You are currently browsing Jason Glass’s articles.
I recently was asked to present some ideas to a group of aspiring educators on what the teaching profession held in store as they embarked on their professional lives. Since that talk, the topic has continued to germinate new thinking for me. What would the teaching profession look like over the next 30 years and what changes should we expect? Presented below are some juxtapositions and generalizations on that question – drawn in part from thinking about the Center for Teaching Quality’s (CTQ) excellent work, Teaching 2030. Many of these are, of course, already underway to a degree. However, in looking ahead I imagine these “new school” trends will be the norm, and not the exception. I look forward to your responses and reactions.
Teaching is telling versus learning is doing. There is indeed a revolution underway in how teaching and learning intersect. Past and present it was acceptable to “stand and deliver” and covering content meant that the teacher said it. On the other side of the looking glass, it won’t be considered “taught” unless the learner experiences, understands, and can apply the knowledge.
Teaching is the new law. When we compare teaching to professions like medicine and law, stark differences emerge in terms of selectivity, expectations for preparation, degrees of professional autonomy, and levels of compensation. Over the next 30 years, I expect all of these factors to change course. It will be more difficult to get into and out of teacher education programs and competitiveness for initial teaching jobs will increase. Starting pay levels will rise as we work to attract top talent into the field and professional autonomy will grow as we leave a form of education where fact/recall preparation sufficed.
“Teacherpreneurs.” A term coined by the folks at CTQ, this idea posits that teachers of the future will have a great diversity of career options, or pathways, available to them. Teachers, using their individual talents infused with the spirit of entrepreneurship, will reject the limited career options currently available and will instead develop individualized and specialized roles including mentoring, student supports, leadership, curriculum design, and policy.
Personalization will rule. Like practically everything else about our world, students and parents will demand an education specifically tailored to individual needs, interests, and talents. Students will exercise greater autonomy over curriculum pace and content as well greater autonomy in the manner by which knowledge is gained. In exchange for this autonomy, evidence of competence or mastery will be expected of students and the educators will coordinate and facilitate this personalized learning experience.
The new labor/management paradigm. We already see this shift occurring in the world’s highest performing school systems. Unions evolve to function more as professional guilds, meaning they are standard-bearers in insuring quality of the profession and take on an advocacy role less related to worker rights and pay and more related to the institution of public education. Management approaches will also be different and on a large scale. Top-down and autocratic management approaches will be viewed the same way workplace smoking and harassment once were. Instead, the norm will be inclusive and distributed leadership and the role of the people with formal leadership titles will be focused on getting the conditions right where their education professionals can do their best work.
Accountability and diminishing returns. We will see that ever increasing attempts to raise performance through accountability-based mechanisms result in small to no improvements in results. Instead, the focus on accountability will be replaced with a focus on collaborative inquiry. Genius and high performance takes root in the team setting and our thinking and innovations will increasingly center on ways to structure and enhance team-based sharing and learning and translating that into actions.
Many pathways into the profession – all of high quality. The current landscape of traditional versus alternative preparation pathways are both soon-to-be dinosaurs. Blended models and shared ideas will emerge between universities, non-profits, and education employers to create a variety of on-ramps into education. Each of these on-ramps will be very selective, emphasize strength in content, pedagogy (especially the ability to personalize learning), and clinical (or field-based) experience.
Sharing expertise is the solution. Identifying high quality educators and replicating those skills will become the norm. Isolated professional work in education will be considered heresy and models of co-teaching, continuous mentoring throughout one’s career, and meaningful involvement with professional learning communities will all be professional expectations. Learning environments will be transparent, where multiple educators will move through and within them for the purposes of sharing, critiquing, supporting, and learning.
*Thanks to the Iowa State University Education Association for the beginning ideas in this post and for reacting to my original presentation.
