Educators in Iowa today know that never has there been more uncertainty in what lies ahead for schools and educators. What transpires during the next legislative session should clear up this picture to some extent and the governor’s vision for school reform in Iowa is very clear, but gone are the days of being able to successfully predict what will happen next year based on what happened last year. So in this sea of change, what can we rely on as we look to 2013? Here are a few things I believe we can safely predict as we look to the coming year.
Education will increasingly be a team sport. You can still find people who advocate for individual accountability as a driver of school reform even though we know it is what Fullan would consider a wrong driver. In Iowa, however, the reforms advocated by our governor and Department of Education are increasingly calling for team approaches to familiar problems. The state’s recent emphasis on response to intervention and the new proposed teacher development and compensation system are two examples of taking team approaches to raising student performance. Response to intervention is done in teacher teams. Data teams and professional learning communities are springing up in almost every district. The proposed teacher development system with its emphasis on using teachers to mentor and advise other teachers also promotes the idea of professional collegiality and clearly values the importance of teachers working together to improve practice. Learning walks, peer observation, instructional rounds….all team activities and here to stay.
Teams will be judged by how well they use student performance data and teacher observation data to improve instruction and build interventions. Whether we call it Response to Intervention Teams, Data Teams, or Professional Learning Communities, teams will increasingly be asked to show that they are using frequent and appropriate assessment to guide future instruction and to provide instructional interventions for students who are not meeting learning targets. This obviously implies that there are commonly understood learning targets based on standards in the Iowa Core. Teams will need to continue growing in their understanding of not only the core standards, but how to assess those standards and adjust future instruction based on those assessments.
Teams will need the time to work and learn together. One of the most exciting aspects of Iowa’s proposed new teacher development system is that it will institutionalize much of the release time that teachers need to learn from one another. Even though districts are increasingly using professional development time for teacher collaboration and team learning around student data, the typical teacher day still finds teachers working in isolation from peers on activities unique to each classroom. We are getting better at organizing our school systems around teacher learning, but we aren’t there yet. Teachers will work in teams and teams will need time to practice. Good coaches know that teams perform like they practice. Improvement comes form practice over time. We will only learn the work by doing the work
Teachers will need to develop team attitudes and team skills. In his book, Professional Capital, Michael Fullan says, “Teaching like a pro means planning teaching, improving teaching, and often doing teaching not as an isolated individual but as part of a high-performing team.” High-performing teams need more than time to practice. High performing teams in any sector have a collective identity and collective commitment to a common vision of excellence. It’s called team spirit. Members will also need to sharpen team skills like coaching, listening, modeling, sharing, and observing. Those are skills that develop with practice. Again, we learn the work by doing the work.
So, build professional capital in your building by working together around student learning data to improve assessment and instruction. by doing so, you will be improving your professional practice and feel better prepared to take on the next new thing together. This emphasis will not only improve outcomes for students, it will improve culture for adults as well. Have a great 2013.