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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.
Most school organizations are set up in traditional hierarchy power models of superintendent, central office staff, principals, and then teachers and other instructional staff.
In general, power is conveyed by school boards to superintendents, who delegate it to central office and principal levels … but only in rare cases to the teacher level.
The result is that important curricular, staffing, and resource allocation decisions happen after discussions of those at the top and the decisions are also made by those at the top. It’s a closed circuit system.
Sometimes, teacher unions are involved in parts of these decisions – but the involvement is frequently restricted to traditionally bargained topic areas and the decisions are nearly always imbued with self-interest. Note that I’m not being critical of unions in this arrangement, an important role for them is to pressure for better wages, benefits, and working conditions for their members – but there are a host of other critical decisions that relate to building good schools teachers are left out of completely.
While some argue for flatter schools to put budget targets on those higher in the fiscal food chain, there is a more compelling reason to flatten school organizations that is unrelated to budgetary issues.
Flattening traditional power arrangements and bringing teaching staff into discussions about the strategic direction of schools makes sense when you consider that those with the best information about students should be centrally involved in the decision making processes that affect them.
Issues of trust and accountability frequently stand in the way of flatter school organizations. Many just don’t believe that rank and file teachers have “what it takes” to stand in leadership roles, or don’t believe that classroom teachers are strong enough to stand behind tough decisions that often have to be made in schools. Another important impediment is capacity – or the ability of teachers to actually engage in leadership roles. A union leader said to me recently that “even when teachers are given formal power roles through statute, they rarely are able to use those to drive meaningful improvements.”
To me, this is a capacity issue among teachers. They have rarely been challenged or trusted to assume leadership roles so it should be of no surprise to us when they struggle when presented with opportunities to lead.
Going forward, it will be critical that we simultaneously flatten organizational power structures so that we get those on the front line more involved in decision making. At the same time, we need to provide support and coaching to help teachers engage in these new leadership roles.
We need teachers to assert primary ownership over this profession, and the larger endeavor of education for that matter. This is a central challenge we must put before our teachers in the United States if we really want to emulate the practices of the highest performing systems in the world.
Make no mistake, assuming the role of leadership involves responsibility. No longer will it be a luxury to sit back, be reactive, and criticize decisions as they come down the pike. Flattening organizations and putting teachers into formal leadership roles for curricular, personnel, and resource decisions demands a higher level of involvement and a willingness to step up and take responsibility for the decisions reached.
For our schools to make the kinds of dramatic improvements we need, flatter school power configurations that put faith in, as well as demand leadership from, teachers will be a necessary component.
Des Moines, Iowa
Like most educators, I’ve watched with interest the unfolding political drama in Wisconsin regarding possible statutory changes that would impact the ability of public employees to collectively bargain. As if watching any state legislature on it’s own isn’t enough drama, the spectacle of 30,000 (or more) citizens massed on the Madison capital grounds in protest of Republican Governor Walker’s proposal is classic unstoppable force meeting immovable object. This is a metaphorical train wreck getting ready to happen from which no one can stand to look away.
I commend Governor Walker for taking on the real and the tough issues of getting the state budget in order. State governments across the country teeter on the edge of bankruptcy while our national debt piles higher and higher. This recession was brought on by unscrupulous bank practices and private citizens who leveraged too much of their lives on debt and lived paycheck to paycheck before the system of borrow and spend finally imploded on itself.
Today, our government faces a similar reckoning. Public services and government organizations must reshape to be more efficient and smaller for the future. Like it or not, this is a reality we must confront.
With that said, it is one thing to take the tough and direct steps necessary to get government spending in line. It is another to disenfranchise workers from that discussion through statute. For every inane and overly complicated bureaucratic process, undeserved job protection, or lock-step spending increase unions have put in place, there was also representation from management who agreed to the deal. We are all culpable for the creation of this grand mess.
Unions are about one purpose: re-balancing power from those with formal authority to those without. One sure-fire way to whip up support and create a need for stronger unions is to try and disenfranchise workers. If you really want to get rid of unions, start with eliminating the causes for why they exist (i.e. abuses of formal power).
On the other side of this argument are the union protesters and the Wisconsin Democratic legislators. While I would never disparage or seek to limit anyone’s right to peacefully assemble and demonstrate (and to the credit of those involved so far, these demonstrations remain relatively civil and peaceful to this point), choices have been made in response to the Governor’s actions that are undemocratic and that aren’t in the best interest of kids.
Select Democratic legislators chose to flee the state in an attempt to hijack the democratic process. This is an irresponsible and undemocratic act. These legislators should honor their state constitution, uphold the oaths they took, and do their jobs. Fleeing the state to avoid having the tough conversation and avoid the will of people (the Republican majority was rightfully elected) is an irresponsible neglect of their duty in our democracy.
On the teachers’ union side, they decided to have a “sick out,” where, all at once, teachers use the sick days provided to them under their master agreements to force schools to close. This practice reinforces everything the general public thinks is wrong with unions. To advance a political end centered (mainly) on pay and benefits, this act deprived students of instructional opportunities that we can never get back. There is nothing about a “sick out” that puts kids first.
Going forward, both sides of this fight have to confront the realities of the situation. Unions are not going away anytime soon and attempts to disenfranchise them will only make them that much stronger and reinforce their reason to exist. Both the short and long term budget struggles we face as a nation are not going away either, and they won’t be solved by industrial-age and bare-knuckle union tactics and political stunts that do nothing to confront the underlying reality that the money is simply no longer there.
Every generation of leaders before us faced their challenges and struggles. Getting our government spending on a sustainable path and shedding unworkable industrial age approaches may well be the most significant and vexing challenges our generation of leaders will confront.
Des Moines, IA