Earlier this month, I had the tremendous experience of being part of the Summit for Innovative Education, hosted by McREL. The event featured two dueling keynote speakers (Stanford’s Eric Hanushek and Oregon’s Yong Zhao), who offered dramatically different visions of what American education should be. While the contrast in messages and suggested strategies from Hanushek and Zhao is worthy of significant discussion on its own, what struck me most was the tension between the concepts of reliability and innovation in building better school systems.
McREL’s own “Network for Innovative Education” seems to be the embodiment of this tension. Much of the work of the group focuses on the thinking around High Reliability Organizations, or systems that are designed to mitigate the possibility of failure to smaller and smaller probabilities through the use of clear procedures and intentional adaptations to changing circumstances.
At a surface review, the core concepts in the high reliability frame are somewhat antithetical to innovation. The goal with a high reliability approach is to make sure that something works with high quality and low variability. When rigidly applied, there is little room in this high reliability frame for leaps of faith toward untested notions based on possible theories of action.
Innovation, on the other hand, requires such leaps of faith and a willing embrace of failure as an option. For innovations to take off, organizations and the people in them take risks with no guarantee that things will work as anticipated or work at all. Innovation calls on us to cast aside convention and the safety of reliability in exchange for the possibility of a breakthrough that can possibly change everything.
Frequently, we talk about “innovation” as the cure-all for our problems in education. But what does that really mean and how would we go about it? Not all innovative ideas are good ideas and I would argue that it is educationally irresponsible to abandon evidence-based practices in favor of an untested “innovation” when the future of our children is the price of the wager.
As a comparison, do we really want “innovative” surgical procedures when we go under the knife? How about stepping on an “innovative” aircraft piloted using “unconventional” techniques? As the costs of failure grow, the choice of an innovative route must be made prudently and thoughtfully with a risk/reward mindset.
But, we also know innovation is so crucially important for continued system growth. The spirit of innovation fuels our passion and curiosity. Highly reliable or not, what a joyless existence it would be to spend a lifetime pulling the same handle on the assembly line. Either in search of a better way or tapping into a very real human need for creativity, innovation is important.
So the answer must be in some kind of balance between these two important concepts of reliability and innovation. Particularly when the stakes are high, we need established procedures and protocols so that we deliver high quality instruction with low variability and the probability of our system failing students is as low as we can possibly get it. At the same time, we must intentionally foster innovation. We do this by supporting with resources, creating controlled environments where iteration and failure are tolerated so learning occurs, and by protecting the innovation from what can be the crushing and stifling weight of convention. We also need processes where the new learning is incorporated into the standard operating procedures so that a cycle of learning and improvement takes shape within the context of a high reliability system.
Then there is also the special case of the disruptive innovation – the one that comes out of seemingly nowhere that people ignore, dismiss, or are just too busy running in the gerbil treadmill that they don’t even see it coming at all. The disruptive innovation is going to take things over all on its own, creating a new paradigm and way of doing things. On the other side of the disruptive innovation, high reliability concepts will again emerge to put in place standard procedures and protocols to make the new paradigm more stable and deliver with even higher quality and low variability.
So when it comes to the notions of reliability and innovation, it is so important that we not see these concepts as either/or but instead as a balanced set – where both are necessary in an ever progressing evolution toward a better education system.
In the midst of the tragic and horrific murders that occurred in Newtown, I am overwhelmed by two very distinct feelings.
The first, and thankfully the more powerful, is a feeling of awe at the overflowing human courage, kindness and decency that was clearly present in those terrible and unimaginable moments during the shooting. I am also in awe at the outpouring those same qualities in the aftermath of this tragedy. There is nothing any of us can do that will heal the wound or make right the terrible wrong done to Newtown, its families, and its children. But we can let them know that our tears fall and our hearts break with theirs – and they are not alone in their grief.
The other feeling I am overwhelmed with is one of disgust. I am absolutely disgusted at the political opportunism displayed by individuals and groups from practically every dark corner of the ideological spectrum. The formula is really quite simple: Take whatever ideologically-based view the opportunist held before the shooting and then use the tragedy as an accelerant to justify government imposed policies that further that ideological view.
