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Competition Reveals Themes in Teacher Learning Needs

Tracy Crow image
Tracy Crow

Teachers have a lot to say about the kinds of professional learning they need to be their best. Earlier this year, in collaboration with the National Commission on Teaching & America's Future (NCTAF), Learning Forward published the report Moving From Compliance to Agency: What Teachers Need to Make Professional Learning Work. The educators we interviewed made clear the importance of teacher agency in addressing the disconnect between the professional learning teachers need and what they actually experience on the job. 

To amplify teacher voice in shaping professional learning, Learning Forward and NCTAF launched the Agents for Learning Competition to engage teacher teams in advocating for the best use of federal funding for professional learning under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Teams submitted applications summarizing their visions for professional learning under ESSA. Supported by several sponsors, Learning Forward and NCTAF selected 12 finalist teams to further develop plans and make presentations to a panel of judges in Chicago this week. The presentations will be livestreamed from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Eastern time Friday, July 22. Watch here or see the archived presentations afterward.

We look forward to hearing what teachers will say about how ESSA can best support their learning. The applications revealed several themes that place teachers in leading roles in schools, professional learning leadership, and advocacy.

Here are just a few trends we identified across finalist team applications. 

Teachers as leaders

Students, teachers, districts, and communities will benefit when teachers have opportunities to serve in a wide range of leadership roles in schools. Many teams advocate for states and districts to develop career ladders or lattices to support increased teacher recruitment, retention, and satisfaction and a transformation of the profession. Teams suggest hybrid roles that allow teachers to serve both within and beyond the classroom.

In particular, teacher leaders should have a role in leading professional learning and should be given support to develop the skills to do so. Teacher leaders should also receive additional compensation for their leadership roles, and teams suggested this was a good use of Title II funds. More than one team, including a team from Arkansas, prioritized National Board certification as an effective means to develop and support teacher leaders.

Teachers as inquirers

In describing the professional learning they envision, many teams position teachers as researchers or inquirers, collaboratively and intentionally identifying and addressing their most pressing student needs. Several teams, including a team from New York City, describe the importance of cycles of continuous improvement led by teachers at the school level as the primary means of making professional learning authentic, teacher-driven, data-oriented, and job-embedded.

Such teams need time and structures for learning and support from trained colleagues, usually teacher leaders but also coaches. They are vocal about the need for multiple sources of data to drive continuous improvement in a culture of growth versus compliance.

Teachers as experts

Within the roles and structures that teams describe, teachers are typically recognized for their expertise and called upon to share that knowledge with their colleagues. Schools will benefit when they create opportunities for teachers to observe each other teaching and reflect on and discuss what they see.

Teachers need frequent opportunities for feedback not only from principals but also from their expert colleagues. Teachers who are experienced as leaders of professional learning help their peers develop knowledge and skills in those areas as well.

Amplify teacher voice

Many teams stress the importance of consulting teachers on many aspects of school improvement and professional learning. Teachers have the best understanding of their own and students' learning needs. They need to be at the table in conversations at every level about shaping professional learning systems. They need to act as creators of professional learning.

Beyond the inclusion of teachers in committees and leadership positions, teams also suggest teachers receive support in advocating for their point of view to policymakers and serve on panels to shape visions and plans for creating collaborative time.

We look forward to hearing more from the teachers on these finalist teams and, ultimately, from teachers and other educators who work with state leaders to implement ESSA to achieve its critical goals of excellence and equity. We believe that effective professional learning is fundamental to achieving our high aspirations for all students -- and we know teachers join us in this belief.

Tracy Crow
Director of Communications, Learning Forward

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