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The Council of Chief State School Officers held their summer conference in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past week and weekend. I represented the Teacher Solutions 2030 team co-presenting a session titled, “Building Strong Support Systems for Teachers” with Barnett Berry, President and CEO of the Center for Teaching Quality, and Zach Rupp, a Denver music teacher and member of CTQ’s New Millennium project. As I shared bits and pieces of our work, I certainly felt the presence of all the other co-authors of our book, Teaching 2030: What We Must Do for Students and Our Public Schools – Now and in the Future, to be published this fall. A friend asked me before I left for Minneapolis if I considered presenting to State Chiefs and Deputies a daunting task. My honest answer – not at all. Why? I believe in our mission. I believe a new framework for discussing our profession must be presented by classroom teachers. Looking ahead to our late 2010 publication date for Teaching 2030, I get more and more excited about engaging others in this conversation about teaching.
Shop Talk Outside My Real and Virtual Worlds
Like most teachers, I’m always talking shop. Whether it’s at Winterboro High School, Twitter, Facebook, the grocery store, or at home, teaching and learning talk consumes me. What a blast it was for me to listen to State Chiefs and other education partners at CCSSO. The following list are a few “education superstars” that impacted my thinking and understanding in fantastic ways:
Sue Gendron – Dr. Gendron retired this year as Commissioner of Education for the state of Maine. As a tech integration specialist, I consider Dr. Gendron a hero. Maine’s amazing laptop initiative has attracted attention for some time now. Of course, I asked loads of questions about that and lots of other “techie” topics. But what she left me with was a sense of unmistakable empowerment. Her personable nature and obvious love and respect for teachers blew me away. She was as curious about our work as I was hers. Upon her recommendation, I’m excited about connecting with Portland’s King Middle School, an established project learning school. Winterboro (my school) will directly benefit from our conversation. I’ve already shared my discoveries with my principal. His exact words: “Perfect. Let’s go.” Real shop talk that matters, if you ask me!
Deborah Ball – Dr. Ball is the Dean of Education for the University of Michigan. She made a compelling case for a different system of standards of practice in teaching. Forgive my oversimplification of her point: When teaching 4th graders fractions a teacher must not only know content (all about manipulating fractions), but how these 4th graders are likely to make mistakes manipulating fractions. This is quite different from content knowledge. What develops from this knowledge is a proven protocol for teaching fractions, similar to the protocol doctors use for conducting chest exams or pilots use for flying planes. Dr. Ball is spot on. These standards of practice in teaching content would greatly benefit students. That was a point well taken. But a thought occurred to me that wasn’t so settling. If teachers don’t know a student’s thinking to predict obstacles and problems in learning concepts, Dr. Ball encourages teachers to ask students to explain their thinking. (Obviously, most teachers do this. Though, I also wonder if we effectively use the answers students give us.) I agree. We should always dig inside our students minds to clearly understand their perspective to facilitate their growth and learning. But, why is it that policy makers and others do not ask teachers their thinking when trying to facilitate their growth and learning. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Alice Seagren – Dr. Seagren is the Commissioner of Education in Minnesota. On several occasions, I was impressed with Dr. Seagren’s detailed analysis of information. During “table talk time” (after a whole group review a particular set of teaching standards), she called attention to the need for a more 21st century approach to writing them, including a number of important aspects left out of the standards totally. During our presentation, she questioned exact meaning of the conversation points accompanying our presentation. Her keen observations and critical eye must inspire better preparation and effort from those around her. My takeaway: think, rethink, write, and rewrite. Then, don’t be afraid to do it all again when a thoughtful observer calls you on your thinking.
Meredith Curley – Dr. Curley is the Dean of Education for the University of Phoenix. Without a doubt, meeting Dr. Curley was a highlight of my visit to CCSSO and Minneapolis. She was extraordinarily personable and kind enough to engage a simple teacher from Alabama. Although we talked over a period of two days on any number of topics, she left me with such a strong appreciation for her professionalism, her passion for teachers, and her commitment to advancing our profession in ways yet to be imagined. Dr. Curley is a teacher’s friend. I’m so glad our paths crossed.
Many other “superstars” should be mentioned as well. Alabama’s Deputy State Superintendent, Tommy Bice, is definitely a star to me. He told me that my presence made him so proud to be from Alabama. For me, it’s the other way around. I’m deeply grateful for his leadership and constant encouragement of our efforts at Winterboro in Talladega County as we continue our quest to be a true 21st century project learning school. Also, connecting with CCSSO’s Lois Adams-Rodgers and Elizabeth Partoyan was wonderful. When Elizabeth jumped up to give “high fives” all around after our presentation, I knew we’d found a friend in her! Steve Andrews from Intel was also especially kind to me. He said he was so excited to hear what we were saying that he’d like to hug me. He didn’t, but I sort of wish he had. I’m from Alabama; that’s what we do. And there are many other superstars that chatted and shared openly and honestly with me. So, a big shout out goes to the whole crowd! Thanks for great conversation and thoughtful exchange.
Now, it’s time for school to start (really, no joke). My contract as a Tech Specialist starts this week. Teachers start the first week of August and students will arrive the week after. As always, the physical demands of a new school year are tough. I need a nap just thinking about it. But, my mind is definitely ready. Clear thoughts, empowered attitude, and network of like minds. Let’s roll.
I couldn’t resist! I love Mary Tyler Moore. I love her smile, her spirit, and all she represented to women everywhere. I loved that I had a chance to meet her, too. So what that she was a bronze statue. That’s good enough for me!