Gun control and gun-ownership advocates were the first raft of these to land with calls to remove the second amendment on one hand versus efforts to turn teachers into pistol-toting guards on the other. While both over-reactions, to the credit of these arguments there is at least some logical connection to issues of school safety and how they might be addressed.
In other cases, the opportunism just goes off the deep end.
I’ve read from anti-public school advocates that the shooting is further proof of the failure of the American education system and its educators. The clear answer, for them, is a further deconstruction and dismantling of our system of public schools. I’ve also seen anti-testing and accountability advocates try and make the case that assessments and efforts at improving educator effectiveness are culpable. Somehow, bubble sheets and evaluations led this murderer into Sandy Hook Elementary. And then there are the arguments that a vengeful God wrought this destruction on six and seven year-olds and their teachers because of some lack of absolutist moral purity in our society. Where do we even begin with that one?
The only positive outcome of the Newtown tragedy from a public policy standpoint would be for schools to be safer places in the future. Our only hope of making our schools safer is through a reasoned and rational discourse followed by decisions that are in the best interests of our school children and the education professionals who serve them.
In the days to come, beware the opportunists and their bogeymen.
Last year, Jim Collins and Morten Hansen published the fantastic book Great by Choice, which looked at companies that not only persevered, but actually thrived in eras of uncertainty, chaos, and competition.
There are certainly lots of great lessons in the book (as there always are in a Collins work) but one component Collins and Hansen found among the organizations they studied was the development of what they called a “SMaC” list. ”SMaC” is an acronym that stands for “Specific, Methodical, and Consistent” and its purpose is to help guide decisions back toward a core set of operational principles.
Collins and Hansen go to lengths to explain that a “SMaC” list isn’t a value or mission statement, nor some amorphous set of ideals – rather, its intent is to be very action oriented and to help guide those in an organization to make good decisions … and also to avoid bad ones.
Over the last three months we’ve been heavy into the work of redesigning and refocusing the Iowa Department of Education and I’m so proud of the effort and tremendous progress of my colleagues at the DE. The ideas that have been driving us come from a variety of sources including Richard Elmore’s Instructional Core, Marc Tucker and McKinsey & Company’s work on international educational benchmarking, McREL’s work on “High Reliability Organizations,” … and of course Great by Choice.
Part of this effort was the development of a “SMaC” list for the DE. My time at the helm of the DE is coming up on two years very soon. When I reflect on where we’ve been successful and where things haven’t gone as we’d hoped, I can usually point back to one of these “SMaC” principles and there is a lesson we learned … sometimes the hard way.
Presented below is the “SMaC” list for the Iowa Department of Education. I share it with you in hopes it may be of some value for similar efforts aimed at improvement within your own organizations.
SMaC Principles for the Iowa Department of Education
The following SMaC principles were designed for the Iowa Department of Education based on our ongoing Open Leadership forums.
- Keep it simple.
- Use state statute as a guidepost.
- Be able and willing to follow through or don’t start.
- Make small, manageable changes focused on the goal – then multiply with time.
- Develop and stick to a do-able project plan.
- Anticipate how it will impact the field.
- Use an informed team to make tough and complicated decisions.
- Always treat people with respect and dignity – whether they deserve it or not.
- Attend to proofing, branding, and style.
- Think politically – know which coalitions will stand with (and against) you.
Iowa is currently engaged in a contentious, but healthy, debate about how to improve its education system. One central part of this debate is the appropriate balance of state control versus local control in decision making when it comes to our schools. Some argue that the doctrine of local control, or having educational authority vested primarily or completely in the hands of local officials, is the best path forward for improving Iowa’s education system.
One hyper-active version of this philosophy even argues for the abolishment of the Iowa Department of Education so that a state presence is eliminated entirely. This ideological trip-fantasia is being built on a constructed narrative that the relative decline of Iowa’s school system was actually caused by the creation of the Iowa Department of Education. However, the facts simply do not support this assertion. The Department was created in 1913 and was present during much of the expansion and years of success of Iowa’s education system.
