Yesterday the Obama administration announced more details about what it intends to do to fulfill the President's ambitions from his State of the Union address two weeks ago: "Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren't helping kids learn. That's a bargain worth making."
In launching the RESPECT project (RESPECT stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching), Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stressed the importance of elevating the teacher voice in the effort to improve teaching: "Our larger goal is to make teaching not only America's most important profession, but also America's most respected profession" (See the Department of Education's announcement of the program here.)
Learning Forward is delighted that the Department is making these efforts a priority and that districts will have the resources to support teachers as they grow into new leadership roles. We have for some time advocated a vision of teaching and learning where teachers collaborate not only in their teaching but also in their learning. In such a vision, teachers need the kinds of support this project outlines, and they need a clear path before them that moves them into new areas of responsibility and accountability for improving student performance.
When teachers have more ways to develop and exercise their voices, they will be in positions to seek and craft the professional learning they need based on the immediate needs of their students. Including their voices in this national conversation will help to ensure that professional learning demonstrates a meaningful impact on both teacher practice and student performance.
While the Department has not announced details for implementing RESPECT, Learning Forward applauds the administration's initiative. We are particularly interested in the plans to improve professional development and provide time for teachers to work and learn together. Fortunately, there are already some school systems and schools that are successfully implementing such practices to advance both teacher and student learning. Learning Forward has documented examples of where and how such high-quality professional learning is occurring. As the Department develops plans for RESPECT, we encourage it to tap the experiences and lessons of selected school systems and schools that are pioneering effective forms of teacher collaboration and learning.
As a result of Learning Forward's longstanding efforts to improve professional development, we know there are many barriers that states, school systems, and schools will encounter as they seek to respond to the RESPECT initiative. These include limitations of time, entrenched ineffective practices, and lack of community understanding and support. The Department's leadership and assistance will be crucial in helping state and local education agencies confront and creatively overcome these challenges. Here too there are opportunities to learn from school systems and schools that are currently doing so.
As this initiative develops and resources become available to systems, states and districts will need to examine their policies so these reform efforts are possible on the ground. And, partnerships that include teachers working alongside school and system leaders, unions, colleges and universities will also be essential.
As respected equal partners, teachers will be in positions to share responsibility and accountability for all students. When teachers take on that responsibility, successful teaching practices move from classroom to classroom and school to school, giving all students access to the most effective teaching in the system.
Executive Director, Learning Forward