The beginning of a new school year seems a good time to take stock of past accomplishments in Iowa education and to look at what might be looming on the horizon as well. Too often we allow ourselves to be sucked up into the whirlwind of the day-to-day that keeps us from not only celebrating our accomplishments, but from identifying how those accomplishments might be applied to new opportunities that lie ahead. When we take the time to dissect what has worked for us in the past, we can often apply those important lessons to new challenges.
Let me point to an initiative that I believe has been a significant success in both its implementation and impact and that is the Teacher Leadership and Compensation program, more commonly known as TLC. I know that local districts certainly had to move quickly to implement this ambitious program and that the process required a lot of hard work, but when one steps back and looks at the scope of this undertaking and reflects on what has been accomplished in three short years, I would consider it an unprecedented success. Why has it been a success in my opinion? Here are some reasons.
First, the initiative was funded. Yes, I realize that state supplemental aid has fallen during the last three year period (and that’s a topic for another time), but the fact remains that the 150 million dollars that our legislature invested in this program was sufficient to bring all of Iowa’s school districts on board. That’s an important lesson and clearly illustrates the power of a funded program versus an unfunded one.
The second reason for the success of TLC is that a critical mass of stakeholders were able to see it as the right work. TLC not only brought new resources to the table but it did so for the purposes of increasing teacher voices in professional learning and building teacher self-efficacy and ownership. The quality of the collaboration and coaching going on in Iowa school districts today is unprecedented and is only going to get better. Communities of practice are growing. Teachers and administrators are working together and learning from one another. Practices are improving, educators are growing, and students are benefiting as a result.
Another factor in the successful implementation of TLC is that it has been supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, who immediately put a strong focus on what local schools and communities were going to need. The DE was tasked with operationalizing a program unprecedented in its ambition and scope and, to its credit, the department immediately engaged school and AEA leaders to answer one very important question. That question was, “What are schools going to need to be successful in this endeavor?” The question wasn’t, “What do we have the capacity to provide?” The customer’s needs were made paramount from the beginning.
Finally, the most important lesson I think we have learned from TLC implementation is that we can achieve greater equity of services to all of Iowa’s students and educators through increased cooperation and regionalization. By placing a focus on what all districts would need first and only then creating the state networks necessary to meet those needs, Iowa’s education system was able to create and facilitate collaborative entities that were united more by common need than by district size or geographic location. The importance of this development, in my opinion, cannot be overstated. The differences in district and AEA capacity that have resulted from Iowa’s continued demographic shift towards urbanization have never been more equitably addressed than have they been through through the development of TLC’s support system. Every district in Iowa regardless of size or zip code had access to quality technical assistance in developing its TLC plan. Every district in Iowa now has access to quality training and support in the coaching model or models of its choice. Through increased collaboration within and across regions, every district now stands on equal footing when it comes to access to quality support. It’s not perfect, just like TLC isn’t perfect. Nothing ever is. However, it is clearly the most efficient and equitable support system that has been developed for a new education initiative in Iowa to date. That’s a big deal.