Some might argue that my sticking up for the Department of Education is a self interested position. Not so – if there was any evidence supporting the elimination of a state agency (or ministry of education in the case of an international system) was effective at improving student performance, I’d be advocating for that approach. But there simply are no examples of high performing education systems that have used this approach and risen to greatness. In every single case there is the presence of a strong state-wide vision and direction.
It’s not about me either because, put directly, I can find another job. This should be about what policies we should pursue that will result in a better education for our students.
Our collective goal is for Iowa to have a school system on par with the highest performing education systems in the world. Strong local control advocates would have us believe that we should take a sort of “laissez-faire” approach to educational decisions, where we should count on every one of our 348 school districts in the state to make the decisions and have the capacity to miraculously arrive at greatness.
Perhaps, at a surface level, this philosophy has some merit. The local control approach relies on the notion that local school decision makers will make the best decisions on behalf of students and that the local district will internally have all the capacity necessary to deliver a world-class education. Sometimes and on some issues, good decision making happens and sufficient organizational capacity does exist at the local level. But, the evidence does not support a pure local control approach in practice. An over-reliance on local control also leaves a lot of important aspects to chance at the local level. Anyone who has actually been in some of those 348 school districts in Iowa can tell you the capacity for good decision making and for delivering uniformly high quality educational services is all across the board in terms of consistency.
Over-relying on a local control doctrine yields exactly what Iowa doesn’t need more of – variation and uneven results in terms of quality and student results. Let me be more direct. If Iowa designs its education policy featuring an over-emphasis on local control then the state has no chance of becoming a world-class school system and will instead have of pockets of both academic excellence and anemia … with a heavy dose of continued mediocrity.
To reinforce the point, there simply are no examples of high performing or fast accelerating education systems that rely on a pure local control approach in their ascent.
In fairness to this philosophy of local control, it would be equally foolish to put in place a system of tightly centralized and bureaucratically-driven state control. This approach would squelch local innovation, overly standardize decisions that need to be customized to local contexts, and create responsiveness issues in addressing local problems.
Instead of setting up this false dichotomy of local control versus state control, what we should be trying to find is the right balance.
The state has an important role to play in setting high expectations for all students and making sure these standards are being met. The state also serves an important role in making sure that all students are being provided equitable access to a quality education. Finally, the state has a role to play in making sure this important goal of educating its citizens is appropriately resourced and that our schools are fair and honest stewards of tax dollars. With that said, we should have a great deal of deference to the local level in making customized implementation decisions and operational decisions.
Our work must be to find the right mix and balance of state and local control in our schools that sets universally high expectations and universally bold strategies, but also allows for intelligent and flexible customization and problem solving to local contexts. The 2010 McKinsey and Company study How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better got it right when talking about this balance. Those authors said the responsibility of the state was to “prescribe adequacy, and unleash greatness.”
State and local leadership is necessary for our schools to improve at the pace and scale necessary for Iowa’s education system to reach its goal of being one of the best systems globally. We need big changes and investments in education on the scale of the problems we face and that require a strategic, intentional, and purposeful direction for every school in Iowa.
The future of Iowa’s children is simply too important to be left to chance.
The critical question, at least for me, is clear: How do we raise an entire state to be one of the highest performing school systems in the world? This question takes up nearly every moment of my being, to the point of near fixation. I consume volumes of books, journal articles, news stories, reports, editorials, opinions, conversations, charts, tables, and diagrams. I visit schools and talk to educators, looking and listening for parts of the answer to the question. I spend hours and days in airports and airplanes to attend meetings where educational strategies and tactics are espoused and debated, all in pursuit of bettering our schools.
I believe we can take it as granted that everyone (or at least most everyone) wants our schools to be better, much better, than they are now. Where we come unraveled is in getting agreement on the specific actions we will undertake, as a system, to improve. In looking to the lessons of the world’s highest performing education systems, getting to some level of agreement on the tactics we will collectively take clearly matters. It matters in that whatever approach we undertake we will need to sustain it through the swings of the political pendulum and we will need to adequately resource the effort to give it the chance to succeed. A fractured approach does not lead us to that end and is also unlikely to lead us toward having one of the world’s best education systems.
