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Educators Define Education Quality and Share Ideas on Leadership

Several hundred delegates to the National Education Association Representative Assembly gave up a Sunday of sightseeing in the nation’s capital to attend NEA’s 2012 Day of Learning.

The Day of Learning kicked off with a panel moderated by NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who led the discussion of what education quality means and how NEA members will define it. “We are very much student-centered, and now we have to move that forward,” said Van Roekel.

The panel tackled issues ranging from organizing and engaging new members to empowering educators to become leaders in their schools.

“I don’t think we can lead the profession by saying no,” said Paul Toner, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association who shared how MTA developed a bold teacher evaluation framework. “We have to put our own ideas out there.”

Collaboration and leadership were the themes in the breakout sessions focused on developing local plans to address the key professional issues facing NEA members. Alternate compensation systems are a controversial topic in school districts around the country, but educators in Colorado set out to bring all parties to the table-- including educators, parents, and administrators—to design a pay system that improves student learning, teacher learning, and teacher leadership.

A panel discussion about the relationship between teacher leadership and professional compensation discussed the innovative project taking place in Jefferson County Public Schools, the largest school district in Colorado. Educators there are researching two key questions: whether financial rewards for teachers affect student achievement, and what are the best ways to support teachers through mentoring and peer review.

So far the results have been promising. “The crown jewel of the program right now is peer evaluation,” says Kerrie Dallman, recently-elected president of the Colorado Education Association. “As educators we need to lead the profession and lead by example.” Peer review has been extremely successful, she said, because some teachers had not been properly evaluated in more than 10 years.

“When you get regular, frequent feedback from peer evaluators, these changes are made immediately,” she said. And that can have an instant impact on student achievement.

Peer assistance and review was also addressed at a panel titled “Collective Accountability and Collaborative Autonomy: Understanding Peer-to-Peer Responsibility. “

The idea behind peer assistance in review is that teachers play an active role in helping both new and veteran teachers become more effective. It is a collaborative labor-management process focused on supporting teachers and improving educational outcomes.

In Columbus, OH, more than 8,000 educators have been served by a peer assistance and review program that is more than a quarter century old. The program includes a heavily supervised “intern” period for new teachers, as well as supports for veteran teachers and teachers transitioning to new subjects or grade levels.

“This is not a ‘gotcha’ program,” said Johnson, president of the Columbus Education Association. “It’s a program about support.” Johnson added that peer assistance and review has been instrumental in reducing turnover and burnout among teachers.

With more than 1.6 million new teachers expected to enter the profession in the next decade, teacher preparation was a hot topic of discussion at a panel aptly titled “Ensuring Classroom-Ready Educators is Everyone’s Responsibility.” NEA Student Program Chair Tommie Leaders talked about the importance of mentoring in helping new teachers hone their craft.

Dr. Janet Stramel, who taught middle school for 24 years and is now an assistant professor at Fort Hays University in Kansas, said veteran teachers also need to communicate frankly about the performance of student teachers with the students’ home universities.

“Be honest with us,” she said. “You know right up front if this is going to be a wonderful teacher or if this person needs more work.”

Teachers weren’t the only focus at the Day of Learning. Education Support Professionals (ESP) play a large role in the success of a school transformation. With 77 percent of ESPs living in the community they work in, they are more often better connected to student’s families. Debbie Chandler, the Parent Intake Community Specialist at Rogers High School in Spokane Washington shared tips on building personal relationships with students’ families to learn about the wraparound services they need at the “School Reform is Everyone’s Responsibility” session.
Resources and wraparound services was one of four key elements to sustaining school reform the panel, led by educators working in priority schools in Washington state, discussed. The other elements include member quality and effectiveness, building leadership amongst staff and strong family and community support.

Educators also spent time discussing the national rollout of Common Core State Standards in “The Future of Public Education and Student Learning: Unpacking the Common Core State Standards and Assessments.” The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12.

Lesley Muldoon, Senior Policy Associate, State Leadership & Policy Development at Achieve, Inc., said she was concerned that “reform fatigue” was preventing some educators from more fully delving into what Common Core will mean for their schools and professions. Katherine Bishop, a National Board Certified Teacher from Oklahoma City, OK, said educators should avoid looking at Common Core as the same old standards and assessments in new packaging.

“It is deep. It is rich. It is rigor,” she said. “And we’ve got to embrace that.”


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