parties, for the State and school district teams journeying to Cincinnati, collaboration is an essential “part of the job”—and one that helps them meet the needs of both teachers and students. Particularly in today’s tough economic climate, these leaders maintain that increased collaboration, shared responsibility, and joint decision-making all produce thoughtful and creative solutions to meet a common agenda.

Like last year, the conference’s national co-sponsors are not only encouraging and supporting states’ and districts’ collaborative efforts—they are modeling the same student-centered, action-oriented relationships at the national level. At the opening of the event, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined leaders of the seven other co-sponsoring organizations in signing a shared vision for the future of the teaching profession that sets out common goals around increased student achievement, equity, and global competitiveness, and addresses seven core elements of a transformed teaching profession, including a culture of shared responsibility and leadership, continuous growth and improvement, professional career continuums with competitive compensation, and engaged communities.

ED's Storify

Click the image to read our Labor-Management Conference Storify

This year’s conference, Collaborating to Transform the Teaching Profession, drew teams of State and district leaders from 41 states and more than 100 school districts to highlight innovative approaches to better prepare students for college and careers by dramatically changing the teaching profession and growing the number of highly effective teachers in our nation’s schools.

“The quality of any school relies on the strength of its educators at the front of the classroom,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Across the country, there are remarkable success stories shaping the next generation of teaching. The goal of this year’s conference is to help their colleagues learn from one another and take this work to the next level.”

The conference, which was funded by grants from the Ford Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and GE Foundation, was designed to facilitate learning and sharing at every level. In order to RSVP, State and district teams, composed of school chiefs, union leaders, and school board presidents,had to commit to attend the conference together, collaborate to improve student achievement in their State or district, and arrive at the convening prepared to present their plan for transforming the teaching profession.

State and district plans were shared during a three-hour “Transformers’ Dialogue,” where each team showcased their work in an expo-like fashion. In a large ballroom abuzz with conversation, team members took turns manning booths, surveying the plans displayed by others, and broadcasting the highlights using a designated conference Twitter feed: “Check out #LMConf12 booth 113. Portland Public Schools have littered their contract with the word ‘collaboration’” tweeted Greg Mullenholz, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Goals, strategies, tactics, and measures of success were varied. Leadership from Oak Lawn-Hometown School District 123 (Illinois) used the analogy of building a kaleidoscope—something their board president has experience with—to describe their strategy for collaboratively reaching district goals using a “backward design model” that starts with a clear understanding of the desired end product and then works in reverse. A handcrafted kaleidoscope sat prominently displayed on their presentation table.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Team members from Meriden Public Schools (Connecticut) outlined their collaborative work around a number of transformative programs, including a leadership academy for teachers, peer-to-peer coaching, and learning walks connected to the instructional core and anchored in student data.

Despite differences in plan specifics, a number of clear, overarching messages emerged: Collaboration must be student-centered, focused on improving student outcomes; collaboration must be about action, not words alone; to engender trust and endure difficulty, collaboration must occur on an ongoing basis and be expansive in scope; and finally, collaboration is most likely to be sustained where there is space and time explicitly set aside for it.

On day two of the conference, teams attended breakout sessions led by experts and practitioners and had an opportunity to “shop” for tools in a resource marketplace intended to assist leaders with some of the most challenging, yet foundational, elements of transforming the teaching profession, such as implementing effective professional learning and building meaningful career lattices. The event concluded with time for reflecting on and improving the plans that conference participants arrived with.

There was one final message that these bold leaders from across the U.S. brought with them to Cincinnati: Collaborating to transform the teaching profession and advance student achievement is urgent work. Students can’t wait for changes in local leadership, healthier budgets, or a more supportive climate; there simply isn’t time for dysfunction, blame, or inaction. Let’s hope that others hear this message and follow their lead.

For further information including conference video, resources, and presentations, visit:http://www.ed.gov/labor-management-collaboration.

Roberto Rodriguez is the Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy. Aurora Steinle is a Policy Advisor for the Domestic Policy Council.

5 Comments

  1. Academic perfrmance can’t be fixed in our schools because it is all based on the false notion that teachers can be trained up to talk and act like STEM scientists and engineers when they lack the basic aptitude.

    Hire teachers who are trained in math, science or engineering to teach STEM even if they have pedagogical deficiencies or don’t march in step with district principals and superintendents.

    Then we would see an increased understanding of STEM subjects. Right now, they fire smart people who don’t behave like them.

  2. One wonders how many teachers were on stage at this event transforming their profession. Would the American Medical Association allow a group of non-doctors to represent them at a conference transforming their profession? And as long as your goal remains defined as it is (high school graduates prepared for college and career), you are unlikely to attain the main student outcomes you pursue, that is, your graduates are likely to continue to be unprepared for either college or career, and we will continue to pile up in our community college remedial courses an unemployable, deeply indebted younger generation as angry as those who fomented the Arab Spring.

    • I attended the conference and am happy to respond that at least 115 teachers were present and able to give presentations about what was happening toward better learning in their districts as well as network with other teachers from around the country. I picked up ideas I hope to implement in my own district. Next year, I think it would be good to involve parent leaders as some others have commented on.

  3. Knowledgeable parents and their children are missing from this equation. There are many involved parents with good ideas for reform–they are seldom heard from. Reforms won’t be truly successful until schools incorporate feedback from their customers–the parents and their children. How about some collaboration with the customers?

    • Agreed, MG. However, rather than viewing parents and children as customers, their part must be reimagined too. For true collaboration to occur, parents, children, teachers and principals must believe they are ALL partners, working together toward optimal outcomes for the whole-well-being of each child.

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