So what tactics and strategies should we undertake? Where should we place our efforts? In my studies on how one might raise an entire education system (not a few schools or districts, but the entire system), I am increasingly convinced that both a continuation of past reform efforts (lower class size, incremental annual spending increases, and accountability) or the relatively new breed of American reform strategies (elimination of job protections, individual level evaluations linked to test scores, and school choice) are unlikely to work if our goal really is building an American school system that stands alongside the world’s highest performers.
So we face some choices. One is to continue the (often) politically motivated infighting and factionalism that dominates the current debate and see who ultimately bludgeons the other side into (temporary) submission. Another is to do nothing; paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake. Perhaps the right path is to reject these two options and converge on a set of strategies that is most likely to deliver us at that goal of a world-class education system.
I’d like to propose four lenses to frame that debate. If the strategy or approach passes through all four lenses, then it fits in the discussion. If it doesn’t, then it’s out. Note that being “in” shouldn’t mean it’s in forever – just that the approach makes sense in the current context. Similarly, being “out” doesn’t mean it’s out forever – it just means that either the timing isn’t right or we need more testing and empirical validation of the approach before we take it to scale across the entire education system. So, “what are these four lenses that SHOULD frame our education reform agenda,” you ask?
1. Is it related to the instructional core? Harvard professor Richard Elmore rightly points out that if you aren’t doing things that have an impact on the relationship between the teacher and the student in the presence of content, you aren’t doing anything that’s going to positively change performance. Using this first question as a lens is incredibly constructive in helping us sort the wheat from the chaff in where we should place our efforts. The danger in using this lens in isolation is that there are lots of things that affect this relationship between teachers and students in the presence of content; especially if you allow yourself to birdwalk out on a few limbs. We can’t just rely on this lens alone.
2. Is it strongly supported by the evidence? This lens can be a bit tricky as one can find some evidence to support just about anything. But we stand a much better chance of being “right” with whatever approach we take if are aligned with evidence that reaches the caliber of being peer-reviewed, journal quality work. Further, we should pursue approaches that have a preponderance of evidence that supports it. This helps prevent us from chasing the latest thing or being led astray by a singular research finding that contradicts the larger body of evidence on any particular strategy. The danger of using this lens in isolation is being paralyzed by analysis, wanting more and more empirical validation before actually doing anything. Good implementation begins with using evidence to calibrate your shot, but ultimately taking action.
3. Is it scale-able? If our goal is really to get a whole education system to improve, we must reject efforts that do not scale as the primary drivers for improvement. Efforts that do not scale show up dressed in one of two outfits. One is in the form of small-scale pilots and projects, where we have a few schools or districts undertake some effort. Pilots and projects are incredibly important for experimentation and empirical validation but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking these are going to do anything that will make the whole system move; especially if, at the end of the pilot or program, we never do anything to grow the validated approach. The second form of efforts that do not scale comes in the guise of attempts at small scale excellence. Suspects here include many school choice efforts and alternative educator licensure pathways. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of charter schools as a mechanism for innovation and a fan of approaches like Teach for America in their efforts to bring top talent into education. But we are badly fooling ourselves if we think either of these efforts has the capacity to raise the quality of our entire education system. Don’t believe me? Refer to question #2 above. The danger of using this lens in isolation is that there are lots of things we could take to scale. But if it’s not related to the instructional core or if it isn’t supported by evidence we run the risk of creating big, expensive, and ineffective distractions that don’t result in a world-class education system.
4. Is it supported by international benchmarking? A great place to start for information on how we might grow our education system into one of the world’s best is by asking questions of what the world’s best education systems actually do. A comparative analysis of these systems, looking for common approaches and strategies in their rise to greatness, is perhaps our best evidence of what’s going to work to raise our education system to top performing status. As a contrast, the discussions about pure local control, or the even more rabid version of this which advocates the complete elimination of state authority and state departments of education, is completely absent as a strategy of improvement in studies on the rise of the world’s best education systems. More directly, there are no examples of world-class education systems that have used this approach and achieved greatness. The key here is balance, a topic I’ve explored before. So, using the lens of international benchmarking, seeing what approaches the best performing school systems actually use, can be an incredibly constructive lens in helping us decide which approaches to take. The danger in using this lens in isolation is that you can fail to take into account that each school system has history, culture, and context – and all of these must strongly be taken into account in choosing a strategy that makes sense.
It’s never too late for us to change tracks and choose approaches and efforts that are much more likely to actually work in pursuit of a better education reform agenda. In fact, I’d argue it’s too late not to make this change. No one of these four lenses gets us there completely, but I’m arguing that using all four together gives us a powerful framework from which to make decisions about where we should put our efforts and which approaches to avoid.
The always engaging and dynamic Dr. Troyce Fisher with the School Administrators of Iowa asked me to be a provocateur for a state group working on leadership in education. Troyce specifically asked “What do Iowa education leaders need to do to restore Iowa’s schools to best in the nation?” With hopes of raising the discussion on the meaning of leadership across our state, I am presenting my words here. The listing below contains what I consider the essential qualities real education leaders must have.
1. Get the goals right.
The question posed of “what must Iowa leaders to to restore the state’s education system to best in the nation” isn’t the right goal.
It’s not St. Paul; it’s Shanghai. It’s not South Dakota; its South Korea. Our expectations have to be higher. Best in the world – that is the only goal. We can accept no substitutes.
The October blueprint we released contained a huge number of strategies and ideas. Some of them made sense for the state, some didn’t. Some made it to the Governor’s plan, some didn’t. While we continue to argue about those strategies today, they weren’t what was most important. The first page of the document, which contained the title and the vision, was the most important.
We called the blueprint “World Class Schools for Iowa – One Unshakable Vision.” People had a lot of fun with that. It was a good punchline for those who wanted to disparage the effort of dramatically improving our schools in Iowa. Despite the detractors, we set the vision and the tone. It is about getting our schools to be among the best in the world. There can be no other goal.
If Iowa loses this focus, this “unshakable vision,” then we are finished before we even really begin.
2. Be adaptive.
The pace of change is just going to keep accelerating. Get used to it.
The world is faster now. It demands that we change, and then change again, and then change again. And this world is relentless and merciless when it comes to whether or not we adapt and improve.
Workers in other nations are now entering the global economy with the same, or superior skills, to Americans. In this era of intellectual commerce and instantaneous data transactions – location and natural resource advantages mean less and less.
We should ask ourselves: “Why will employers continue to pay American workers higher pay for the same quality they could get in other places at less cost?” We already know the answer … they won’t, and they increasingly aren’t. We have to adapt as leaders and push our education system to adapt to the furious pace this global economy demands.
3. Reject “change without change.”
We must never accept the appearance of improvement while actually perpetuating the status quo as any substitute for meaningful change.
Iowa is very guilty of this. While incremental change is laudable, it is also expected. We shouldn’t congratulate ourselves for a “job well done” because we made incremental improvements. If you aren’t getting better, you are getting worse. So, incremental change only allows you to keep the pace. Don’t confuse incremental change (which only allows you to survive) with real improvement.
It’s not enough to inch things along, call it a victory and pat ourselves on the back. For Iowa to build a world class school system, we’ve got to reject “change without change” as a viable long term strategy.
4. Find the courage to risk.
It’s always easier to say “no.” It takes guts, leadership, and determination to find our way to “yes.”
We shroud ourselves in “no” because it creates the illusion of safety and security. We might console ourselves by saying at least we know what to expect, or things will at least be predictable and this somehow justifies a position of blocking or saying no.
But that ignores the slower and more insidious danger of failing to risk. Failing to risk makes us, and our schools, more outdated and ineffective by the moment.
Again, it’s easy to say “no.” It takes guts, leadership, and determination to find our way to “yes.”
5. Fail - but (and more importantly) get up and go at it again.
Everyone gets tired of sports analogies, so I apologize in advance.
Arguably and perhaps the greatest and most successful athlete of our time is Michael Jordan.
Jordan said “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
We can’t be afraid of failure. Meaningful change involves things going wrong. Let me emphasize again … if you are enacting a meaningful change SOMETHING is GOING to go wrong.
Our future leaders will need to fail, learn, and go back at it again, and again – as many times as it takes.
6. Go big.
What we don’t need – more pilots, programs & small scale projects. We need ideas that take people’s breath away. We are already behind and we need rapid advancement in dramatic ways. Arguments for tinkering when major change is needed are just cowardice in disguise.
We need changes, improvements, and investments on the scale of the problems we face and this lesson goes beyond just education.
7. Take the heat.
You are the leader – it’s your job to take the shots, handle the pressure, be abused, be unpopular … and still keep pressing for improvement.
If you aren’t making people uncomfortable, you aren’t doing your job. Let me clarify, if you aren’t making “the right” people uncomfortable, you aren’t doing your job.
If you aren’t confronting the meaningful problems – you aren’t doing your job. We have lots of in-name-only “leaders” confronting problems that don’t really matter.
If you aren’t causing a commotion, causing a debate, causing a stir … you aren’t doing your job.
We need leaders who are willing and able to (gracefully, intentionally, respectfully) apply the pressure … and take the heat.
Acknowledgement to Phil Wise for some wisdom related to this post.
Perhaps some of this stems from the fact our field is much more about “support and celebrate” than “punish and shame.” But we aren’t even doing the “support and celebrate” part very well when it comes to recognizing great teaching. Even holding the “fire bad teachers” debate at bay for the moment, are we identifying the most effective and talented teachers we have, celebrating them, and then finding ways to use them in supportive roles to spread their effectiveness and expertise? I’d argue that, for the most part, the answer is no.
Several issues relating to educator evaluation have emerged recently, calling for us to redesign and improve our evaluation systems. First, waivers for increased accountability flexibility from No Child Left Behind require that states improve their evaluation systems to provide regular and more meaningful feedback to educators. Second, the InTASC Standards present a national framework for what good teaching is and how it could be measured from preservice through inservice. Finally, within a few weeks of each other, two studies have recently emerged concerning measures of educator effectiveness and its impact on students’ lives. The Gates’ Foundation work around Measures of Effective Teaching released its Gathering Feedback for Teaching report which positively and significantly correlates a number of teacher evaluation systems with student results and Harvard economists demonstrate that “teachers’ impacts on students are substantial” in terms of increased lifetime earnings for student who have more effective teachers.
So let’s sum up what we know:
1. There is variation in educator effectiveness (teachers aren’t all the same).
2. The components of effective teaching are known.
3. Effective teaching can be validly and reliably measured.
4. Effective teaching has an impact on students’ lives.
5. We, for the most part, ignore all of the above.
Most evaluation systems are “drive-by” and once-every-three-years measures that fail to accurately measure anything and provide little meaningful information. We go through the motions where the forms come out, an observation happens, everyone signs the papers, and then into the file drawer it goes. If this is all we are going to do, it would be a more productive use of everyone’s time to just drop the evaluation process altogether.
Improving evaluation systems means creating measures that both discern effective teaching and provide meaningful, individualized and “at the shoulder” supports for how to improve. So let’s not push against efforts to define, measure, and spread effective teaching. Given the evidence at hand, this is exactly the work we need to be engaged in.
Acknowledgement to Battelle for Kids Executive Director Jim Mahoney for the inspiration and structure of this speech.
Good afternoon and thank you so much for the honor of being here to close down what has been a very successful conference. I’d like to express my appreciation to all the education leaders here, especially school board members. Your love, dedication, and service to your communities inspires us all. Thank you for everything you do to help move Iowa’s schools from good to great to world-class.
Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book a couple of years ago titled “Eat, Pray, Love” that chronicled her personal journey from a tough period in her life to a better place. My wife has both read the book and seen the movie. I’ve been resistant to both, for obvious reasons! I believe Brad Pitt is a lead character in the movie, who incidentally bears a striking resemblance to Governor Branstad. Words of wisdom – take every available opportunity to butter up the boss!
In her personal journey, Gilbert related her story to “Eat,” meaning have fun and enjoy life’s blessings, “Pray” in attending to the importance of her spiritual journey, and “Love” in her work to build meaningful relationships with people in her life.
I’d like to share with you my three concepts relating to the work all of us have to do as education leaders. I think these three concepts are important to any leader doing the important work of improving schools, but I hope you will consider and ask what your three concepts might be as well.
First, Courage – Let’s start with an assumption about better schools. “All the easy stuff has already been done. The low hanging fruits have already been picked. The slow, fat rabbits have already been cooked.”
Because of this, leading meaningful change for everyone in this room means confronting difficult issues, entrenched positions, and wicked/complex/vexing problems.
Confronting the important issues comes with conflict, contention, and pressures that will have an effect on even the strongest among us. There is an undeniable cost associated with leadership … this is a sacrifice that everyone in this room has signed up for out of love for your kids and your communities.
Leadership involves having the courage to take on the meaningful issues irrespective of that cost. It takes courage to pressure your organizations into a place of disequilibrium, uncomfortableness, and uncertainty and also be willing to serve as beacons of strength, persistence, and commitment in the uneven and imperfect process of change.
It takes courage to press for meaningful change. For the sake of our children – we must have that courage.
Next, Curiosity – futurist and author Seth Godin wrote that we are all born with innate curiosity and incredible imagination. At age 2 we are all musicians, experimenting with sounds on pots and pans and our own voices. At age 4 we are all artists, experimenting with shape, color, line – engaged in the work of creation. At around age 7 some amazing teacher has taught us to read and we are all poets, combining words and sounds in unusual, fun ways. Perhaps at age 10 we all become scientists, collecting and experimenting with the world around us – raising all sorts of interesting questions and looking for evidence of truth.
A sad fact for all of us is that as we become adults, many of us lose this natural curiosity.
And in many cases we lose curiosity out of the very adult need to be “right.”
Sometimes we become too preoccupied with winning the moment or the debate – we lose track of the fact that our lives are a process of learning and learning requires curiosity. If you aren’t learning and growing, you aren’t living and so long as we retain that capacity to learn and grow – we thrive. It’s not about always being “right,” it should be about always learning.
The more we make our lives about winning the arguments instead of learning the lessons – the more we lose one of the great joys of our human existence.
Everyone in this room is an education leader. If you haven’t already felt it, enormous pressure will be put on all of us to have all the answers, to come up with the easy solutions, and to make mistake free decisions and live mistake free lives – as if that were even possible.
While we must do our best to make good decisions that are often technical in nature, we must also work to protect our fundamental curiosity – that spark of question and imagination that makes learning possible and keeps all of us growing.
Protecting our curiosity keeps us all learners.
Finally, Commitment – everyone in this room shares a deep commitment born out of love for our children, our schools, our neighbors, and our communities.
We all want a better education system, but the process of getting them involves a meaningful, personal, and even spiritual commitment to the moral importance and purpose of this work.
All of us have to make this commitment to better schools a driving part of all our lives.
Real improvement is difficult, challenging, messy, iterative work – but our schools so desperately need a genuine – an honest – a meaningful commitment from every education leader that we will put ourselves on the line, as many times as that takes, to bring about the meaningful changes and improvements our schools require.
I believe these three concepts of “Courage, Curiosity, and Commitment” are valuable and important to any leader. I hope my thinking has been in some way of service to you in your work toward better schools for your community. I am honored to be with you today and please know you have my best wishes in the days to come.